In something of a surprise, the L.A. Times awarded its annual top fiction honor to David Means for his short story collection Assorted Fire Events, published by the independent New York house Context Books.

The L.A. Times Book Prizes are held in conjunction with the University of Southern California's six-year-old Festival of the Book, an event that has grown from a regional bookfest to an international literary event.

But the six-year-old Festival of the Book program is best known for attracting a large public audience. According to campus police, more than 120,000 people attended, an increase of 30,000 from the previous year, said Steve Wasserman, editor of the L.A. Times book supplement.

Along with Means, this year's winners included the following: for Mystery/Thriller, Val McDermid's A Place of Execution (St. Martin's/Minotaur); History, Alice Kaplan's The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (Univ. of Chicago); Poetry, Gjertud Schnackenberg's The Throne of Labdacus (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Science and Technology, James Le Fanu's The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine (Carroll & Graf); First Fiction, Pankaj Mishra's The Romantics (Random); Current Interest, Frances Fitzgerald's Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War (S&S); Young Adult, Jacqueline Woodson's Miracle's Boys (Putnam); and in Biography, William J. Cooper Jr.'s Jefferson Davis, American (Knopf).

The Robert Kirsh Award for a West coast author went to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Winners of the L.A. Times Book Prizes each receive a cash award of $1,000.