Almost every year I attend an Oscar party thrown by Daughter #3 and her husband, where I fill out ballots predicting the winners. I never come close because I vote for those I think should win, not those who probably will. Tonight, April 28, the Mystery Writers of America, of which I'm a member, will announce the winners of the Edgar Awards for the best mysteries of 2010. I don't know who's judging or what their criteria are. But since I’m writing a mystery, I read the nominees in four categories to see what’s considered the year's best. Here are my predictions, based not on which mysteries are likely to win (I have no idea) but those I liked best.
BEST NOVEL NOMINEES
Caught by Harlan Coben (Penguin Group USA - Dutton)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
Faithful Place by Tana French (Penguin Group USA - Viking)
The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books)
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
My Choice: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.
The finest mysteries written today combine the best qualities of literary writing—authentic characters, evocative settings, and wonderful language—combined with heart-pounding violence and nail-biting suspense. Franklin’s novel is a prime example from the first chapter on. That socko first sentence is followed by a detailed, leisurely account of Larry’s ordinary afternoon. The Mississippi countryside is lovingly presented and so is Larry, a lonely-guy who's kind to his chickens. But the horror promised by that first sentence is dramatically fulfilled by chapter's end.
This tragic story delves into the past friendship of two men, one a constable who’s just returned to his hometown after 20 years, the other a suspected pedophile. Their past history and the events of the present are surprising and sad. I especially like how Franklin has created a black man, one of the two main characters, who is far from a stereotype. Neither saint nor sinner, but a believably flawed human being.
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR NOMINEES
Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva (Tom Doherty Associates – Forge Books)
The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (Minotaur Books)
The Serialist: A Novel by David Gordon (Simon & Schuster)
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
Snow Angels by James Thompson (Penguin Group USA – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
My Choice: Galveston
A doctor took pictures of my lungs. They were full of snow flurries.
When I walked out the office all the people in the waiting room looked grateful they weren’t me. Certain things you can see in a person’s face.
I’m not usually a fan of hardboiled mysteries, but I loved this example of Texas noir, mainly because of its first-person protagonist, a warm-hearted hit man who’s dying of cancer.
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOMINEES
Long Time Coming by Robert Goddard (Random House - Bantam)
The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Henry Holt)
Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski (Minotaur Books)
Vienna Secrets by Frank Tallis (Random House Trade Paperbacks)
Ten Little Herrings by L.C. Tyler (Felony & Mayhem Press)
My Choice: The News Where You Are
Frank’s daughter sat in the front passenger seat humming the same tune over and over. The notes spiraled upwards and then abruptly plummeted, before starting the ascent again. Frank drove toward the city.
“What’s the tune,Mo?” asked Frank.
“It’s a song by the Beatles. It’s a man asking questions about when he gets old.”
I suspect O’Flynn’s book was even considered only because a clever publicity person convinced someone it’s a mystery. Actually it's a literary novel in which the mystery element takes a decided second place. Although the main character is a bit passive, I was engaged by his sly humor, his young daughter’s quirky character, and the book’s theme of how we as a society deal with the past and with aging. And it's British, always a plus with me.
I also liked Vienna Secrets and its depiction of pre-Holocaust Vienna. But, even though I'm no longer a believer myself, I was put off by the author's lack of respect for Catholic doctrine. Denying someone the Last Rites is not a trivial matter when you believe it means dooming him to an eternity in hell.
THE SIMON & SCHUSTER - MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
(This award was presented last night at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party, but I don’t yet know who the official winner is.)
Wild Penance by Sandi Ault (Penguin Group – Berkley Prime Crime)
Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur Books)
Down River by Karen Harper (MIRA Books)
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Live to Tell by Wendy Corsi Staub (HarperCollins - Avon)
My Choice: Blood Harvest
The Fletcher family built their big, shiny new house on the crest of the moor, in a town that time seemed to have left to mind its own business. They built on a modest-sized plot that the diocese, desperate for cash, needed to get rid of. They built so close to the two churches--one old, the other very old--that they could almost lean out from the bedroom windows and touch the shell of the ancient tower. and on three sides of their garden they had the quietest neighbours they could hope for, which was ten-year-old Tom Fletcher's favourite joke in those days; because the Fletchers built their new house in the midst of a graveyard. They should have known better, really.
This is not really my category. I believe they're supposed to be the sort of books written by Mary Higgins Clark. Two of them I couldn’t even finish. But Bolton’s book was a stand-out, mainly for the wonderful characters, especially the handsome, self-deprecating, and whimsical new vicar, Harry Laycock. Plus, it’s British.