The 68th Annual Edgar Awards
Mystery Writers of America had its 68th annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards Banquet on May 1 at New York’s Grand Hyatt hotel. The ceremony honors mysteries and thrillers in all their forms. This year, the Edgar awards theme was More Deadly Than the Male, celebrating female authors and their place in the history of mystery. (The theme is by way of Rudyard Kipling: “For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”)
Mystery Writers of America (MWA) was founded in New York City in 1945 for the purpose of promoting and protecting the interest and welfare of mystery writers, and to increase the esteem and literary recognition given to the genre. Its motto: “Crime doesn’t pay—enough.” When the nascent MWA was just being formed, the founders were going to call its awards for excellence in the mystery field the Edmund Wilson Memorial Awards in revenge for Wilson’s disdain for the genre. By the time of MWA’s inception, Wilson had published two essays in The New Yorker on the subject: “Why Do People Read Detective Stories?” (October1944) and “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” (January 1945). But cooler heads prevailed, and although it is unknown exactly who came up with the idea of naming the award for “the father of the Detective Story,” it was an immediate success, and the “Edgar” was born. In 1946, the first Edgar Awards dinner was held. In 1948, the small ceramic busts of Poe designed by Peter Williams appeared.
Fittingly, the apparel code for this year’s Edgar Awards Banquet was “dress to kill.” Admittedly, the only weapons brandished were verbal. A cocktail party preceded a lavish dinner that ended with criminally delicious desserts (you didn’t want to miss the white chocolate Poes). Then the real business of the evening began. Marcia Talley, author of the Hannah Ives series and the general awards chair, said that she was “struck each year” by the fact that an Edgar Award is “so special because it’s an award from your peers.”
Robin and Jamie Agnew, the husband and wife co-owners of a beloved independent bookstore, Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Mich., received the Raven Award, established in 1953 to recognize “outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.” Robin called it a “lifetime pinnacle for us.”
The most prestigious award is the Grand Master. This award was established in 1954 to recognize important contributions to the mystery over time, as well as a significant output of consistently high quality. The first recipient was Agatha Christie, whose enduring appeal was evidenced by the astonishing number of this year’s winners who paid tribute to her in their speeches. 2014 boasted two Grand Masters, Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais. Each has shelves of nominations and prizes for remarkable bodies of work that span over thirty years.
The Best Short Story Award went to “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” by John Connelly. I single it out because Connelly is a charmer with an Irish brogue, who was full of blarney about American women being especially loving to Irishmen “because they found them so cute.”
Stuart Woods, no slouch in the mystery field, presented the Best First Novel Award. Woods recalled winning the same award in 1982 for Chiefs (W.W. Norton). He recounted that he dropped the statue just after he got it home and broke Edgar’s nose. Happily, it was replaced and ever after he displayed both so that people would think he was the proud recipient of two Edgars! Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews was named Best First Novel. A favorite of mine, I reviewed it in June 2013 and called it “a remarkable debut … crack spy fiction: fresh, inventive and accomplished.” Matthews, a retired officer in CIA’s former Operations Directorate, was genuinely if incongruously humble—shades of George Smiley.
The night’s final award, the much coveted Best Novel, went to William Kent Krueger for Ordinary Grace (Atria). I praised Krueger in my column of November 2011 for his novel Trickster’s Point. At the time I said, “Every one of Krueger’s Cork O’Connor novels is a treat to be savored.” Accepting the award, Krueger said: “To write, to be published, to be read, to be appreciated. What more could any storyteller ask for?”
The evening was capped by a film clip from To Have and Have Not (1945). A very sexy Lauren Bacall says to Humphrey Bogart: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow.”
Over to a smitten, smiling Bogart who proceeds to give a long, low whistle.
An appropriately classy ending to a fine affair.
Irma Heldman is a veteran publishing executive and book reviewer with a penchant for mysteries. One of her favorite gigs was her magazine column “On the Docket” under the pseudonym O. L. Bailey.