The 69th Annual Edgar Awards
Mystery Writers of America (MWA) had its 69th annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards Banquet on April 29th at New York’s Grand Hyatt hotel. The award is named for ‘the father of the detective story.” The ceremony honors the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2014. This year marks the 70th anniversary of MWA. It was founded in New York City in 1945. In 1946 the first Edgar Awards dinner was held. In 1948, the small ceramic bust of Poe designed by Peter Williams appeared. It’s also the 206th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth.
Once again, the apparel code for this year’s Edgar Awards Banquet was “dress to kill.” However, the only murder on the menu was in the minds of the many writers in attendance, who are all intimately acquainted with the so-called art and who demonstrate in their books that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
There was a cocktail party followed by a lavish dinner. The white chocolate Poes were the hit of the meal. The awards portion began with President Brad Meltzer (who confessed to being addicted to the title) turning over the reins to Sara Paretsky. The founder of the advocacy group, Sisters in Crime, she is the author of sixteen books featuring her acclaimed detective V.I. Warshawski, Looking back on MWA’s seventy years, she observed that “the times are no less turbulent than they were seventy years ago and crime fiction is, if anything, more in demand today.” She bemoaned the fact that the number of major trade publishers has dwindled from more than fifty when MWA started to five houses today. “Our biggest challenge for the next five years,” she said, “are to help our members find effective ways to get books to the readers.”
Stephen King presented the Ellery Queen Award to Charles Ardai, Editor and Founder of Hard Case Crime. Ten years old, it was conceived in a bar over many drinks, an auspicious and not uncommon beginning for many fine enterprises. Ardai’s specialty is unearthing lost books by great authors. Among them: James M Cain and Lawrence Block and, oh, yes, Stephen King. He also publishes new work in the genre, and, as paperback covers go, Hard Case Crime’s are considered the best in the business. As Block said elsewhere “he made so-called ‘pulp’ a badge of honor.” King, tongue firmly in cheek, recalled a favorite: “The Corpse Wore Pasties” by John Porkpie. Also a memorable line: “She hit the gutter and bounced lower.”
R.L. Stine, who has been called the Stephen King of children’s literature, presented the Best Juvenile and Best Young Adult Awards. Stine’s large body of work includes the wildly popular Goosebumps series, which has given millions of children, well, goosebumps. A charmer, he couldn’t resist quoting in its entirety a recent Amazon review he’d received. It gave him five stars and said: “The box arrived in good shape and it was very easy to open.” The Best Juvenile went to Kate Milford for Greenglass House. The Best Young Adult went to James Klise for The Art of Secrets. Both are accomplished mainstays in their respective genres.
The Grand Master Award is the highest award given by MWA. The award was established in 1954 and is presented to individuals who by a lifetime of achievement have proved themselves preeminent in the craft of mystery and dedicated to the advancement of the genre. The first recipient was Agatha Christie and the roster to date is as dazzling as it is distinguished. For the second time (2014 was the first) there are two Grand Masters, Lois Duncan and James Ellroy. Each has shelves of nominations and prizes for remarkable bodies of work that span three decades.
The night’s final award, the Best Novel, went to Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. Sara Paretsky confided that she had received many bribes to reveal the winner of this award in advance, and being from Chicago she accepted them even though she had no clue about the winner. King, who was awarded Grand Master in 2007, is best known for his horror novels. Mr. Mercedes is a cat-and-mouse thriller about a detective tracking a deranged killer. King called it “a departure,” although several of the pseudonymous novels penned under the name “Richard Bachman” are crime fiction as well. He said, “although horror writers like Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch were a big influence on my work, I learned most of my chops from people like John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain and Don Westlake.”
This year, for the second time in its history, MWA has created a cookbook especially for mystery fans. The first, called Plots & Pans, was published in 1989. This new one, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, features over a hundred recipes from many of the top mystery writers of the world. It’s a motley collection of killer recipes augmented by wicked asides from many of the contributors. My favorites are: Nelson de Mille’s Male Chauvinist Pigs in a Blanket, Catherine Coulter’s Big Bang Guacamole , and Lorenzo Carcaterra’s Grandma Maria’s Pasta Puttanesca (Pasta a la Whore). As Anne Pleshette Murphy writes in her introduction to the cookbook: “A brilliant chef, like an ingenious detective, uses all of his senses and a few pinches of creativity.”
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.