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The 71st Annual Edgar Awards

By (April 30, 2017) No Comment

The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) hosted its 71st Annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards Banquet on April 27th at its favorite venue in 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—biographies and true crime—and television published and produced in 2016. The prize is a stylized ceramic bust of the great author. It is a caricature, and what is most notable about it is that the figure’s head is oversized to the point of being as wide as his shoulders. It must be said that if you look at the range of Poe’s accomplishments it’s most fitting that he has a big head.

The evening began with a cocktail party followed by a dinner whose highlight is always the white chocolate Poes. Outgoing MWA President Jeff Abbott turned over the mantle to the internationally acclaimed best-selling author, Jeffrey Deaver. He launched into a droll refutation of the alternative fact that reading is dead. Shortly thereafter, in the middle of introducing another presenter, he unwittingly provided the evening’s most dramatic moment by falling on his back and passing out. To say that an audience, made up of people who are used to dealing with blackouts and worse, were stunned into near silence is an understatement.

By the time an EMS team arrived, Deaver was sitting up and talking, and subsequent news from the hospital was that he was suffering from nothing more serious than exhaustion. (Oh the perils of a successful book tour.) The show went on, ably presided over by Donna Andrews MWA executive v-p.

Before presenting her eponymous honor, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the elegant lady herself surveyed the glittering assemblage and observed that they’d come a long way from “two tables in a small bar.” Her award went to Charles Todd (who is actually Caroline and Charles, a delightful mother and son team) for the novel The Shattered Tree.

Lawrence Block is the versatile creator of a whole host of superb mysteries. This year he received the award for the Best Short Story, “Autumn at the Automat,” from his grand anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow. He began his acceptance speech by expressing his gratitude at not finding himself on the In Memoriam page. “The Edgar,” he said, “is the frosting on the cupcake.”

The most prestigious and coveted award is the Grand Master. The award was established in 1954 to recognize important contributions to the genre over time, as well as a significant output of consistent high quality. The first recipient was Dame Agatha Christie. This year, for the third time, there are two Grand Masters, Ellen Hart and Max Allan Collins. Hart’s popular, award-winning series featuring a lesbian protagonist is credited with bringing gay mysteries out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Although, in my opinion, the best mysteries featuring a gay sleuth are still Joseph Hansen’s starring David Brandstetter. As for Max Allan Collins, over several decades he has produced an impressive body of work that was never achieved at the expense of quality.

The award for Best Paperback Original went to Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty, who could not attend. I reviewed McKinty’s novel in my May 2016 column. I called it “a peerless page turner.”
The night’s final award, Best Novel, went to Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. Also unable to attend, Hawley stated in prepared remarks: “The best mysteries explore why people commit crimes and leave readers with more questions than answers…. We’re all detectives and the mystery we’re trying to solve is the mystery of life.” An appropriate way to end the evening.

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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.

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