Thursday, July 11, 2013

Best Crime Fiction Awards — Who Needs Them?

Dick Francis, most Edgars

During the last 30 days or so, it has been award time in the crime fiction world.  Not the winners, but the nominees.  There are dozens and dozens of organizations wanting to give crime writers their due, not only for best novel of the year but also in many sub-categories — best first novel, best paperback original, best short story, etc. — all vital to the genre.  Many of the most coveted awards will be announced this fall as the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) holds its annual convention — Bouchercon.

Should we care?  These are difficult times for everyone who reads, writes, reviews and publishes crime books. Even the professional organizations are struggling to find ways to acknowledge and honor contributors while the dramatic changes in e-book and self (independent) publishing have complicated the way they have been doing so since they began doing business. Anybody can publish a book.  And sometimes, it seems, everyone is.  To be fair and inclusive is nearly impossible. Some, MWA for example, have adjusted submission criteria.  Others have added categories. In any event, awards no matter what shape they may take, will likely remain part of many readers’ vetting process.

Laura Lippman, picking up the prizes
Paying attention to formal accolades is not the only way to find good books, particularly if you are interested in establishment-challenging sub-genre books and break-out-of-the-box, emerging writers. However, most of the library-going and book-buying public are traditional readers.  They are looking for something new or different to read with some assurance they are not too far out of their comfort zone. Browsing a list of award winners isn’t a bad place to start.

I’ve picked five professional crime-writing related organizations that have been honoring writers with awards since (at least) the year 2,000.  Some have been doing so longer. To contemplate who, among contemporary crime writers, might be considered best of the best, I checked the following award histories to see who won the “best novel” award more than once.  Here are the results:

MWA (The Edgar)*
Historically, Dick Francis picked up the most Edgars with three.  James Lee Burke won two prior to 2000. In this century, John Hart and T. Jefferson Parker have picked up two, Hart for successive novels.

John Hart, up and coming
Mystery Readers International (Macavity)
Michael Connelly, Nancy Pickard and Peter Lovesey have each won two since the first award was given in1987.

Deadly Pleasures magazine (Barry)
Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman have each garnered two.

Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) (Shamus)*
From the birth of the Shamus in 1982, Sue Grafton has been honored with the award three times, Max Allan Collins and Bill Pronzini twice.  Also, since 2000 Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman have picked up two.

MWA (The Anthony)*
Michael Connelly has received four Anthonys.  Louise Penny, Sue Grafton and Laura Lippman have been awarded the prize three times. S, J. Rozan and William Kent Krueger have each won twice.

Other Notes 
In 2008, Laura Lippman won three of the five top awards for What The Dead Know.  In 2011, John Hart also received three of the five major prizes with The Last Child. The Edgar for Best Novel of 2013 was announced at ceremonies in New York earlier this year.  Dennis Lehane picked it up for Live By Night.

Click here for the complete list of 21st century “best novel" winners from the above organizations.

*To clarify, MWA has two awards, the Edgar determined by the organization and the Anthony determined by a vote of the membership.  To qualify for PWA’s Shamus, the novel must feature a P.I who is paid for his or her work.

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