Once a year, the mystery writing community reaches critical mass in a place filled with the greatest living purveyors of the genre. The moment occurs at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards Dinner hosted by the Mystery Writers of America. This year, it took place on April 29 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. (See the bottom of the post for a complete list of winners.)
To say that attending the Edgars is a religious experience isn’t as blasphemous as you might imagine. For, as the great James Ellroy said when accepting his Grand Master Lifetime Achievement Award, “What better place to bow my head in prayer than in a room full of people who worship the book?”
And there was worshiping.
Because, as the Edgars have proven throughout the 69 years of their existence, there are no more devoted mystery fans than the writers themselves. Spending an evening amidst your idols is bound to produce a certain amount of awe and reverence.
Just imagine Kate Milford, whose novel Greenglass House won the Edgar for Best Juvenile Mystery, being presented her award by R.L. Stine. Could you blame her for going a little weak at the knees?
Or author Hilary Davidson maintaining composure while presenting the Grand Master Lifetime Achievement Award to Lois Duncan, who accepted the honor on her 81st birthday. “She was a trailblazer in creating the YA genre,” Davidson said, noting that Stranger With My Face was her personal favorite of Duncan’s works.
Or me (yes, me) summoning up the nerve to approach Ian Rankin, whose Saints of the Shadow Bible was nominated in the Best Novel category. We chatted for a minute or two and it made my night.
Before the awards banquet was the nominee’s cocktail reception, buzzing with the best sort of energy and tension. Yes, the nominees are nervous (well, maybe not Stephen King, he seems pretty unflappable) but they’re also thrilled.
Catriona McPherson and Lisa Turner, both nominees in the Best Paperback Original category, stood side by side and praised each other’s work. Turner’s novel, The Gone Dead Train, is the second in her Detective Billy Able series, which takes place in her hometown of Memphis. “The South is fraught with events,” she says mysteriously, making it clear that she has a wealth of material yet to mine. McPherson, who writes the Dandy Gilver historical series, was nominated for the contemporary stand-alone The Day She Died. “I am completely gobsmacked to be here,” she says, “and I will tell you, never play poker with any of the judges in the mystery community. They know how to keep a secret. I have been at conferences with these people all year—Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Sisters in Crime—and I never knew who the Edgar judges were. They never let on.”
The judges are, in fact, committees of mystery writers who volunteer to read every single book submitted for consideration. For the nine-member committee judging Best Novel that amounted to 523 submissions, or as committee chair Camille Minichino noted, 402 gunshots, 79 stabbings and plenty of poisonings with mysterious clear liquids. Michael Sears, a judge for Best First Novel, admitted that judging is a lot of work, “but in the end it’s like being in the best book club in the world.”
The awards banquet itself is a glam affair, with the gentlemen in tuxes and the women in gowns and sparkly things. Outgoing MWA president Brad Meltzer passed the torch to incoming president Sara Paretsky, who served as the evening’s MC.
Raven Awards for service to the mystery community were presented to Ruth and Jon Jordan, the founders of CrimeSpree Magazine and Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, and to Kathryn Kennison, founder of the Magna Cum Murder conference. The Ellery Queen Award was presented to Charles Ardai, editor and founder of Hard Case Crime.
Sally Wainwright won the Edgar for Best Television Episode Teleplay for Episode 1 of Happy Valley. She’s also the creator of Scott & Bailey and Last Tango in Halifax (it’s possible that no one in the room whooped louder than I when her name was called).
James Klise, author of The Art of Secrets, won for Best Young Adult Mystery. In his day job as a high school librarian, he’s had plenty of opportunity to appreciate and admire the work of the authors in the room with him that night. “Mysteries turn non-readers into readers,” he said. “I’d like to thank all the writers who make my life in the library so much easier.” (It’s enough to renew your faith in the power of books.)
The evening ended with Stephen King accepting his award for Mr. Mercedes, voted the Best Novel of 2014, leaving no doubt that idols walk among us—at least on the magical evening of the Edgar Awards.
The Complete 2015 Edgar Allan Poe Award Winners List
BEST NOVEL: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR: Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL: The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
BEST FACT CRIME: Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL: Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe by J.W. Ocker
BEST SHORT STORY: “What Do You Do?” by Gillian Flynn, Rogues
BEST JUVENILE: Greenglass House by Kate Milford
BEST YOUNG ADULT: The Art of Secrets by James Klise
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY: “Episode 1” – Happy Valley, Teleplay by Sally Wainwright
ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD (Best First Short Story by an American Author): ”Getaway Girl" by Zoë Z. Dean, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Dell Magazines)
GRAND MASTER: Lois Duncan and James Ellroy
RAVEN AWARDS: Ruth & Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine and Kathryn Kennison, Magna Cum Murder
ELLERY QUEEN AWARD: Charles Ardai, Editor & Founder, Hard Case Crime
CHARLES TODD DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD (Named for its first honoree): Charles Todd
THE SIMON & SCHUSTER - MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD (Presented at MWA’s Agents & Editors Party on Tuesday, April 28, 2015): The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.