The Best Novel Nominees, or How To Handicap the 2011 Edgars

For the first time in recent memory (read: more than a decade), none of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award nominees for Best Novel have ever been nominated before. On April 26th, one of them will be announced from the stage at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel and take a first walk with this bust of Edgar Allan Poe. (Of course, some nominees may have practiced the victory walk in private, substituting a water bottle for Poe’s lovely ceramic visage.)

The last year a first-time nominee won the Best Novel prize was back in 2007, when Jason Goodwin’s The Janissary Tree took home the prize. 2007 was also a good year for other first-timers, with four of the six nominees logging their first nomination. This year’s crop of nominees is widely varied, but I like to think of them as a five-volume set of How-To manuals:


The Ranger by Ace AtkinsVolume One) How to Clean Up Your Home Town

by Quinn Colson, recently retired U.S. Army Ranger from Ace Atkins’s aptly titled The Ranger.

Subsections include “Mississippi Law 101, Or Welcome to Hill Country,” “If You Think That Suicide is Really a Murder, You’re Probably Right,” and “Good-bye Meth Dealers.”





Gone by Mo HayderVolume Two) How to Avoid (and Solve) a Carjacking

by Detective Inspector Jack Caffery from Mo Hayder’s Gone.

Helpful chapters to bookmark include “If You Never Take Your Child in a Car, He or She Can’t Get Snatched,” “Taunts from Nutters Will Not be Tolerated,” and, in a special section written by Sergeant Phoebe “Flea” Marley, “Leave the Police Diving to the Bloody Police, That’s Why it’s Called Police Diving.”




The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo HigashinoVolume Three) How to Get Away with Murder

by Yasuko Hanaoka from Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X.

Don’t skip key sections like “Choosing the Best Neighbor to Dispose of Your Spouse’s Remains,” and “Do You Want a Cat or Do You Want to Play Cat-and-Mouse with a Detective: Weighing the Pros and Cons.”





1222 by Anne HoltVolume Four) How to Survive a Norwegian Train Wreck

by Hanne Wilhelmsen, retired police detective from Anne Holt’s 1222.

Important sections for alpine adventuring include “Derailment 101: Handy Tips for Staying Alive When Your Train Hops the Tracks,” “Finding the Killer in a Snowed-In Lodge: A Process of Elimination That Goes Faster as More Bodies Appear,” and “No One Said Being Friendly Was a Job Requirement.”



Field Gray by Philip KerrVolume Five) How to Tough it Out in Prison

by Bernie Gunther, German private eye circa 1954 in Philip Kerr’s Field Gray.

Sections to smuggle into the Big House should include “Meyer Lansky: An Annotated Biography,” “Meditating Through the Pain: Guantánamo and You,” and “Home Sweet Nothing: War Flashbacks.”





Whomever wins, this year’s list is one of the most internationally diverse in recent memory. We’ve got an American (Ace Atkins), a Brit (Mo Hayder), a Japanese (Keigo Higashino), a Norwegian (Anne Holt), and a Scot (Philip Kerr). It’s the Edgar Olympics!

The Americans tend to dominate the nominations, and over the past five years, the good ol’ U.S. of A. has won the past four years running. (Not to put any star-spangled pressure on Ace Atkins to continue the tradition.) Mo Hayder could celebrate the five-year anniversary of fellow Brit Jason Goodwin’s 2007 win by claiming another win for H.R.M Queen Elizabeth. A win for Higashino would be the first ever for a Japanese. (Natsuo Kirino’s Out was nominated in 2004, but lost to Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men, which was also the last time a Scot won the prize.)

Should Anne Holt win, she’d be the first Norwegian winner, though Jo Nesbø’s Nemesis was nominated in 2010. And despite the recent Scandinavian and Nordic crime fiction explosion, no Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, or Icelandic author has ever won the Edgar for Best Novel since Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s The Laughing Policeman in 1971, and few of the big names have been nominated. No Henning Mankell, Karin Fossum, Camilla Läckberg, or even that guy named Stieg.

Like American writers, men have also tended to dominate the Best Novel field. Based on the history, there’s a 60 percent chance the winner will be a man. In the past ten years, a woman (S.J. Rozan in 2003 for Winter and Night) has won the Edgar once. That’s in 53 nominated authors, with between four and six nominated books each year, over the past decade. Twenty of the nominees have been women, with 38 percent of the nominated books and 10 percent of the wins, versus the men’s 62 percent of the nominated books and 90 percent of the Edgars.

If I were the kind of person who bet on these sorts of things, the pure statistical odds are in favor of an American male to take home the statue, which points to Ace Atkins. I could inch further out on my imaginary, gambling limb and predict The Ranger will be named Best Novel. But I prefer to bet on sure things, so I’ll put my money on a first-time author walking away with a Best Novel Edgar come Thursday night.


Jordan Foster grew up in a mystery bookstore in Portland, Oregon. She has a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia University, which she’s slowly paying off by writing about crime fiction for Publishers Weekly and Bookish. She’s back in Portland, where it’s nice and rainy and there are endless places to stash bodies. She tweets @jordanfoster13.

Read all of Jordan Foster’s posts at Criminal Element.


  1. Deborah Lacy

    It’s great that they are all first time nominees. And I haven’t read any of them, so I am excited to get started. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Betty Breier

    I’m a big fan of Mo Hayder and would love to see her win the award.

  3. J.D. Loyed

    It’s good to see that beside Americans, other nationality’s writers had also being nominated. It proves the universal appeal of writing, especially in the detective gnere. And once again, the best pick by Foster as usual.

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