Last night crime fiction’s glitterati came out in force for the 2013 Edgar Awards. I don’t usually give a hoot about awards of any sort, but this time, there was one book in the running that I was really pulling for.
Which is not to say I didn’t care at all about other nominees and categories. I was thrilled that reviewer Oline Cogdill was receiving a Raven. I like the TV show Sherlock, and so was happy it won. I think Karin Slaughter’s short stories are exceptional—she has a gift for the form—and I cheered when she won for “The Unremarkable Heart.” LIVE BY NIGHT is some of the finest storytelling I’ve had the privilege to read in recent memory, and Dennis Lehane is deserving of every accolade he receives. I really wanted to see DEVIL IN THE GROVE win, but (I think) I understand why it didn’t, and, hey, it did just win a Pulitzer.
The Best Critical/Biographical category included four nominees. Three of them are books about series, authors, and characters that have impacted the crime fiction genre beyond measure: Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The last nominee was BOOKS TO DIE FOR, a compendium of essays from almost 120 crime fiction authors about their favorite crime novels. It describes itself best, in the introduction to the book:
This is not a pollsters' assembly of popular novels, compiled with calculators and spreadsheets. Neither is it a potentially exhausting list of titles that winds back to the dawn of fiction, chiding the reader for his or her presumed ignorance in the manner of a compulsory reading list handed out in a bad school at the start of summer to cast a pall over its students' vacation time. What we sought from each of the contributors to this volume was passionate advocacy: we wanted them to pick one novel, just one, that they would place in the canon. If you found them in a bar some evening, and the talk turned (as it almost inevitably would) to favorite writers, it would be the single book that each writer would press upon you, the book that, if there was time and the stores were still open, they would leave the bar in order to purchase for you, so that they could be sure they had done all in their power to make you read it.
And the winner was…THE SCIENTIFIC SHERLOCK HOLMES, penned by an emeritus professor of chemistry, Dr. James O’Brien, which The New York Times described as:
…a stolid academic treatise, rife with abbreviations
Huh. Now, I haven’t read this treatise, nor do I plan to. From what I’ve read about it, I’m sure Dr. O’Brien worked hard on it, and it’s probably interesting to people who care about science and have at least a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes.
But here’s the rub: BOOKS TO DIE FOR is a book by readers, for readers. It celebrates with abandon books both famous and less well known. The essays it contains are a joy to read. A century from now, people will still be reveling in BOOKS TO DIE FOR.
Editors John Connolly and Declan Burke, assisted by the immensely talented Clair Lamb, created an extraordinary work in BOOKS TO DIE FOR, and it was no feeble undertaking. The authors who contributed are from all corners of our planet, and the finished product runs to 700-some odd pages. It documents a moment in time insomuch as each contributor approached his or her essay as a reader, but it spans our entire reading consciousness, documenting our collective.
I would like to think that ultimately, even awards handed out by industry associations and attended by insiders are about celebrating readers and the stories that thrill them. This is exactly what BOOKS TO DIE FOR does.
Luckily, it is not dependent on any recognition other than readers’ eyes and enthusiasm to do this. At Bouchercon last year, there was a signing event that included many of the BOOKS TO DIE FOR contributors that was, predictably, mobbed. The authors were in fine form—each of them patient and funny as they chatted with those in a queue that seemed never-ending. The palpable excitement that afternoon is why BOOKS TO DIE FOR should have won an Edgar, but will endure regardless.
p.s.: As much as I’m not an affable loser, I should be clear that the aforementioned editors are incredibly gracious, and when they say, “it’s an honor just to be nominated,” I’m quite certain that they mean it. The sentiments herein are mine alone.