The continuing stooooooory of how the Grand Vizier puts his feet up and lets other people talk some sense for a change. This week: Bernd Kochanowski (right) makes his Edgar predictions.
“On May 1st, the mystery writers of America (MWA) will announce this year’s winners of the Edgar Awards. Compared to other crime fiction awards it seems especially difficult to predict winners for the Edgar Award; not only might one’s own preferences send one awry, but the expectations of the juries change from year to year more than that of other.”
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
“Last year in this category, highly unusual (but fine) crime fiction novels were nominated. That might have been the reason that a rather bland book won. This year’s books are modern, sometimes bold but still more to the liking of the conventional crime fiction reader. In ROBBIE’S WIFE, Russel Hill tells the story of an older American writer who comes to England to find his peace and rebuild his shattered career. There he meets a young attractive woman who revives and stimulates him and leads him back to writing, a woman worth fighting for. It is a fine, but rather a conventional book and not on a par with earlier Edgar Award winners in this category.
“WHO IS CONRAD HIRST?, written by Kevin Wignall, is an altogether different matter. It is a thriller that plays with the expectations of the reader and tells the story of a man who lost himself, became a killer and wants to find himself again. It is not so much a suspenseful and gripping book as well constructed and told. I missed a bit the great emotion and would assume that this slightly cool book has only a small chance.
”Two of the books are written by female authors, not only with heroines but with a female twist of the genre, with women who life lives and behave in a way not typically attributed to them. Megan Abbott’s QUEENPIN is a female variation of the ’50s pulp fiction. In a fine language it tells the story of a young woman who learns the ways of the criminal world and who makes her first own steps. It is a hardboiled story with a hint of noir but not enough speed to sustain this notion. The heroine is not really engaging and the plot itself has certain flaws. Obviously this should be no realistic candidate but the book has been much praised in the English-speaking world. In direct comparison, CRUEL POETRY by Vicki Hendricks is as noir, female, exciting and self-contained as only the best books. Renata provides sex for joy and money until a client wants more than he gets. With its explicit sex scenes and as a noir, it is not necessarily palatable to the majority of readers, but it would be a worthy winner.
“In this panel, BLOOD OF PARADISE by David Corbett is the classical thriller. It is a book with a political proposition which is stated in a dossier that is found at the end of the book. Some of its quality lies in the fact that this proposition is not obvious for a reader who does not read the dossier. BLOOD OF PARADISE is a story of an US bodyguard who works in El Salvador and is confronted with his own past and is getting between the lines. This story describes a reality of which the USA and its security services are partly responsible. It is a story full of esprit and a has fair chance to win.
“Therefore: CRUEL POETRY almost head to head with BLOOD PARADISE and clearly ahead of WHO IS CONRAD HIRST?. QUEENPIN would be a mistake and ROBBIE’S WIFE not understandable.
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
“There is a very tough competition in this category and each book would (more or less) deserve to win. SNITCH JACKET by Christopher Goffard is the story of a loser who is on remand and explains to his lawyer why it was not so as it seems. It is a fine book in a style reminiscent of Jim Nisbet, but more stringently plotted. It is full of witty remarks, elaborate language and clever observations of the US-American culture. Because of the language, if at all, only with small odds.
”Craig MacDonald’s HEAD GAMES is full of homage and historical allusions. The story describes the hunt for the head of a former Mexican general. It is a road movie that hides under the disguise of a typical American crime story an ambitious literary novel. As the quality of this book is more hidden than plainly obvious, it is also only with small odds.
“Tana French’s book IN THE WOODS reads like a crossbreed of a classical Whodunit and James Ellroy’s BLACK DAHLIA, a bit psycho-thriller, a bit police procedural, told with literary ambition. It describes the investigations of a murder of a young girl but ends with a daring finish where the different strands of the plot are whirled and shuffled and an emotional cauldron is created. At the end not all riddles are solved, which didn’t find the approval of all readers but I think that’s life. IN THE WOODS is multilayered, moves from one subgenre to another, and pleases again and again with opulent and felicitous phrases. It has a fair chance to win, and as much as MISSING WITNESS by Gordon Campbell. A courthouse drama that celebrates the US-American trial as a performance and demonstrates that all the scheming can backfire and that then a lawyer has to face the results of his own doings. Here is an author who tells a tricky story convincingly and can generate a cogent atmosphere.
“In pole position in this category I would see PYRES by Derek Nikitas, a story about a young girl whose father is shot in front of her and whose mother is trying to kill herself and in time regresses to an infant state. It (like IN THE WOODS) draws from an astonishing range of subgenres, is well plotted, is full of sensitive descriptions of characters and (again like IN THE WOODS) is a formidable literary book. Pyres ends furiously and puts all the different strands convincingly to bed.
“Therefore PYRES ahead of IN THE WOODS and MISSING WITNESS followed by HEAD GAMES. SNITCH JACKET would be a surprise.
“The five candidates in this category all a penchant for the literary infused style and they are all viewed by the reader of mainstream genre with reservation. Two of the books are written by writers who had already success outside of the crime fiction world. “[...] there are sentences, whole passages, where he give the genre crime fiction coaching lessons,” writes Franz Schuh about Benjamin Black’s “CHRISTINE FALLS. It is a book that reads as if its author compiled a list of genre specifications that he than worked off. It is stuffed with clichés and because of its opulent descriptions, real suspense is almost absent.
“By comparison it looks as if Michael Chabon’s THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION is authentic: If you read this book you get a real Chabon; Yiddish in Alaska. The book constructs a world of its own and tells about it with a volley of anecdotes; it is entertaining and exploring. That there are authors who write more suspenseful is not the point. The book is a likely candidate.
“Two of the books are written almost in an classical (crime fiction) mood. DOWN RIVER by John Hart states its literary program in the acknowledgements and fails in this regard completely. It is not an analysis of choices (as stated) but the demonstration of stereotypical reactions. It is a wonderful atmospheric book, though; still, the Edgar would be a big surprise.
“Reed Farrel Coleman’s SOUL PATCH is a dark book, well written, well structured, with a fine plot; but still, those who read THE JAMES DEANS might be a bit disappointed. As it combines literary style and classical genre themes, there is a small possibility that this book wins.
“In between falls Ken Bruen’s PRIEST. As usual there are some small cases to solve and as usual the story is a canvass on which Jack Taylor’s life is drawn. He wonders about the influence of America’s language and culture on Ireland’s intellectual life and sees the long life of old crimes’ memory. It is told in Bruen’s poetical voice, emotionally intense and rooted in the modern pop culture. All in all it seems to me that it is so far the best book in the Taylor series and stands a real chance to win the Edgar.
“Therefore PRIEST with a small head-start, followed by THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION and then SOUL PATCH. DOWN RIVER would be a surprise, CHRISTINE FALLS more than that.”
Bernd Kochanowski blogs at Internationale Krimis
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.