Now, I don’t know where you stand on the subject of books awards. I tend to be of the opinion that books are not Olympic athletes, say, and that it’s very difficult to say with any precision that one book is faster, stronger or higher than another. That said, there’s no doubting that awards are terrific when it comes to raising profile and boosting sales (this will be especially true of this year’s IBA Awards, which will be televised, on November 24th, for the first time). So, and leaving my not inconsiderable ego aside, I’d love to see ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL nominated for the sake of its publisher, Liberties Press, as much as anything else.
AZC has been pretty well reviewed since it was published in August, with the gist running thusly: ‘a triumph’ - The Sunday Times; ‘a wonderful achievement’ - The Irish Times; ‘clever, funny … entirely original’ - Irish Independent; ‘exhilarating, cleverly wrought’ - Sunday Business Post; ‘witty, philosophical and a page-turning thriller’ - The Dubliner. Which is all fine and dandy-o, and with which I’m very pleased indeed. And you’d imagine, with reviews such as that, and more, that AZC stands a very good chance of being short-listed.
Unfortunately, it’s not anywhere as simple as that. For starters, I have no idea of the kind of criteria the IBA judges are assessing the books on. More importantly, I think, is the fact that 2011 has been yet another very good year for Irish crime writing. In other words, the competition is a right royal buggery.
The most basic criteria is that a book needs to have been published between November 1st, 2010 and October 31st, 2011 (I’d have preferred it if only books published between, say, August 10th, 2011 and August 14th, 2011, were eligible, but there you go). That means that the following books are eligible:
THE FATAL TOUCH by Conor Fitzgerald, a very fine sequel to THE DOGS OF ROME, and one of my favourite reads of the year;That’s an impressive list of titles, and they’re just the ones I’ve read. For various reasons, mostly to do with the fact that they’re only now being published, I have yet to read THE CHOSEN by Arlene Hunt, NINE INCHES by Colin Bateman, HIDE ME by Ava McCarthy, HEADSTONE by Ken Bruen, and THE RECKONING by Jane Casey, all of which are also eligible for nomination.
FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty, a powerful thriller and one laced with philosophical insights;
TAKEN by Niamh O’Connor, her follow-up to IF I NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN, and a hard, cold blast of rage;
THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan, his fourth novel, and probably his best;
TABOO by Casey Hill, a rip-snorting CSI-meets-serial killer tale from the wife-and-husband writing team of Melissa and Kevin Hill;
STOLEN SOULS by Stuart Neville, a stripped-down thriller in the classic ’70s mode;
A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black, the fourth offering from John Banville’s alter-ego, and his best to date;
BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn, a sequel-of-sorts to WINTERLAND and an epic tale in the paranoid thriller tradition;
LITTLE GIRL LOST by Brian McGilloway, a standalone title that confirms McGilloway’s talent as a storyteller;
PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer, his first adult offering and a blackly comic crime caper;
BLOODLINE by Brian O’Connor, a fast-paced debut set in the world of horse-racing;
DUBLIN DEAD by Gerard O’Donovan, a very strong police procedural;
ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee, the second of his loose trilogy of historical crime fiction;
And, last but by no means least, THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly, his latest Charlie Parker novel, and to my mind his best yet.
The good news, I suppose, is that at least Tana French and Declan Hughes didn’t publish books this year.
Anyway, it’s a hell of a list. How to boil it down to a shortlist of five?
There are, of course, mitigating circumstances. Gene Kerrigan won the award last year; can they afford not to short-list THE RAGE, particularly as it’s a better book? John Banville is up for the Nobel Prize for Literature tomorrow; should he win, how could they leave Benjamin Black off the short-list? Meanwhile, it’s a personal prejudice, but of the books I’ve read this year, the five best were written by men; would it be politic to have a short-list with no women on it? (I should say, in relation to this point, that I have yet to read this year’s offerings from Arlene Hunt and Jane Casey, both of whom have been short-listed in the past, and both deservedly so).
So, with the very important caveat that I haven’t read all the eligible titles, and based solely on the limitations of my reading, my short-list runs as follows, in alphabetical order:
PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer;The more numerically literate among you will notice that that’s a seven-strong list for a short-list of five. Which brings me back to my original point; even as wrapped up as I am in the prospects for ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, and perhaps understandably so, applying any kind of unsentimental appraisal of the year’s books suggests that I’m going to be a tad disappointed when the IBA short-lists are announced on October 20th.
THE BURNING SOUL by John Connolly;
THE FATAL TOUCH by Conor Fitzgerald;
BLOODLAND by Alan Glynn;
THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan;
FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty;
ORCHID BLUE by Eoin McNamee.
So there you have it. As for the overall winner, I’m going to go out on a limb and put my head on the chopping block (I really wish they’d move that chopping block to a less precarious position), and say that, if the decision was mine, I’d have to toss a coin between John Connolly’s THE BURNING SOUL and Eoin McNamee’s ORCHID BLUE.
The decision, of course, won’t be mine. Once the shortlists are announced, readers come on board to vote for their favourite titles. Which suggests that the Awards will be less of an appraisal of the best books published this year, and more of a popularity contest. But that, as Hammy Hamster once said, is a story for another day …