Helena on the Edgar Awards!

On 2 May, this year's Edgar Award winners will be announced during a big banquet in New York City (would have loved to have tickets, incidentally). I have read the seven nominees in the Best Novel category and found some real gems, made several new friends, reunited with old ones, and, in a few cases, been mildly disappointed. All in all, though, the Edgar jury has settled on a solid bunch with nice versatility: we've got some fine historic crime writing, a toxic marriage where nothing - and I mean NOTHING - is what it seems, a blockbuster thriller satire, a heartwrenching privat eye procedural, some gritty New York City noir, and atmospheric Deep South small town drama. Granted, the jury's literary tastes are more directed towards tough crime than its cosier, tea-drinking cousin - but then again, so are mine (although I do love Agatha Christie and old school whodunnits), so you won't hear any complaints from me.

When I embarked on this particular adventure, in all fairness, I did it mainly to see how five of those books could compare to Gillian Flynn's and Dennis Lehane's. ”How”, perhaps, being closer to ”if”, ”if”, being more along the lines of ”if at all”. Now, I still think Gillian Flynn has it in the bag – her main rival being another awesome lady writer I discovered through this reading challenge, but I'll get to that later on – but I have to admit to some serious competition.

The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman Sunset by Al Lamanda Live by Night by Dennis Lehane All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley

Let us start with Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl, then, seeing how I already reviewed it upon its publication in May 2012. Flynn's dark and twisty tale of Amy and Nick, a goodlooking thirtysomething couple with some seriously disturbing secrets, has become a bestselling phenomenon (and rightly so, although The Independent's "thinking woman's Fifty Shades of Grey" headline left me flabbergasted and slightly pissed off - I mean, COME ON! Fifty shades of arbitrary, anyone?). It is utterly absorbing, with positively Patricia Highsmith-esque plotting and a genuinely shocking twist - I nearly fell out of my seat! Flynn's prose is razor sharp and deeply addictive, her characters deeply fucked up the way all the best crime fiction characters are... I'm probably repeating myself here, seeing how I've been known to gush over Flynn on several occastions, but if you want to read more about Gone Girl, feel free to check out my rather fangirly review.

Al Lamanda is a name I had never heard of prior to the Edgar Award reading challenge, but I have to say Sunset was a pleasant surprise, raw, cutthroat and deeply human in its depiction of cop turned burnout John Bekker and his quest for justice and redemption. Twelve years ago, Bekker's wife was brutally raped and killed during a house break-in, the terrible deed made even more devastating by the fact that the couple's five-year-old daughter witnessed it. Since then, with their daughter institutionalised and Bekker spending his time drinking himself into oblivion in a trailer, no progress has been made on the case. The deed was believed to be aimed as a warning towards Bekker, who at the time was assigned to a special task force investigating organised crime. Main mobster Eddie Crist never admitted to the murder of Bekker's wife, but Bekker has always believed that he was somehow involved. Until, that is, Bekker finds himself naked and hungover, handcuffed to a bed in Crist's mansion. Crist has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and with months to live, he wants to solve the case that pushed Bekker into self combustion... and he wants Bekker to do it. This is a nicely paced pageturner with great characterisation and some rather heartwarming moments. Highly recommended. Full review (in Swedish) here: http://helenadahlgren.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/sunset-al-lamanda/.

Moving on to something else entirely, namely a satire on the blockbuster thriller (think Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, etc) where the protagonist, failed literary writer turned miserable creative writing teacher Arthur Pfefferkorn, decides to give recently deceased college buddy, bestselling author William de Vallée, a run for his money but soon finds himself involved in a series of events rivalling those in his dead friend's penny dreadfuls. I can see why Potboiler earned a nomination: Jesse Kellerman (son of Jonathan and Faye Kellerman) has created a fresh and amusing spin on the modern thriller, although a bit too tongue-in-cheek for my liking. Not my cup of tea, ultimately, but hopefully someone else's. Loved the meta blurbs from Stephen King and Lee Child, though, and I would no doubt enjoy it as a movie (no plans that I know of, though), particularly if the producers were to share my vision of old Sideways buddies Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as Pfefferkorn and Bill, respectively. Full review (in Swedish) here: http://helenadahlgren.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/potboiler-jesse-kellerman/.

Walter Mosley is a great writer. This I know first hand, having read and thoroughly enjoyed several of his Easy Rawlings books and – more than anything, because this is truly a remarkable piece of fiction that poses many difficult and important questions about today's society– The Man in My Basement. True to old form, All I Did Was Shoot My Man is an expertly delivered, gritty piece of noir with characters as shady as they are imperfectly sympathetic. If I had read the previous books in the Leonid McGill series, I would no doubt have gobbled this down. As it is, I find myself feeling a bit lost in Leonid's hectic world when so much in his past is alluded to and I have no way of keeping up, or indeed knowing when I am accidentally spoiled. I wouldn't recommend anyone jumping into the very middle of an ongoing series, but if you're into noir, do give Mosley and the delightfully morally ambigious McGill a shot – starting with the first installment in the series, The Long Fall.

Ace Atkins comes highly praised by the likes of Michael Connelly, and I can easily see why. The Lost Ones delivers some seriously good writing, with heaps of Southern atmosphere and a nicely flawed protagonist (yes, I do have a thing for those), former Army ranger turned small town sheriff Quinn Colson. The plot also delivers, although I can't help feeling a bit squeamish about anything involving children and animals (here, we have thirteen empty cribs in a horrifyingly negligent environment, a fatally injured baby and several neglected dogs... yes, that is the sound of Helena's heart breaking!). Still, despite the broken heart and all, this was another pleasant surprise for me, especially in terms of sense of place, and I will make sure to read the first book in the Quinn Colson series, The Ranger, asap. Can't help feeling a bit bad about reading the second installment first, though (see above). Surely I'm not the only one who prefers reading things in correct order? One has to assume, of course, that the Edgar jury is already well acquainted with any previous books in an ongoing series so this isn't really a valid objection.

I have been dying to read The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye’s take on the 1845 formation of the New York Police Department, for quite a while now. So glad that I finally got around to it, because this is top notch stuff, with impressive historic detail and an atmosphere so vivid that the reader – or at least this reader – soon starts thinking in flash, the 1840’s New York slang so important to the novel that a glossary is included. I am deeply in awe of the sheer ambition of this project, and literally could not put this darkly atmospheric historic thriller down. If Gillian Flynn doesn’t get it – "if" being the operative word – then Faye is a very strong contender for the prize, especially considering that this is only her second novel. Clearly, Lyndsay Faye is one to watch. I love period thrillers, and this is one of the best I’ve read for quite some time. And get this: her debut novel Dust and Shadow, set in Victorian London, deals with Jack the Ripper AND Sherlock Holmes! As a lifelong fan of all things Victoriana, may I please squeal for a bit? Perhaps go a pitch or two higher when mentioning that Lyndsay Faye, like Neil Gaiman, is a member of Sherlockian superstars Baker Street Irregulars;  is in fact so high up in the ranks of all things Sherlockian that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's relatives have approved of Dust and Shadow? Lyndsay Faye, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

But then, of course, you have this other period piece among the nominees, written by a certain Dennis Lehane. Lehane, so highly renowned in the business these days that even those strange people who won’t openly admit to reading crime fiction (who ARE those people, anyway?) can’t stop praising him. Lehane, who with The Given Day, as if Mystic River and Shutter Island weren’t enough, placed himself at the very top of contemporary US fiction, regardless of the genre. I still get all misty-eyed when I think about the baseball scene in The Given Day - and I don’t even like baseball! Lehane can outwrite pretty much everyone, and sure enough, Live by Night is another winner, brimming as it is with atmosphere, spark, and remarkable characters (including Joe Coughlin, younger, considerably less law abiding brother of The Given Day’s Danny Coughlin). You have the speakeasies, the liquor fuelled night time drama, the bad, the gifted, and the damned… Yes, this is undoubtedly another stellar effort from Lehane, but I can’t help but feel that he is acting in a league of his own here. Call it reverse discrimination if you like, but I reckon it would be nice to see someone less senior awarded – and yes, obviously I would be thrilled if the winner turned out to be named Gillian Flynn, seeing how mindboggingly good she is, but I would be very happy to see Lyndsay Faye or Ace Atkins as the 2012 Edgar Award recipient. Needless to say, should the jury decide on Lehane, I would be thrilled as well. Clearly, the Edgar jury knows good books, and if you are interested in the American crime scene at all, you should do yourself a favour and start looking for "Edgar Award nominee" mentions when scouting for new literary acquaintances. I had a lot of fun reading this year’s crop and will make sure to do it again next year. Now, let the best (wo)man win...!