Wednesday, October 7, 2009

George Pelecanos wins Hammett Prize

While much of the book world's recent attention has been focused on the record-breaking sales of Dan Brown's latest thriller, the highly-anticipated release of the final part of Swedish crime king Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, or the announcement earlier this morning (NZT) of Hillary Mantel winning the 2009 Man Booker Prize for her literary novel WOLF HALL, there have been other notable recent happenings also deserving of some attention.

This past weekend acclaimed (and popular) crime writer George Pelecanos won the prestigious Hammett Prize for literary excellence in crime writing, for his novel THE TURNAROUND. Thanks to Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International for the heads-up.

The Hammett Prize is awarded each year by the North American branch of the International Association of Crime Writers, and is given for excellence in crime writing to a work of fiction or nonfiction by a US or Canadian author. According to the IACW/NA's website, "Crime-writing is defined as any published work of adult fiction or narrative nonfiction that encompasses such areas as "crime," "suspense," "thriller," "mystery," or "espionage" as those terms are normally understood in the writing and publishing fields. A collection of short stories by a single author would qualify."

Obviously, the prize for excellence in crime writing is named after hardboiled maestro Dashiell Hammett (who wasn't a bad crime writer himself) - and the winner appropriately receives a bronze "Thin Man" trophy, created by American sculptor Peter Bolger (see photo to the left).

The prize has been running since 1991, with Elmore Leonard winning the inaugural award for MAXIMUM BOB. Each year three esteemed judges outside the 'crime-writing' community choose a winner from a 5-book shortlist compiled by the organising committee (from hundreds of entries). This years distinguished outside judges were Harvey Finkel, owner of the Clinton Book Shop (Clinton, NJ); author John Matteson, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for biography for EDENIS OUTCASTS: THE STORY OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT AND HER FATHER; and journalist and non-fiction author Carolyn Wakeman, whose latest book, is NO TIME FOR DREAMS: LIVING IN BURMA UNDER MILITARY RULE.

Other previous winners include writing luminaries like James Lee Burke (DIXIE CITY JAM in 1994), William Deverell (TRIAL OF PASSION in 1997), and even Margaret Atwood (THE BLIND ASSASIN in 2000). Which just goes to show that the calibre of 'crime' writing is indeed right up there with the best writing in any genre.

The blurb for THE TURNAROUND says: "On a hot summer afternoon in 1972, three teenagers drove into an unfamiliar neighborhood and six lives were altered forever. Thirty five years later, one survivor of that day reaches out to another, opening a door that could lead to salvation. But another survivor is now out of prison, looking for reparation in any form he can find it...

... a journey from the rock-and-soul streets of the '70s to the changing neighborhoods of D.C. today, from the diners and auto garages of the city to the inside of Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, where wounded men and women have returned to the world in a time of war. A novel of fathers and sons, wives and husbands, loss, victory and violent redemption..."

You can read an excerpt of the prize-winning book HERE.

Maryland-based Pelecanos is of course well-known as both an excellent crime novelist, and as a key part of the seminal and highly-acclaimed HBO TV series The Wire (considered by some to be one of the best TV shows of all time). Esquire magazine has called Pelecanos "the poet laureate of D.C crime writing", and he is also a favourite read of President Barack Obama. From my British contacts, I understand he is a big fan favourite at festivals such as Harrogate as well.

So, have you read Pelecanos (or met him a literary festival)? What do you think? Have you watched The Wire? Does it/he deserve the acclaim, both for TV and novels? What do you think of a crime writing award that rewards 'literary excellence in crime writing'? Do you like to read crime novels that have a literary element? Thoughts and comments most welcome...

1 comment:

  1. I am in the minority of people who can't get into The Wire (I've tried several times but it bores me to death) so I've deliberately avoided reading Pelecanos' books as I figure I probably won't like them either.