Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reading award-winning crime fiction

Over the years I've read a fair few crime novels that have won prestigious awards (CWA Daggers, Edgars, Agathas, Anthonys, Macavitys, Arthur Ellis Awards, etc), but I've never actually purposely picked up and read one because it won such an award.

However, that kind of changed a couple of weeks ago, when I saw John Hart's THE LAST CHILD recently win the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller. When I was looking at the Dagger results, I recognised this title as one of the dozens sitting slightly neglected in my far-too-big TBR pile.

Before the win, it was just one of many books from authors new to me, that I'd not yet read. Because of the win, I paid a little more attention to it, found out a bit about Hart and his writing, was intrigued by the North Carolina attorney-turned-author and his storylines, and decided to jump THE LAST CHILD to the top of the TBR pile.

So although I'd still perhaps argue I didn't read it just because it won (rather I read it because of information I found out about it, that I admittedly only paid more attention to because of the publicity around it winning), its win did lead to me reading it sooner than I otherwise might have.

I really enjoyed THE LAST CHILD, and will be contributing some very positive reviews of it to a couple of publications I write for in various countries. So I am very glad my attention got turned its way.

I have friends who constantly scour the awards shortlists (not just in crime) to decide what books they will buy/read (even restricting themselves solely to 'awards winners' or 'shortlistees'). I've never been like that, but my experience certainly adds to the thought that often there are many, many quality writers out there that readers will enjoy - it's just a matter of some publicity turning a reader's attention towards that particular (hitherto unknown to them) author and their work.

What about you? Do you consciously read (or avoid) award-winning crime novels. How have you 'discovered' a new author that you've ended up really enjoying? What are your thoughts on crime-writing (and other literary) awards?


  1. Interesting question, Craig! I don't think I've ever tried an author because he or she won an award (although I haven't avoided award-winners, either). When I discover a new author, it's often because of what other crime fiction lovers recommend (one of the many benefits of being a part of this community!). Occasionally I discover a new author when someone gives me a gift. I've also stumbled on new authors that I've ended up really enjoying when their books caught my eye at the library while I was looking for something else : ).

  2. That's usually the same way with me Margot - though I have discovered a fair few this year just because I get sent their books by publishers to review as well!

  3. The significance of awards is a very interesting subject. I don't think I'm influenced by awards, either as a reader or a writer, but perhaps, sub-consciously, it's difficult to avoid being influenced. And there's no doubt that winning a major award can have a great effect on an author's career, so clearly there are many people who are drawn to a book by the fact it's an award winner.

  4. I don't remember ever having selected a mystery because it won an award. I may have selected an award winner because the description given in the announcement sounded interesting, but, I would say that the information about the book's contents was more important than having won an award.

    However, I belong to two f-t-f groups, and, in discussions about selecting books, the information that it has won an award may come up and that could have an influence upon the group decision.

    But, it must also be said that, after having read an award-winning book, the first question in the discussion frequently is why? What did the award winners see that we missed?

    I've come to the conclusion that, at best, an award winner is one among a number of good books that came out that year and, at worst, a classic example of the way tastes differ.

  5. Thanks for the thoughts guys.

    Fred - your point "I may have selected an award winner because the description given in the announcement sounded interesting, but, I would say that the information about the book's contents was more important than having won an award" was pretty much what happened with me and THE LAST CHILD. Both information about the book's contents, and the author (ex-lawyer like myself, sets his books in North Carolina, where I spent the 2006, 2007, and 2008 US summers etc).

    Martin - great comments. I agree that awards wins can have a positive effect on an author's career. Whether that is through readers keen to read award-winners, or readers just becoming aware of a book they otherwise hadn't, and might not ever, have heard of but are now drawn to (ie what Fred is saying) - it's hard to tell. Probably a combination of both.

  6. Very interesting question, Craig. When this year's International Dagger award shortlist was announced, I had read 4 of the 6 already, so I decided to read the remaining 2 - and am glad I did, though I would have got around to them eventually in any event. Similarly, The Times made Cormac McCarthy's The Road the no 1 book of the decade so I will probably bump that up the order- I have already got a copy so it will be read eventually if I live long enough.
    I don't think I would read a book if it won "any old award" but if it won an award that I respect, eg International CWA dagger, I would be very well disposed towards it.

    I have read books specifically because they have been recommended at Euro Crime, my favourite website of all time because of the number of great books I have read as a result. (Sarah Weinman also has great recommendations.)

    For example, Karen M made Lief Davidsen's The Serbian Dane and Christian Jungerson's The Exception her best reads of 2008 - so I tried them and am very glad I did. I would not have read them otherwise.

    Similarly, I've adored authors like Andrea Camilleri, and latterly Deon Meyer and Freidrich Glauser, because of recommedations by blogger-reviewers I respect. Not quite the same as awards, but similar.

    I enjoyed Norman Price's posts about the CWA historical dagger shortlist - not a genre I usually read, but he decided to read the shortlist and it was fun to read his reviews and summary of which he liked the best.

  7. I wouldn't be surprised if three factors play a role in choosing an award-winning book by an author one is unfamiliar with: curiosity about a new writer, information about the contents, and the award that it won.

    The importance of each of the three factors probably varies among readers and perhaps even among choices made by an individual reader.