Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Best of 2009: Los Angeles Times Book Prizes (Mystery/Thriller)

As I noted earlier, in the past few dayst the nominees for several mystery fiction awards have been announced, providing crime fiction fans everywhere some insight into the opinions of (some) afficianados as to the best mystery books of 2009. Along with the Agatha Awards nominees, last months' announcement of the the Edgar Award nominees, and the Strand Magazine nominees, the Los Angeles Times has also recently announced the nominees for its prestigious Book Prizes.

Unlike the Agathas, Edgars, and Strand Magazine awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are not confined to mystery, thriller, and crime fiction. The Awards began in 1980, and over the thirty years since they have added several categories to better reflect the broad range of quality writing out there. The Book Prizes now recognise 50 distinguished works in ten categories and the list of finalists in biography, current interest, fiction, first fiction (the Art Seidenbaum Award), graphic novel, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science and technology, and young adult literature can be found at http://events.latimes.com/bookprizes.
This year the addition of the graphic novel category makes the Los Angeles Times the first major book prize in the United States to honor an art form "that has indelibly expanded the literary landscape, both aesthetically and commercially".
In my opinion it's great to see what began as a more general book awards recognise that there can be high quality work in other genres that equally deserve recognition, and may need there own category in order to be fairly judged. Perhaps the local book awards in New Zealand could eventually look to do the same (i.e. although there is only one main 'fiction' category, it seems only a certain type of book is considered for it, and many fictional books of other types, regardless of the quality of their writing and storytelling, will be automatically overlooked by judges etc - in effect it is more of a 'literary fiction' or 'general fiction' award, although it is just touted as "Best fiction").
Finalists and winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are selected by panels of three judges composed of published authors who specialize in each genre.
The nominees/shortlisted authors for the 2009 Mystery/Thriller category are:
Once again, I have read none of these (although I have read other McDermid books, including her 2009 release FEVER OF THE BONE, and have Neville and Locke in my TBR pile).
It is also interesting for me to see Attica Locke's BLACK WATER RISING receive another nomination - as it seems to be a book that generates some mixed feelings. It has also been nominated for the Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author, however I have read some pretty average reviews of the book as well. In fact, in the upcoming March issue of Good Reading, one of my crime reviewing colleagues gives it only 2 1/2 stars, saying that it lacks tension, is unfocused, and the reader is left with the feeling that nothing much happens. Just goes to show that we all get different things from different books, which isn't a bad thing.
In terms of the past decade (the Mystery/Thriller category was added in 2000), the previous winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller writing are:
  • 2008: Michael Koryta, Envy the Night
  • 2007: Karin Fossum, The Indian Bride
  • 2006: Michael Connelly, Echo Park
  • 2005: Robert Littell, Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation
  • 2004: Tijuana Straits by Kem Nunn
  • 2003: Soul Circus by George P. Pelecanos
  • 2002: Hell to Pay by George P. Pelecanos
  • 2001: Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker
  • 2000: A Place of Execution by Val McDermid
The 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will be awarded at 8 pm on Friday 23 April 23 2010, in a ceremony at the Los Angeles Times building. The Mystery/Thriller prize will be presented by Los Angeles-based crime writer Mark Haskell Smith.
What do you think of the 2009 nominees? What do you think about more general book awards having specific crime/mystery/thriller categories? Thoughts and comments welcome

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