Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Best of 2009: the Strand Magazine Critics Awards nominees

As I noted earlier this week, in the past few days 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 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the mystery-focused The Strand magazine has also recently announced the nominees for its annual Critics Awards.

Although its most recent incarnation began in late 1998, the Strand boasts a genealogy and crime writing pedigree that stretches back more than a century. As is stated on the magazine's website, "For sixty years (1891-1950) The Strand Magazine was a popular source for the best in fiction, featuring the works of some of the greatest authors of the 20th century including Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, G.K.Chesterton, Leo Tolstoy, Georges Simenon and, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle...

...Conan Doyle was to prove one of the Strand's most popular (and prolific) contributors. From mid-1891 until his death in 1930, there was scarcely an issue which did not contain at least one of his stories or articles... Wartime hardships hit the Strand Magazine hard. Paper was rationed, and the size of the magazine had to be decreased. Costs rose, circulation fell, and the magazine never recovered. By 1950, the magazine needed a quarter of a million pounds to put it back on its feet. The owners saw no hope of raising the money, so in March 1950 The Strand was forced to stop publication."

It was resurrected in 1998, and now once again brings great mystery short stories, book reviews, and articles, to its readership.

The winners of the 2009 Strand Magazine Critics Awards will be announced at a cocktail party hosted by The Strand on July 7th, 2010, in New York City. The Strand is also bestowing its Life Achievement Award to Elmore Leonard for his huge body of mystery and crime novels.

The nominees are ...

Best Novel
Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
The Renegades by T. Jefferson Parker
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Best First Novel
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (Little, Brown)
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (Penguin)
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin)
Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley (Touchstone)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Harper)

Connelly's NINE DRAGONS is the only one of the ten books above that I read last year, although I have read other books by some of the authors. Connelly is one of my favourite authors over the past ten years, but in all honesty I thought NINE DRAGONS was a very, very, good, but not great, book (in terms of his usual standards). Especially in the early stages, I thought there was some unusual clunkiness, and lack of subtext and depth, to the dialogue and narrative. Still a very enjoyable book, but not one of my absolute faves from him.

Thoughts and comments welcome.

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