Archive for September 22, 2011

What makes a prize winner?

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Book Awards

Are you as confused as I am by the plethora of prizes for crime fiction books?

There are CWA daggers of various types Diamond, Steel, New Blood, Gold and International. There is the  Edgar, McAvity, Barry, Anthony and Nero. There are the Theakston Old Peculier, the Arthur Ellis, and the Ellis Peters. There is the Davitt, Dilys, Shamus, Gumshoe, Agatha, Hammett, Martin Beck, Sue Feder, Bruce Alexander and the Riverton.  There is even the Archie Goodwin Award probably the most exclusive of all with only 4 winners: Rex Stout [not a surprise in the circumstances as the creator of Archie], Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers. 

My apologies if I have missed out a prize given by some worthy organization.

I used to religiously read the CWA Gold Dagger, Ellis Peters, and Edgar winners, and then when the International Dagger came along I read that short list, but now I am no longer prepared to even attempt to read all the prize winners. The criteria and qualifications for certain prizes are far too  restrictive. A book has to be published in the UK to win a CWA Dagger, thus preventing a double prize winner in the USA such as A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell from even being nominated for anything here, while the late Stieg Larsson can win a prize for the Best British novel for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because it was published in the UK then the procedure has become too complex for this old codger.    

What  qualities do the judging panels look for in a crime fiction novel?

I should interject here that both the two book judges I know have an incredible encyclopedic knowledge about crime fiction, and also impeccable judgement [which means they agree with me 90% of the time] and if the panels they sit on ever come up with an eccentric prize choice then they must have been outvoted. 

Unfortunately not all judges are of their quality, and factors such as innovative plot twists, great characters, unusual location, and an amenable writing style can sometimes be ignored. Some prizes seem to go to the same authors year after year presumably either because the judges love that particular author’s books, or are blind to other contenders. Authors supported by legions of admiring fans, massive marketing and publicity campaigns are obviously more likely to win  prizes, whatever the standard of the books they produce, while some authors don’t even get nominated because their publishers aren’t prepared to make the required effort. 

It is very sad but possibly the main factor in winning a crime fiction book award seems to be that you have won it before.