The Edgar Award Nominations were announced last week, and I couldn't help but notice how personal the Best Novel category is for me this year. First, the nominations themselves couldn't have come at a better time. It seems like the buzz of ebook this and ebook that has gotten very loud lately and can sometimes be very overwhelming. So it was nice to be reminded that, for right now at least, books, glorious paper books, are still king and we are still a part of a vibrant mystery community producing vibrant, relevant work.
Now three of the Best Novel authors mean more to me than the others. Steve Hamilton, Harlan Coben, and Laura Lippman all started around the same time and have gone very different, yet successful ways that I think illuminate the breadth and potential of our field. Back in the mid to late 90s, when this trio was getting started and getting noticed, was when I was started to explore the field more. Coming from Science Fiction and Fantasy, I had exhausted the backlists of the authors who first drew me into the field--Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, and Robert Crais-- and was ready to see what else was out there.
The first of the three that I met was Harlan Coben. He was a regular visitor to Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor and even the local library near me. I found his books the way I did many others back then, scrolling through the Edgar nominee list, an noticed he'd been nominated and won several times. Since he was still new at the time, and the Internet wasn't the huge thing it is now, he was very accessible by email (an AOL address which oddly enough was the same provider as Steve and Laura initially) and we sent a few messages back and forth. fast forward to 2001 and I'm working in editorial at Bantam Dell just as Harlan is having a breakout year with his standalone TELL NOONE. He came into the office when he hit the NY Times Bestseller list and knew who I was. He still sees me and says hi at conferences though we don't email anymore.
Next came Steve Hamilton. Also, a regular visitor to Aunt Agatha's as he's from Michigan. Again, I found him due to his Edgar and Shamus nod for Best First Novel. He also had an AOL address and was very accessible, etc. I was also able to play basketball with him at my first Bouchercon in Toronto in 2004. He did some great work in his Alex McKnight series, then wrote a standalone I didn't much care for, then he wrote the book he's nominated for this year: THE LOCK ARTIST. This is one of the best crime novels of the new decade and I'm disappointed it hasn't made a bigger splash than it has.
Then there's Laura. She's the one I talk to most often, yet it's rarely about mystery books or publishing. We first started communicating through my blog as I chronicled a musical theater class I was taking and my crush on one of the girls in the class. Since then we've found a mutual interest in discussing books about writers and Dave White. Her book TO THE POWER OF THREE is still my favorite of hers, followed closely by, of course, her book about a writer, LIFE SENTENCES. This is also why it pains me to admit I haven't even read yet the book she's nominated for this year, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. It's on my desk, but was actually supplanted by a book she blurbed, NEXT by James Hynes. It's next up though, I swear. But even that her blurb would hold sway over readers of a non-crime novel is quite cool.
All three of these have come quite far since their first books. Laura and Harlan slogged through the paperback original trenches and Steve is still in the middle of the slog, I believe. I'm very excited to see what all three have is store for us as readers, for the genre, and for humanity.