01/05/2009

Edgar Week: the 2000s

Here we are in a new century and a new millenium. Edgar voters celebrate this double event by doing some changes of various amplitude and desirability, mostly in the demographic department, while remaining faithful to the core principles outlined in the previous two decades - what French politicians call "changement dans la continuité".

The Eighties and the Nineties were marked on one hand by older laureates with no pressing need for an(other) award, and better showings of female writers (especially in the latter decade) on the other. The 2000s see a relative rejuvenating and renewal of the average winner, which is welcome, and an almost complete eradication of women, which is much less so. S.J. Rozan (Winter and Night) is the sole female winner of the decade, taking us back to the jolly good days of the Sixties and Seventies. Let us hope the next decade will be kinder to the better half of mankind, though I wouldn't bet on this.

Nor would I bet that Edgar in the 2010s will make a greater place to foreign offerings. Ian Rankin (Resurrection Men) and Jason Goodwin (The Janissary Tree) are the only non-American, continuing the trend towards insularization started in the Eighties. A repeat of the 60's British Invasion is unlikely to occur any time soon, though Karin Alvtegen's nomination (and Stieg Larsson's much-talked-about snubbing) might indicate a Scandinavian invasion is possible.

While Dick Francis doesn't win any award in the decade, the flame of multiple-winning is still shining on the Edgar Awards. S.J. Rozan makes history by winning Best Short Story in 2002 for Double-Crossing Delancey and Best Novel the following year, while T. Jefferson Parker follows in Dick Francis' and James Lee Burke's steps by winning the prestigious statuette twice in four years* (Silent Joe in 2002, then California Girl three years later)

As far as books go, voters keep favoring literary, character-driven, realistic fiction and increasingly ignore genre distinctions as evidenced by Jess Walter's win for Citizen Vince. They show much less enthusiasm for series than they had in the previous decade, however, and the main event of the 2000s might well be the return of standalones as Edgar's darlings: only two of this decade's winners are part of a series, one of which (Rankin) is clearly a Grand Master in disguise. This, as well as the increasingly insular nature of the award, reminds strongly of the Fifties except for the place of women.

Has the Edgar come full circle?

* He has since added a third Edgar to his collection, winning Best Short Story last night for "Skinhead Central". The rumor has it that he is busy writing a new novel to be published in paperback, so that he can compete next year in that category, the only one to date missing in his curriculum. Mr. Parker declined to comment.

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