Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My second book cover as a photographer!

I received the excellent news yesterday from the excellent J.T. Lindroos that one of my photos will be used for the cover of Famous Blue Raincoat, by Ed Gorman, a story collection that has one hell of a title. (I found out after posting the news on social media that the title is taken from a song by my landsman Leonard Cohen. Oy, am I proud!)

I shot the cover during some bad weather back home, unlike my cover for Charlie Stella's Eddie's World, which I shot during some good weather back home for Black Gat Books, a new imprint from the good and discerning people at Stark House Press. And yep, I'm excited.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crime writers and reviewers, as they looked at Crimefest 2015

Martin Edwards
Kati Hiekkapelto
Ali Karim
Jake Kerridge
Anthony Quinn
Gunnar Staalesen
Steve Cavanagh
Ruth Dudley Edwards
Hans Olav Lahlum

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Crimefest 2015 subsides into pleasant memories, and my computer dies

Lee Child interviews Maj Sjöwall at Crimefest. Photo by your
humble blogkeeper/

Good fun at Crimefest 2015, marred only by computer's apparent death just after everyone left town.

Among the many highlights were the usual voluble high-jinks with Ali Karim, and my first in-person meetings with authors and fellow fans with whom I'd communicated for years online: Craig Sisterson and Anthony Quinn among them.

It was good to renew acquaintances with Barry Forshaw and Ayo Onotade, and a raucous climb up Park Street for dinner with Ali, Craig, Stuart Neville,  Alan Carter, Alex Shaw, and Steve Cavangh will live long in our memories and probably those of the restaurant's staff as well.

I spent pleasant hours at the hotel bar with Louise Phillips and Sheila Bugler (an Irish writer new to me), and I happy to report that everyone's comportment was unbexceptionable.  I made the acquiance of  some folks from Newcastle way, and I hope to attend their crime fiction festival one of these years. And finally, the post-convention unwinding wih a group that included Alexandra Sokoloff and Craig Robertson pointed up what makes these conventions so much fun: The company was good, and the to-red list got longer.

More to come once last rites have been administered to my laptop.
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Maj Sjöwall at Crimefest 2015

Five years ago I was stunned by the number of crime-fiction trails Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö blazed in Roseanna (1965), the first of their ten Martin Beck novels. This afternoon I heard Maj Sjöwall talk about those books at Crimefest Bristol, and I have to tell you it was a thrill to hear surprising answers to crime-fiction questions, surprisingly matter-of-fact, in some cases, from someone who had done so much to create and popularize crime fiction conventions readers take for granted today.

I shall go into some detail about these later. In the meantime, here's what the event looked like (all photos by your humble blogkeeper).

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Crimefest and tonic

I can't quite remember the sequence of events, and I'm not sure I have all the names straight, but suffice it to say that the first day of Crimefest Bristol has restored my faith in the rationality of the human species. And that's pretty good for a crime convention's first day.

at Friday's debut authors panel.
More to follow after the pitifully meager amount of sleep that remains to me before tomorrow's panels.

Among the day's discoveries--possibly foremost among them--is that 160 ml. of tonic mixed with the gin is the perfect amount for an exquisite Hendrick's and tonic, a conclusion verified repeatedly beyond all possibility of statistical error.

Ali Karim
I have enjoyed being carried along in Ali Karim's wake, and have also had the pleasure of meeting Craig Sisterson in person, years after serving as a judge for him in New Zealand's Ngaio Marsh crime fiction awards.

I also met up with Western Australia's Alan Carter, and thanks to David Whish-Wilson for letting me know about him. Alan: I missed your panel this morning, but I bought Getting Warmer. Stop me if you see me, and I'll ask you to sign it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The night before Crimefest

I arrived in Bristol a day early to have a kebab and a Hendrick's and tonic and to get rid of my jet lag; I've accomplished two of the three. The rest of the gang a catches up with me tomorrow for Crimefest 2015.

And I brought my camera with me, all photos by your humble blogkeeper.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Crimefest 2015: All hail Bartlett

In preparation for this week's Crimefest 2015 in Bristol, I've been flipping through a number of translated crime novels by authors who will appear at the festival.  One of the books stands out from the rest for the fluency of its English rendering, so here's a salute to the translator, Don Barlett, whom I first met at Crimefest in 2009.

The novel in question is Cold Hearts, by Gunnar Staalesen (whom I first met at Crimefest in 2012), and I am going to buy it on the strength of the easy flow of its English. Not once in its opening pages did I stop at a word or phrase that did not seem quite right, wondering if the fault was the author's, the translator's, the editor's, or the publishers.

(Here's Bartlett discussing his work. And here is a series of Detectives Beyond Borders interviews in which translators of crime fiction talk about their work.)

One edition of Cold Hearts carries a declaration by Jo Nesbø, another author translated from Norwegian into English by Bartlett, that Staalesen is "a Norwegian Chandler."  The novel's early pages suggest that the comparison is a good deal less fatuous than such comparisons tend to be. Those pages are rife with wry humor and romanticism that might not have reminded me of Chandler had I not been prodded (this is no mere Chandler parody to pastiche, that is). But having read Nesbø's testimonial, I can well understand why he said what he did.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

United States of India

I'm reading a book about the formative years of one of the world's great nation-states. The discussion of that nation-states's constitution and how it came to be invokes tension between states' rights and centralization, and political schemes that sought to balance the ideal of democracy with wariness of that thing called "the people."

The word federalism finds its way into the discussion, and the author offers compelling portraits of the men at the heart of the country's formation. I learned who the thinkers were, who gave the most inspiring speeches, and who were the gifted administrators who held everything together.

The country's most revered figure is quoted as having said he would like to see a woman from the most despised class as the new nation's first president, however, so I knew I was no longer in the United States. In other respects, though, the process and problems of constitution formation were strikingly similar in India and the U.S.  It's no wonder that the book quotes one scholar as calling India's constitution "perhaps the greatest political venture since that originated in Philadelphia in 1787" — three short blocks from where I sit as I write this post.

The book — India After Gandhi, by Ramachandra Guha —  offers other surprises, as well (to me, at least). One that might resonate with readers today is that a leading voice against reserving seats in the Constituent Assembly for India's leading minority — Muslims — was herself a Muslim. That's right, herself.  Separate electorates, said Begun Aizaz Rasul, are "a self-destructive weapon which separates the minorities from the majority for all time."

I see no reason yet why anyone who admires the great-spirited secular idealism of the American founders should not admire the similar qualities and the people who advanced them in modern India. As for what eventually happens to those qualities, well, don't spoil my fun. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Crimefest: History, wisdom, and the reek of fermented shark


Because it's almost time for Crimefest 2015, and because history is what I read most when I'm not reading crime, I thought I'd bring back a post about history from Crimefest 2010.   
Andrew Taylor made trenchant observations during Crimefest 2010's historical-fiction panel, just as he had at last year's Crimefest.

"The 1950s," he said, "are a fascinating time because, I think, it was the end of history for most of us, an eternal present." But, he said, "It became clear to me it was a completely alien time," a world that would have been recognizable to someone who had been around in the 1930s.

Edward Marston, the panel's moderator, spoke of his childhood during the Second World War: "I saw no one between the ages of 18 and 40 because they had all been conscripted. I didn't see my father until I was 6. ... My grandfather lived with us. He'd fought in the First World War," and, Marston said, those who remained at home heard much about how "His war was better than our war."

Marston also made a remark that ought to make all crime readers and authors reflect on the world in which fictional detectives live and work: "Your sleuth must have social mobility."

Ruth Dudley Edwards spiced up the sex, violence and bad language panel with the observation that her Baroness 'Jack' Troutbeck, while willing to avail herself of a carnal romp with whatever sex is available, "would be just as motivated, really, by a good dinner." (My question about sex as a motivating factor in crime fiction, as a means rather than an end, won me a book bag for the session's best question. I won another later the same day, and no one was around to take it away from me.)

Elsewhere, Michael Ridpath, an author new to me who sets his recent novels in Iceland, said that country's financial crisis had forced some rewriting. "I had to change `In Iceland everything is expensive' to `In Iceland, everything is cheap,'" he said. Asked at a different session what she thought of Ridpath's choice of settings, Iceland's own Yrsa Sigurðardóttir said: "That's great. That's just excellent."

Yrsa also brought hákarl, or highly pungent fermented shark, an Icelandic specialty she was eager to share with fellow attendees, along with bracing Icelandic schnapps to wash it down. I enjoyed watching the faces of everyone who tried hákarl. You'll enjoy doing so, too. Says Wikipedia: Hákarl "is an acquired taste and many Icelanders never eat it."

I suspect that after Crimefest 2010, some Canadians, Americans, Englishmen and South Africans may join them.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Tumor: How a crime fiction cliché gets knocked on the head and doesn't recover

I bought the graphic novel Tumor on the strength of its introduction by Duane Swierczynski, who begins by noting the absurd prevalence in hard-boiled crime fiction of one-punch knockouts, speedy recoveries, and meticulous recollection by the victims:
"Even modern-crime writers can't resist a good cosh to the brainpan. Check out George Pelecanos' Nick Stefanos in Down By the River Where the Dead Man Go:

"`I felt a blunt shock to the back of my head and a short, sharp pain. The floor dropped out from beneath my feet, and I was falling, diving toward a pool of cool black water.'

"The problem, of course, is that such blows to the head are completely ridiculous. It's not easy to bounce back from a severe concussion, And even if you do, it's unlikely that you'll remember the blow in any kind of detail. ... Plus, it's kind of hard to knock someone out with a single blow."
The center of Tumor, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Noel Tuazon, is a broken-down Los Angeles private investigator named Frank Armstrong who must solve one last case before the book's titular malady kills him. The client is a gangster and the case is to find his daughter, and if that all sounds conventionally Chandlerian, keep your eye on the tumor.

Armstrong blacks out, his sense of time is compressed, stretched, and fragmented in ways that seem far more convincing a rendering of brain injury or disease than one finds in most crime writing. And, through the book's first three chapters, at least, there is no hint of excessive cleverness, no evidence that Fialkov is doing anything so conventional as straining to defy convention. I'm not sure I could say the same for most comics since, say, 1987.

Tumor reminds me in this regard of a comment by Detectives Beyond Borders friend Linda L. Richards when I wrote about her novel Death Was the Other Woman in 2008. The novel's protagonist is a secretary/assistant to a PI, like Effie Perrine in The Maltese Falcon.  Here's the the pertinent part of Richards' reply to my review:
"For me, there was never a nudge, nudge, wink, wink. I wasn't trying to be clever or find a new place from where I could spin on an old tale. As I wrote the book, it seemed to me I was merely stating the obvious. The between-the-wars PIs were so damaged. And they were drunks. There was simply no logical way they could be ingesting all that good Prohibition booze in the quantities stated and still be getting through their cases as calmly as it appeared to happen."
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Edgar Awards 2015 — James Ellroy on God and dogs

James Ellroy, photos by your
humble blogkeeper.
I got my New York errands done early on Wednesday, slipped into a phone booth to change into my suit, and got to the ballrooms at the Grand Hyatt a few minutes before anything had started at Wednesday night's Edgar Awards.

At the end of the long anteroom outside the banquet hall, a bald man slouched on a bench, looking not nearly as tall as he does when gesticulating behind a podium.

"Mr. Ellroy," I said. "Congratulations."

"I've met you before," he said, extending his hand.

"You have. Otto's store, when you read from Perfidia."

"Did you enjoy it?" he said, straightening slightly.

"I did. I read it in a week, a solid hundred pages a night."

"That's the way to do it," Ellroy said with an approving nod. "Steady reading, a couch, a dog."

"Except for the couch and the dog, just how I did it."

"Well, they want me in there. We'll talk later."

"I'll be running up, getting in people's way, shooting pictures."

"Shoot away." Another approving nod.

Ellroy talked about dogs again when he accepted the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award. "My life," he told the crowd, "has been one long journey to commune with the talking dog."

This was — in part, at least —  a tribute to his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, whose logo is a borzoi, or Russian wolfhound. Ellroy also said that he sees God in everything, offered the frank literary quotation that "a literature that cannot be vulgarized is no literature at all," and said: "My first words were, `Where's the book?'" and then, with a laugh I took as gently self-mocking, "and `Where's the booze?'"

Oh, and Stephen King swore more than Ellroy did.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Edgar Awards 2015 — The speeches, or Charles Ardai on editors, plus DBB and YA

Charles Ardai
I've long admired Charles Ardai for founding and running Hard Case Crime. I've long respected him for what Hard Case authors say about his devotion to their work. And I am grateful for his  generosity when I had some questions about publishing and editing a few years ago.

But I like him even better after this week's Edgar Awards dinner. Ardai was on hand to receive the Ellery Queen Award, and his acceptance speech constituted the best vindication of editing and editors I have ever heard.

Would anyone scold a great conductor for not letting the first bassoon play more? he asked. Would anyone denigrate a great movie director for exercising casting control over his or her own movies? No. Yet people these days disguise their ignorant contempt for editors and editing behind references to "gatekeepers," perpetrating the delusion that editors only interfere with a writer's "voice."  Ardai became the second person I know to describe gatekeeper as a "sneering" term. Since I was the first, while I maintained my composure and kept snapping pictures during Ardai's speech, inwardly I was cheering myself hoarse.

Ardai said he gained his respect for editors early, when an editor performed surgery on one of his stories, changing almost every sentence. That taught him that editors make stories better, and that's what made him decide to be an editor when he grew up. On the way, though, he founded an Internet company and became an award-winning author. Yet an editor is what he wanted to be and what he talked about.

If I were an author, I'd want a man like Ardai behind my work. Join me in saluting a righteous dude, Charles Ardai.
Hilary Davidson
Lois Duncan
I was a youth and then an unmodified adult; young adult fiction had not been invented when I was a YA myself.  That's why I had never heard of Lois Duncan before Edgar night.

Duncan was named a Mystery Writers of America grand master, and I learned from Hilary Davidson's introduction that Duncan is rated alongside S.E. Hinton and Judy Blume on the young-adult Mount Rushmore. I learned that her books had been censored, and that she wrote an account of the quest for her daughter's killer.  I learned from Davidson and later from Sarah Weinman how much Duncan's work had meant to them.  And that's one of the things I like best about conventions, dinners, and other mass crime fiction gatherings: The chance to learn about fascinating people and genres I might not otherwise have considered.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Detectives Beyond Borders puts the comics in the Philadelphia Inquirer

The Black Hood. (Courtesy of Dark Circle Comics)
My article on Duane Swierczynski's Black Hood comic appears in Thursday's Philadelphia Inquirer  (along with one of my photos). See what Duane has to say, along with comments from his editor, Alex Segura of Dark Circle comics; and props to artist Michael Gaydos and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Duane Swierczynski. Photo
by your humble blogkeeper.
"David Goodis was a huge inspiration," Swierczynski says. "His doomed characters roam the dark Philly streets after a major fall from grace. That's pretty much what happens to Greg Hettinger, the man under the hood."
Read the full article.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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I shot Stephen King: Photos from the Edgar Awards dinner 2015

Stephen King (All photos by
your humble blogkeeper.
List of winners and
at the Mystery
Writers of America Web site.)

Charles Ardai
Sara Paretsky, Hilary Davidson
James Ellroy

Jon and Ruth Jordan
Ian Rankin, Stephen King, Karin
Slaughter, and Stuart Neville
Sara Paretsky and her shadow
© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Uneasy Street, or what P.I. fiction did after Chandler and Hammett

How do writers of P.I. stories confront the Olympian presences of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and when did they start doing it?

Here's a bit from Uneasy Street (1948), Wade Miller's second Max Thursday novel:
"(S)he sounded like a wandering-husband case, probably young, leggy, dissatisfied. And his mind roved curiously. ...

"When he could see her more plainly, Thursday wondered why he had expected her to be young. She was anything but that— a small frail woman, delicately wrinkled, with hair the moonlight couldn’t whiten."
That's one way to confront an imposing model, to challenge it straight on, then to slyly undercut it. It's a brilliant strategy, and it can work if one has the confidence and chops to pull if off, and Miller (pen name for the writing team of Robert Wade and Bill Miller) did. (Wade and Miller were also Whit Masterson, under which name they wrote the novel that Orson Welles adapted as Touch of Evil. So odds are that even if you don't know their names, you've had some contact with Wade and Miller's work.)

Uneasy Street has something of Chandler's yearning romanticism with a tinge of Hammett's witty detachment, the latter possibly because Miller wrote the book in the third person. It's witty without cracking wise, serious without getting maudlin, the way some of Chandler's successors in the 1960s did. It's in the tradition of both great progenitors of hard-boiled crime without being greatly reminiscent of each.  And it's a good place to look if you wonder where private-eye fiction went after Hammett and Chandler.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Satyajit Ray, crime writer

You may know Satyajit Ray as India's most famous movie director, but he was also a crime writer, composing a series of wildly popular novels and stories about a sleuth named Feluda. The stories, which appeared from the mid-1960s on, combined wit, liberal sprinklings of Holmes and Poirot, and a sharp eye for contemporary social problems.  I suspect one could do worse than reading these stories as an introduction to modern India. Or at least I think so based on the novella A Killer in Kailash, which first appeared in 1973

First, the story's form. Ray read and admired Sherlock Holmes, and A Killer in Kailash is full of delightful nods to Holmes and to Hercule Poirot. Feluda's cousin Tapesh narrates the stories in an amused, sometimes bemused, manner, like a Bengali Watson. Feluda, surprised by Tapesh's  failure to grasp a clue's significance, tells him that "Even the few grey cells you had seem to be disappearing, my boy. Stop worrying and go to sleep."

(Photo by your humble blogkeeper)
So Ray was a Christie-loving, Doyle-worshiping Anglophile, right?  Not so fast.  A Killer in Kailash is about the despoiling of India's cultural heritage for gain, specifically the theft of a yakshi's head for sale to an American collector. (This made rub my chin thoughtfully, for only weeks before I had ogled and taken pictures of a gorgeous example—in an American collection, above/right.)

So Ray was a Hindu nationalist, right?  Not so fast. At various times in the story, Feluda admits he can't speak Hindi, and Tapesh overhears two men arguing, but "They were probably speaking in Marathi, for I couldn't understand a word."  When Feluda and company board a plane for Bombay, Tapesh notes that none of them had visited that city before. Without anything like didactic intent, the story is a refreshing reminder of the glorious d-------y of Indian society.

A Killer in Kailash offers amused references to Hare Krishnas,  and, quite naturally, a vocabulary lesson or two. Chowkidar (from the Urdu language) is a fine word for night watchman. I'd always liked cheroot, but I never knew until looking it up that the word derives from Tamil, yet another language spoken in India (also in Sri Lanka).  How can a simple detective novella be so thought-provoking, so educational, and so much fun?

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Charles Williams' Man on the Run: Unpacking a lesser book by a great paperback-original crime writer

Man on the Run (1958) is the weakest of the nine novels I've read recently by that excellent writer of paperback originals, Charles Williams, but those weaknesses stimulated some thought about what we mean by weak writing, what makes some books worse than others, and possible explanations for why those books fall short.

First of all, Man on the Run is a pretty good book; it just suffers by comparison with Williams' Nothing in Her Way (1953), A Touch of Death (1954), or his classic comedy Uncle Sagamore and His Girls (1959). I'd give those books five stars each, and maybe three to Man on the Run, with The Hot Spot (1953),  Aground, (1961), The Concrete Flamingo (1958), The Big Bite (1956), and The Diamond Bikini (1956) somewhere in between.

So, what makes Man on the Run weaker than the rest? For one thing, an occasional tendency to talkiness. For another, repetition of mildly odd phrases, including "intensely silent" and "sobbing for breath."  That this repetition occurs with greater frequency toward the end of the book suggests to me that Williams may not have had his heart in it.

I noticed this especially because Williams' work (and also Peter Rabe's) had previously stood out for me precisely because it avoided such repetition. That's part of why I considered Williams a more polished writer, if not necessarily a better one, than Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, and Day Keene.

The plot of Man on the Run also stands out. Williams was at his best writing about duped, infatuated, deluded men, but this book, as one might guess from its title, is instead about a fugitive. It was also published in 1958, and that's where things get interesting: 1958 was also the year of 77 Sunset Strip, a republication of three novellas by Roy Huggins, one of which I would bet the take of my next heist was the germ of the idea that Huggins later turned into The Fugitive. Men on the run were in the air in 1958.

My tentative conclusion: Whether urged by a publisher or agent, or whether on his own initiative, Williams wrote Man on the Run to satisfy a perceived market demand for fugitive stories and, in so doing, painted himself into a corner where he was less accomplished and less comfortable (hence the repetition).

To be sure, the suspense is well written, and Man on the Run contains elements of Williams' more customary infatuated-man tales. It also has one of the odder endings in noir fiction and, if that end seems a bit contrived, Williams had laid careful groundwork for it throughout the book. Even here, he remained an admirable plotter.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's almost time for the Edgars

It's almost time for the Edgar Awards, presented by the Mystery Writers of America and recognizing the best in crime fiction published in the U.S., and the 2015 awards dinner ought to be especially entertaining: James Ellroy is one of this year's two MWA Grand Masters.

I'll also be pleased to see Charles Ardai receive his Ellery Queen Award. Ardai is an entrepreneur, a publisher, an editor, and an award-winning author who changed the look of American crime fiction when he founded Hard Case Crime with Max Phillips. He's thoughtful, he's intelligent, and he's a nice guy to boot.

I'll get to see Jon and Ruth Jordan accept the Raven Award for outstanding contributions to crime fiction in an area other than creative writing, and, as I wrote when they won an Anthony Award at Bouchercon in 2009, "I feel quite sure that no one has deserved an award more."

Jon and Ruth publish Crimespree Magazine, and they organize Bouchercons. They are friends to authors everywhere, inspirations to all who know them, and they live in the world's coolest house: over the family machine shop, housing more books than the Library of Congress, with fresh sausage on the stove 24 hours a day, a bathtub filled with beer, and nooks and crannies even they probably have never seen.

The awards dinner happens Wednesday, April 29, at the Grand Hyatt in New York, and it's just part of a slew of events this week and next; here's a page with links to everything that's happening. Here's a bit about the Jordans, Ellroy, and their fellow special-award winners.  And here's a complete list of nominees, including Stuart Neville, whose Final Silence is up for the best-novel Edgar.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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