Expanding Crime Fiction Awards

Like the Mystery Writers of America and other US groups, the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association issues annual awards for the “best” books in various categories. The awards, called Daggers are numerous, but unlike most award programs divide into the form of the submission—paperback original, debut, nonfiction, etc.—this program has separate awards for espionage (plus, oddly, psychological and adventure thrillers) and historical. It makes sense to carve out certain topics because, really, how do you compare books across a field with such diverse tropes and traditions? An excellent police procedural—I’m thinking Harry Bosch— or gritty thriller can’t easily be compared to a cozy mystery, where there isn’t much blood, the murders occur off-stage, and the protagonist runs a cupcake shop.

Next year, the UK Association’s boffins are bowing to market pressure and adding two new categories to its list of awards: the Twisted Dagger for psychological thrillers—think Gone Girl and Ruth Ware—and the Whodunnit Dagger for cozy (or as the Brits have it, cosy) crime. The latter became almost inevitable when Richard Osman’s novel, The Last Devil to Die, part of his series that began with The Thursday Murder Club, became the fastest-selling hardcover novel by a British author in UK history.

Readers of the UK Website CrimeFictionLover.com (for which I write book reviews) currently may vote on their favorite books of the last year, nominated by other readers. This is the third year for these readers’ choice awards, and voting ends 4 December. This award program has a separate category for “Indie” publication, by which they mean smaller publishers and self-published.

Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar awards categories for novels take into account the different ways books are published today and age group of intended audience, but don’t distinguish among content subgenres. However, US authors of cozy mysteries can compete against works more generally in that category through the Agatha Awards, a project of the Malice Domestic conference. And for private-eye novels, there are the Shamus Awards. And the . . .

The plethora of awards may seem a bit confusing (and it is), but the difference in tastes reflected by these different approaches to recognizing excellence helps authors and their books more easily find their niche and their audience.

Given that I read about 90 books a year, I’m frequently dismayed at how few of the winners I’ve actually read! But when I’m looking for a great audio book, the lists of finalists are where I start.

3 thoughts on “Expanding Crime Fiction Awards

  1. Having been a judge and a category chairman in a couple different “Best of the Year Novel” contests, I became rather disillusioned with many of them. Suffice it to say, I don’t put a lot of stock in these contests anymore. I became convinced that in many of the ones I was involved in judging that some of the other judges didn’t read the books or stories at all, but rather had their own agendas and motivations for choosing a winner. The contest is only as good as the integrity of the judges.

    • Maybe the categories should be retitled from “Best” (which is in any event a completely subjective construct, even leaving aside the different subgenres” and creating lists of “Don’t Miss!” books. I find a lot of the “Best of” finalists to be excellent, but not always!

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