The guys are up first, with Ace Atkins and Jesse Kellerman as the first two writers under for consideration for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. As promised, I am reading, reviewing and ranking the nominees.
The first book in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series was a finalist for the Edgar for Best Novel last year, ultimately losing out to Mo Hayder’s Gone. In my review of The Ranger, I liked the voice of the novel, the characterization, and found the plot suitably twisty, and it ended up #2 in my list.
This year’s finalist, The Lost Ones, has the same positive attributes of The Ranger. The plot revolves around gun-running, with Quinn’s high school buddy Donny Varner up to his neck, and possibly over his head, in the business. He comes by it naturally – after a stint in the armed forces, Donny came back to town and opened a shooting range and gunshop (although the guns in question are Army issue and plenty illegal). A side plot has Quinn and his kickass lady deputy Lillie Virgil investigating a foster-care scheme that’s really a baby-selling ring. Of course, the two plots intersect.
While the book’s not a compulsive page-turner, it’s pretty engaging and I loved the ending. Let’s just say true love blossoms in some unexpected places and Donny turns out to be not such a blackguard after all.
Jesse Kellerman also comes by his accolades naturally; although he probably doesn’t love to think that writing mysteries is in his DNA, his parents are Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, each of whom have penned many a best seller. In fact, Père Kellerman won the Edgar for Best First Novel back in 1986 with When the Bough Breaks.
Jesse Kellerman’s Potboiler is a particularly charming book, especially for writers. Protagonist Arthur Pfefferkorn was a literary wunderkind… now he has written the first 20 pages of his second novel dozens, if not hundreds of times. Back in high school, Arthur was editor-in-chief of the high school paper; his best friend Bill was business manager. In college, Arthur was once again editor-in-chief, Bill served as his ad manager. That’s why it was particularly tough for Arthur when Bill not only became an internationally acclaimed thriller writer, but married Carlotta, the girl Arthur loved.
Potboiler opens with the news of author William de Vallée’s disappearance and presumed death at sea, followed shortly by the funeral, where Arthur and Carlotta reconnect and Arthur discovers that even after all these years, Bill still worshipped his talent. In Bill’s office, Arthur discovers an unpublished manuscript… and of course he steals it and publishes it as his own. This leads to the discovery that the books were actually spy code and responsible for the upheaval in West Zlabia, and Arthur’s transformation into potboiler author-slash-spy. Madcap adventures follow.
Pluses for Potboiler: Pfefferkorn is fantastic and the voice of the novel – pretty much Pfefferkorn’s personality – is engaging. It’s filled with interesting and quirky characters, among them a crazy third world dictator and his put-upon spouse. And the ending avoided the clichéd happily-ever-after with the lovely, aging Carlotta. On the downside: The last half of the book was entertaining, but not compelling. And the ending was not particularly satisfying, in my opinion. As a result, despite my affection for Potboiler, it’s The Lost Ones at #1. (So far.)
Best Novel Edgar Rankings: