Tag Archives: Nic Pizzolatto

Lunchbox offbase on Edgar picks this year

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the Edgar Award winners!  And unlike last year, where my taste totally reflected the taste of the judges… we are not in synch.  In fact, 180 degrees difference.

I picked Tana French’s Faithful Place for Best Novel.  MWA picked Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist.   I placed this one… dead last in the running.  Augh.  A revisit of my review reveals that I still agree with my comments.   Hamilton is a great author – I’ve loved his previous series – and The Lock Artist was very creative and a fun read, but I didn’t find it to be my preference.

Similarly, for Best First Novel, my pick was Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston.  MWA’s choice: Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva.  Again, this book was at the bottom of my list.  I looked back over my review.  Yep, still agree with it.  The book has sheer verve going for it, but it’s not as edgy as I prefer.

Bottom line:  If you haven’t read all the nominees, do so!  They’re all excellent and well worth your time.  You can’t go wrong with the established authors nominated for Best Novel, including Tana French, Harlen Coben, Tom Franklin, Timothy Hallinan and Laura Lippman.

For the debut novels, you may find that Rogue Island is your favorite, or perhaps the humor and quirky characterizations of David Gordon’s The Serialist will float your boat.  All five nominees are an opportunity to expand your “must read” list.

My final take on being so wrong?  No biggie.  It’s like the Oscars.  “Predict the Oscars” contests reward those critics who are best are predicting what nominees will be selected by the Oscar voters.  I am more like the critics who pen “who should win” columns.  But even with that perspective, this undertaking is all very subjective! Still, it’s terrifically fun, so 2012 will find me doing the same thing.  Maybe I’ll even go to the ceremony!

Snow Angels final nominee for Best First Novel Edgar

James Thompson’s Snow Angels is the final nominee for the MWA Edgar for Best First Novel to be reviewed and ranked… and just in time, because the Edgars Award Ceremony is tonight!  Will the winners be on the MWA website tonight or not till tomorrow?  Not sure.

I’m surprisingly nervous.   After my perfect score last year (getting both Best First Novel and Best Novel right), I’m hoping to recreate the feeling.  But if bat 0 instead of 1000:  devastation.

But on to Snow Angels.  James Thompson is an American married to a Finn… and his protagonist, Kari Vaara, is a Finn married to an American.  Kari’s a cop in the Arctic Circle who mostly solves domestic murders.  In fact, he says that frequently the murderder confesses right off the bat. An example of this is included in Snow Angels.  Alcohol, depression, close quarters and the long, endless night of winter all play a role in a typical Lapland killing.

But Snow Angels doesn’t feature a typical murder… it’s the grotesque and brutal murder of a Somali-born movie star.  Black, beautiful, and complicated, Sufia Elmi has moved far beyond her Muslim upbringing to end up butchered in the subzero snow of a reindeer farm.  Kari worries that he is not experienced enough to solve this murder, but the reader sees that his true fault is that he is so involved with each and every potential suspect that he lets his personal feelings get in the way of seeing the truth.  Kari’s ultimately successful in solving the crime, but not without a lot of additional blood being spilled along the way.

Pros for Snow Angels:  The setting is interesting and well-rendered, Kari’s character is well-fleshed-out and his perspective is true and strong, the plot is twisty and the end is surprising.  The tie-in to the Black Dahlia murder was also an interest reference and clue.  Cons:  I found the first-person, present tense a little difficult to get used to and as a reader, I was more detached from the emotional content of the plot than I would have liked.

Overall, Snow Angels was well worth reading (in fact, I’ve already read the second Kari Vaara mystery!), but not engaging enough to take the #1 spot.  So, going into tonight’s awards, here’s the Literary Lunchbox lineup:

  1. Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
  2. The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron.
  3. Snow Angels by James Thompson
  4. The Serialist by David Gordon
  5. Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva
Friday’s post:  the winners!  Best wishes to all the nominees – this is one award where being a nominee is definitely an honor.

Bruce DeSilva’s Rogue Island up for the Edgar

The hard-drinking, fact-finding, womanizing reporter is a cliche in crime (and other) fiction… right up there with the amateur lady sleuth who has a cop boyfriend, the PI with the grudging relationship of mutual respect with the hard-boiled cop, and the good-guy-who-does-what-it-takes-whose-best-friend-is-a-criminal.  But a cliche becomes a cliche because it works.

In the case of Bruce DeSilva’s debut novel, Rogue Island, all the pieces fall into place.   That’s why it’s one of the five novels up for the Mystery Writers of America‘s Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

DeSilva’s protagonist, Liam Mulligan, is investigating an arsonist.  Buildings are going up in flames, and that’s a fact in the city, but the heat gets turned up when one of the burned-out buildings has some bodies in it.   Add a humorous sidekick (nicknamed Thanks, Dad because he’s the publisher’s son) that Liam doesn’t take seriously enough, a totally hot reporter girlfriend (what does she see in him?) and a surprising female best friend who meets a bad end and it’s a pretty compelling read.

Pros for Rogue Island is the twisty plot, the breezy, self-assured writing style, and the ending that I only saw moments before DeSilva revealed it.  I also loved the shockingly duplicitous girlfriend.  Cons are the cliches (the lovable dog, the curse-spewing ex-wife, etc.) and the shock of the best friend’s death, which I found unnecessary.

All in all, I had a hard time ranking Rogue Island.  It’s a tough call, but I’m giving The Serialist the edge for sheer inventiveness.  Here’s the line up so far:

  1. Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
  2. The Serialist by David Gordon
  3. Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva
Still to come:  The Poacher’s Son and Snow Angels.

Galveston vs. The Serialist: Smackdown

The Edgar Awards ceremony is Thursday night… and I have neglected to blog about my rankings for the Best First Novel!  Panic is setting in.  The good news is that I have read them all.  The bad news is that I read them for enjoyment, not for reviewing or ranking.  So, revisiting is necessary.  While under a time crunch.

Here’s the first two under scrutiny:  Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto and The Serialist by David Gordon.

Galveston is a character-driven crime story, criss-crossing through time and featuring a bleak, dark outlook.  Protagonist Roy Cady gets the bad news that he’s dying of cancer on the same day that he begins to suspect that his underworld boss is planning to have him killed.   A violently action-filled scene later, Roy’s on the run with a teenage hooker.  Their tenuous relationship, Roy’s desire to give the girl, Rocky, and her young daughter a future, and how he fails Rocky but ultimately redeems himself to give little Tiffany a shot at a decent life is a strong backbone for the story.  The characterization of the Roy and Rocky and even the secondary characters that populate the book is also assured, with the people well-drawn, three-dimensional, and affectingly human.   Knowing that Roy is meant to die within months, if not weeks, the jump to present day – 20 years after the initial story begins – is a shock at first, but serves to ratchet up the suspense.  Where’s Rocky?  Where’s Tiffany?  And why is today’s Roy so different from the Roy in the past?   These are all the pros for Galveston.  Cons?  Some will find this book too dark and violent.  Not me.

The Serialist, on the other hand, has a light and comic touch.  Protagonist Harry Bloch is an author, skipping across multiple genres thanks to various pen names, and in one memorable scene he actually dresses up as his mother (in the guise of Sibylline Lorindo-Gold he writes a pulpy erotic vampire series).  The possibility of a comfortable paycheck leads Bloch to agree to ghostwrite a pornographic memoir for serial killer Darian Clay… but when the women he interviews for the book turn up dead, Harry’s in for much more than he bargained for.  But who is doing the killing?  Is it possible that Darian is innocent after all?  Unlikely.  I foresaw the twist at the end, but only very close to the end, so full credit to the author.  Pros:  the book is engaging, funny, with interesting characters.  Some people, I am sure, adore the “excerpts” from Harry’s novels – and it is, indeed, an opportunity for Gordon to show off a bit while poking fun at the conventions of various literary genres.  I didn’t like this quite so much.

Comparison:  The Serialist, while successful and engaging, doesn’t offer the same emotional engagement or character development as Galveston.  Therefore, the Literary Lunchbox Edgar rankings for Best First Novel (2011) stand thusly:

  1. Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
  2. The Serialist by David Gordon

Needless to say, more to come tomorrow –  must have all reviewed and ranked before the Edgars are announced Thursday night in order to get full credit – if only in my own mind – if I call it right!