MWA’s 2019 Special Edgar Awards Include Protested Grand Master

Mystery Writers of America has named two new Grand Masters – Linda Fairstein and Martin Cruz Smith — plus the winners of several other awards: “MWA Announces 2019 Special Edgar Awards – Grand Master, Raven and Ellery Queen Award Recipients”. However, Fairstein’s selection is being protested by one of last year’s Edgar-winning writers.

2019 Grand Masters

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.

Martin Cruz Smith, the son of a jazz musician and a Native American chanteuse, is perhaps best known for his eight-novel series featuring Arkady Renko, who first appeared in Gorky Park. That book was turned into an award-winning motion picture starring William Hurt and Lee Marvin. Even before his breakout with the Arkady series, Smith had received two Edgar nominations for books in his Roman Gray series, Gypsy in Amber (1971) and Canto for a Gypsy (1972). Both books were originally published under his birth name, Martin Smith, but when he learned that there were six other Martin Smiths who wrote novels he adopted Cruz, his paternal grandmother’s surname, to differentiate himself. Smith also received an Edgar nomination in 1978 for Nightwing, a standalone that drew upon his own tribal ancestry, and has written more than thirty novels in a career that spans nearly five decades.

“When I was a mere strip of a ‘gunsel’, I attended the 1971 Mystery Writers Edgar Award dinner,” Smith said when informed of the honor. “I was overwhelmed to be in the presence of talents like Dick Francis, Donald Westlake and Ross McDonald. Once again, I find myself in the company of wonderful mystery writers at the height of their talent. I’m knocked out, floored and honored. Spasibo.”

Linda Fairstein became a sex-crimes prosecutor during a time when sex crimes were almost impossible to prosecute. In her 30-year tenure at the Manhattan DA’s Office, she was a pioneer in the war against rape, fighting for historic changes to the criminal justice system and for justice on behalf of victims of the most heinous crimes. When she left the District Attorney’s office in 2002, she became a novelist – writing about her alter-ego, Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper. Ms. Fairstein’s first novel, Final Jeopardy, was a New York Times bestseller and made into an ABC Movie of the Week starring Dana Delaney. Ms. Fairstein has since written twenty Alexandra Cooper mysteries, most of which have become instant New York Times bestsellers, and which have been translated into dozens of languages. Her novels draw on Ms. Fairstein’s legal expertise as well as her knowledge of and affection for the rich history of the city of New York.

Attica Locke, who won a 2018 Edgar Award for her novel Bluebird, Bluebird, a mystery featuring a black Texas Ranger as protagonist, is calling on MWA to withdraw Fairstein’s honors. Locke’s thread starts here.

MWA has responded, saying they are “Addressing concerns about a Grand Master recipient”

We are taking seriously the issues raised by Attica Locke. Our Board is going to discuss these concerns as soon as possible and make a further statement soon.

Paraphrasing the Wikipedia:

Linda Fairstein’s office supervised the prosecution in 1990 of the Central Park Jogger case, which ended in the conviction of five teenagers who were later exonerated of any part in the crime. In a settlement lawsuit it was claimed that Fairstein, with the assistance of the detectives at the 20th precinct, coerced false confessions from the five arrested teenagers following thirty straight hours of interrogation and intimidation, of both the youths and their supporting adults. …Fairstein’s behavior seemed so outrageous that in the 1993 appeals decision on Salaam’s case then appellate court judge Vito Titone specifically named her in his dissenting opinion and said in an interview, “I was concerned about a criminal justice system that would tolerate the conduct of the prosecutor, Linda Fairstein, who deliberately engineered the 15-year-old’s confession. … Fairstein wanted to make a name. She didn’t care. She wasn’t a human.” All five convictions were vacated in 2002 after convicted rapist Matias Reyes confessed to the crime…

Three of the defendants sued the city of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination and emotional distress. A proposed settlement in the case was reached on June 19, 2014.

Ken Burns made a film about The Central Park Five (2012), and Ava DuVernay is producing a miniseries for Netflix, Central Park Five (2019).

Raven Award

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

Marilyn Stasio will receive the 2019 Raven Award. Ms. Stasio has been the mystery critic for the New York Times Book Review (and other magazines) for thirty years—since 1988—with hundreds of books coming under her loving, unforgiving, eye.  Whether her judgment is elegiac or brutal, when it comes to the mystery genre, a Stasio review is a thing to be treasured or feared, but always learned from.

“Goodness, I feel like Sally Field.  (“Wow!  You like me!  You actually like me!”)  When I think of the great people the MWA has honored in the past — people like Edward Gorey and Vincent Price — I want to duck behind the door.  My only wish is that those great guys were still around to hand me the Raven, which I promise to treasure.”

Ellery Queen Award

The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

Linda Landrigan. Ms. Landrigan came to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 1997 as an associate editor and has been its editor since 2002. Under her leadership, the magazine has not only continued to thrive but has also navigated dramatic changes in the publishing industry—she has overseen the introduction of AHHM in digital formats as well as the creation of a podcast series featuring audio recordings of stories from the magazine as well as interviews with authors.

The 73rd Annual Edgar Awards Banquet will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 25, 2019.

12 thoughts on “MWA’s 2019 Special Edgar Awards Include Protested Grand Master

  1. How on earth did it not occur to anyone involved that Linda Fairstein might be a bit problematical?

  2. I was going to send this to you, Mike, but I see someone already beat me to it.

    Anyway, I’m not very familiar with the Central Park Five case and didn’t know about Linda Fairstein’s background and involvement, but you’d figure the MWA would be aware of this. But then, the mystery genre only seems to be starting the discussions about racism and sexism that SFF has been having for a couple of years.

    Also, Attica Locke’s Edgar winning novel Bluebird, Bluebird is really good.

  3. Has Anne Perry, convicted murderer, ever received the MWA Grand Master award?

    Ah, a quick check seems to indicate that she hasn’t, which is actually somewhat surprising.

  4. I didn’t know this about Linda Fairstein. I knew her as a mystery writer mainly and former prosecutor as part of her author bio, but other than that she worked in New York, didn’t know about her history. She had a rep as a very gung ho sex crimes prosecutor working at a time when sex crimes were not taken very seriously, so I can see how she went down a wrong path in this prosecution, keeping in mind that what is understood now as accepted doctrine/common knowledge about prolonged interrogation, child/teen suspects, and conscious and unconscious bias was not at the time. She was very pro-victim in sex assault cases at a time when not much care was taken for the victims and the “victim on trial” scenario was even more egregious and awful than it is now (and it’s often still pretty awful now), and this was also a time when the pendulum swing toward the “criminals get all the rights and victims get none” was at the far end of the arc. It really was a different time in terms of both public understanding and legal doctrine.

    Not acknowledging it or apologizing when the truth came out is a very different matter, however. I’m glad the issue is being raised, and I respect Attica Locke for speaking out about it.

  5. I think cmm makes a number of good points, both about how things were nearly 30 years ago when Fairstein was prosecuting the case (i.e. not identical to how things are today), and also about Fairstein’s decision ever since then NOT to acknowledge and apologize for wrongfully prosecuting and imprisoning 5 people who had nothing at all to do with that crime. I assume there would be serious consequences for acknowledging the wrong she did, but there are also–and, indeed, there should be–consequences for refusing to acknowledge it.

  6. Laura: “there should be–consequences for refusing to acknowledge it.”

    You realise someone else who was gung-ho to see these five innocent men punished—actually, put to death for crimes they did not commit—is now your president?

    No wonder Fairstein doesn’t see a pressing need to apologise

  7. Ann Somerville: You realise someone else who was gung-ho to see these five innocent men punished—actually, put to death for crimes they did not commit—is now your president? No wonder Fairstein doesn’t see a pressing need to apologise.

    Of course she realizes that. Your snottiness is uncalled-for.

    And you’ve missed the point. An apology would likely be considered an admission of culpability and result in lawsuits being filed, or possibly even criminal prosecution of Fairstein. It has nothing to do with “not feeling like apologizing” and everything to do with what Fairstein’s attorney has no doubt advised her to do.

    Of course, advice that is wise from a legal perspective has nothing to with morality, either.

  8. Pull your head in, JJ. I wasn’t being snotty. I was noting the irony. No one connected with this case seems to have had an ounce of grace concerning their failings.

    Go back to ignoring me as one of the unclean, and I will do you the same courtesy. I doubt Mike wants a remix of your venom towards me on the rare occasions I comment here. I am extremely clear on your opinion and your elevated status on this blog, but unless Mike forbids it, I will continue to do so when I feel moved to.

  9. Pingback: MWA Withdraws Linda Fairstein Grand Master Award | File 770

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