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.