This past week, I did not win the Gumshoe Award for best mystery novel of 2005. This is not terribly unusual, as I did not win the Gumshoe Award the previous week, either, or any other week since, roughly, birth. So it didn’t strike me as a tremendous surprise that I didn’t win.
The difference was that this year, my book AS DOG IS MY WITNESS was actually nominated for a Gumshoe Award, and so the possibility actually existed that it could have won. That was a surprise. I was actually shocked to have been nominated, as my work isn’t what you generally think of in the same sentence as the word “award.” And yet, there it was, in pixel and white, on the Mystery Ink web site. In fact, there were only five people on the planet who were eligible to win said award this past week, and I was one of them.
That’s something in itself, don’t you think?
Don’t worry: this isn’t going to be a diatribe on how unfair it all is, and how I should have won the award, but it’s all politics. Because the fact is, I understand precisely why DOG didn’t win the award, and Laura Lippman’s TO THE POWER OF THREE did.
The main reason my book didn’t win was that it actually was not the best mystery of 2005. I don’t know if Laura’s book was–it’s entirely possible, but I honestly haven’t read every mystery published during the year, so I can’t say for sure–but I know it wasn’t mine.
This is NOT to say that AS DOG IS MY WITNESS isn’t a good book. I think it’s my best so far, and truly believe that it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: it sets up a tricky mystery, develops the characters in the Aaron Tucker series a little more, has a good number of laughs (which is always my objective) and gets in a little covert information about Asperger Syndrome, the high-functioning form of autism that Aaron’s son shares with my own. Not a bad few hours read. I’m proud of the book, so don’t think this is a pitch for the Smallest Ego in the Publishing Business Award, which I also would not win.
The thing is that DOG isn’t meant to be the Best Mystery of the Year. A few people who read it might think it is–as my daughter says, everymovie is someone’s favorite–and I’m certainly not going to argue with them. But it’s not designed to be a huge statement about the human condition (other than to touch lightly on people responding to differences in others), the most astonishing thriller since Alfred Hitchcock gave up the ghost and became one, or my answer to Dennis Lehane’s most recent question, whatever it might have been. No, DOG was always intended to be a light entertainment and little more. An award for FUNNIEST mystery of the year? Yes, I’m egotist enough to think it should have qualified for that. But BEST? What the heck is BEST, anyway?
Now, I can hear loyal readers of this Sunday blog (hi, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!) ask, “hey wait a minute, Jeff: didn’t you go on like a maniac just a couple of weeks ago about how comic mystery should be on an equal plane with serious mystery, and how it’s unfair that nobody takes into account how hard it is to be good AND funny?” Yes, I said all those things, and I stand by every word (except “AND”: who told it to be in all caps?). But strictly as a mystery novel, stripped of its humor, would DOG be the best of the year? Probably not. It’s good, but it’s not groundbreaking. It doesn’t further the form. It is there to distract, to amuse.
Given the opportunity, would I have voted for AS DOG IS MY WITNESS? That’s a whole different question (which you can tell, based on the fact that it’s a separate sentence, and everything). Sure I would have; I’m no fool. That’s my book, and I worked on it for a long time, and I think it works pretty well and besides, “Gumshoe Award Winner” would have looked nice on my next cover. Do I think other people should have voted for it? Wow, this is getting complicated. What’s “best” is entirely too subjective. Can we have a list of rules please?
It gets back to the argument about comedy being on the same ballot as more “serious” pursuits. If you believe in competition at all–and let’s face it, awards are fun–you have to decide whether there should be separate categories for funny mysteries. I think there should be separate AWARDS for funny mysteries, just to acknowledge the best writers working at making us laugh. But when it comes to a straight discussion of “best,” I think the choice should be open to all genres and tones.
Is YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN a better movie than THE GODFATHER PART II? Probably not. It’s a MUCH funnier one. Should it have been nominated for Best Picture ahead of THE TOWERING INFERNO (yes, THE TOWERING INFERNO was nominated for Best Picture; you can look it up)? Now, there you have me–yes, Mel Brooks’ monster movie is better than Irwin Allen’s. It was probably better than LENNY (another nominee, along with CHINATOWN, which probably should have won), too, and Gene Wilder was miles funnier than Dustin Hoffman.
But this is a little off the point, which started out on this week’s award. I didn’t expect for a moment to win the Gumshoe, but I’m thrilled to pieces to have been nominated. All those cliches you hear are true: being considered among Laura, Reed Farrel Coleman (whose parents should have kept their original last name), Denise Hamilton and Duane Swierczynski is plenty of an honor. The fact that a goofy mystery like DOG was nominated is progress. When I write the Best Mystery of a year, I’ll be seriously ticked off when it doesn’t win. But as for now, I can’t tell you how nice it felt. I hope it feels just as good (or better) the next time I have a book published.
The next time they say “it’s an honor just to be nominated,” and you want to roll your eyes incredulously and comment on what a colossal fib THAT one is, think twice. It really is an honor, and I’m very grateful for it.
Meanwhile, since today is, indeed, Mother’s Day, let’s take a moment to consider and honor those who made the holiday possible. Naturally, I mean the flower and greeting card industries. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to ignore our mothers for 364 days and still feel like we’re good children. Hats off to you, flower and greeting card people!
My own mother (and you should know, if you’re a fan of Freudian slips, that while typing the phrase “own mother”, I almost wrote “owner,” which is creepy) made sure that her young son (that was me) was a fan of books, had plenty of them around the house and, as I recall, never dissuaded me from reading any of them. She has introduced me to some of my favorite authors (thanks for Irwin Shaw, Mom!) and never fails to praise my work beyond realistic limits.
I’m sure that when she reads this post, it will annoy her that I said AS DOG IS MY WITNESS wasn’t the best mystery of the year. For her, it was. And if there’s any greater praise for a mother than that, I don’t know what it is.