If you’re a writer, that is. And if you’re a mystery fan, you’re glad to pony up the price of the latest thriller, especially if it has won an Edgar or a Gold or Silver Dagger. The former, named after Edgar Allan Poe, who invented the mystery genre with “Murder in the Rue Morgue, which featured a proto-Holmesian sleuth named Auguste Dupin, is awarded by the Mystery Writers of America, while the latter is bestowed by the British Crime Writers Association – and I use the word “bestowed advisedly, since the CWA tends to reward works that attempt with varying degrees of success to “transcend the crime and detection genre, such as Fox Evil, by Minette Walters (2003) and The Athenian Murders, by Jose Carlos Somoza (2002), while the MWA is quite happy to honor books that hew to the conventions of the genre pretty closely, such as Ian Rankin’s Resurrection Men (2004), S.J. Rozan’s Winter And Night (2003) and T. Jefferson Parker’s Silent Joe (2002).
The Dagger roster is also more international, having included in recent year translated novels by such authors as Manuel Vásquez Montalbán, Didier Daeninckx, Daniel Chavarría and, most recently, Thierry Jonquet. And no, the list does not include anything translated from Arabic, perhaps because no Middle Eastern writer I know of has written a mystery. And it does not include anything (yet) by Orhan Pamuk, who is the only mystery author writing in Turkish. If there are any Egyptian creative writers out there who are unafraid to tackle a “commercial genre, I hope they will take this as a challenge.
For beginners who write in English, the CWA sponsors a prize called the Debut Dagger. It carries a prize of only ?500, but the real draw is the prospect of publication. For non-writers, the chief interests of the CWA Web site are the book news, the lists of past and current Dagger winners and the links to the personal Web sites of legendary authors like Ruth Rendell and Lawrence Block and comparative newcomers such as Denise Mina. Crime writers are a chummy lot, and they’re not shy about self-promotion, so you’ll find a lot of mutual back scratching at each Web site. Val McDermid calling Ruth Rendell “the ultimate anatomist of the human psyche and Rendell returning the praise with some equally purple prose. Crime writers can also be distinguished from literary authors by their work ethic and their lack of snobbery. So you will find several public areas at their personal Web sites where fans can communicate with each other and with the author. The forums come with a self-regulating mechanism: Anyone who makes a nuisance of himself is likely to be lynched by the fans, without the author’s involvement.
The MWA is strictly American, yet more active than the CWA. It provides scholarships for writers and sponsors a children’s literacy program. Its statement of purpose adds nobly that the organization strives “to educate writers and those who aspire to write regarding their rights and interests, and to make writers and readers aware of matters which may affect crime writing through legislation, publishing industry practices, judicial decisions, or in other ways. But, once again, the most useful features for mere civilians are the book news and the links to authors’ Web sites (there’s only one under “Q : Robert Quackenbush).
But where can I get the actual books, you ask? Good question. One good place to start is Murder Ink, which bills itself as “the world’s oldest mystery bookstore. Located at 2486 Broadway in New York City, this small store carries nothing but mysteries. Overseas shipping is available at UPS (United Parcel Service) rates for the continental United States, plus a surcharge of $5. For other suggestions, see the links pages at the personal websites of CWA and MWA members.
If your taste is a tad more ghoulish, you can get your crime fix online at the abovementioned site, which offers over 600 nonfiction stories about major crimes and criminals. In case you are tempted to pass it over as strictly for prurient interest, consider the murder of Dutch filmmaker and polemicist Theo Van Gogh.
A descendant of the painter who lopped off his own ear after an argument with roommate Paul Gaugin, Theo Van Gogh was equally passionate and controversial. Burly, bearded and brusque, he made a name for himself as a social critic. His fiercest attacks were directed against the three Abrahamic religions, although he reserved most of his ire for Islam. His last work, a 10-minute film titled “Submission, depicted four semi-nude women with texts from the Quran calligraphied on their skin. The texts described how “disobedient women might be punished. Shortly after “Submission aired on Dutch television, Van Gogh began to receive death threats. He ignored them and continued to cycle unescorted through Amsterdam, until he was accosted by a Moroccan immigrant named Mohamed Bouyeri and stabbed to death in November of 2004. Ornery crackpot or free-speech martyr? You be the judge.