I’ve read more in the past year than I have in 30+ because I’m retired and not spending thousands of hours grading and prepping for class(I’m on my tenth book this month at this point, just for an example). However, I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t deeply invested in the Minnesota Book Awards this year because I wasn’t familiar with any of the authors–or any of their books. All those hours reading, and few of the nominees’ work consumed.
EXCEPT TWO. And those two, I cared about deeply. Allen Eskens’s and William Kent Krueger’s newest books. I devoured both not long after they were released and thought they were both in the running for each author’s finest work yet. And I’m a huge fan of both guys’ works! I consider them right up there with ANY of the big internationally-best-selling crime-writer names I read. I have read every novel each of them has published, and eagerly await each new release. When I read Allen’s, I thought “Oh, this will win all sorts of awards. This is amazing.” The way he nailed a female protagonist’s inner life stunned me. I’ve read a lot of books by men with female protagonists and been angry that they thought they “got it,” but didn’t. Allen Eskens GOT it and gave us a plot with a character that I couldn’t put down. And then when I read Krueger’s, I thought I was glad I didn’t have to be a judge on the Genre Fiction panel to choose between them for the Minnesota Book Award. I’d have picked Eskens’, but Krueger’s was so, so good, too, that it would certainly have been a tough race.
So…I was only vaguely aware of when the Book Awards Ceremony was even taking place this year. After a year of recovery and Covid everywhere, I haven’t been too excited to be in big crowds anyway. But those two guys were my real only interest in the Awards this year.
So yesterday, the day after the awards were presented, I quickly looked up Genre Fiction. To my stunned surprise, neither one of “my guys” won. They have both won before, so I can’t help but have an inkling of wondering if judges wanted to spread the wealth around a bit. But I still am stunned. I read LOTS of mystery/crime fiction. That and historical fiction are my favorites, hands-down, so I consider myself a pretty good judge of what makes for great genre fiction. Both The Stolen Hours and Lightning Strike constitute great mysteries, in my opinion, with characters that just suck us in and care deeply. So I actually felt affronted that they hadn’t won. Especially The Stolen Hours.
I’m not proud of this reaction, but it makes me NOT want to read the competitor that did win. Sort of in solidarity and sort of in protest. But the truth is that I will break down and order Life’s Too Short so I can either appreciate the choice of the judges or be fully offended with at least a modicum of justification. And it better be damn good if it beat these two out. But I can’t rant if I don’t have the facts. I can’t stand people who rant about politics and only watch Fox News. Get all the info, so here I go to a bookstore site.
Genre Fiction — Nominees and the winner of this category at the Minnesota Book Awards
Sponsored by Macalester College
Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez (Forever/Hachette Book Group) — Winner
Insurrection by Tom Combs (Evoke Publishing*)
Lightning Strike: A Novel by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster)
The Stolen Hours by Allen Eskens (Mulholland Books/Hachette Book Group)