“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Barbara was both.”
“Have you anything to say for yourself?” the judge asks Blanche White in the opening sentence of Barbara Neely's first novel, Blanche on the Lam (1992). Well, Barbara had a great deal to say for herself and few have left such a rich legacy, not only in novels and short stories, her essays, plays, and the 2003 “Commonwealth Journal” WUMB-FM radio shows from U Mass Boston, but most especially for who she was: an activist, feminist, African-American woman, and deeply caring friend. In terms of her passion for social justice, her awareness, her core beliefs of who we should be in this life and who she should be, she was probably greater than almost anybody else I have known.
At a symposium hosted by the Université de Tours in 2000, Barbara said that some people might think Blanche had “an attitude problem.” Happily, they both did. And Barbara was writing back then about everything in the news today—unsurprisingly prescient. Read the Tours transcript and watch this YouTube gem from the 2012 Book World Prague and others you will find online. As is sadly often the case for some writers, she found her global appreciation greater than her appreciation here until her recent recognition by Mystery Writers of America as a Grand Master, which when announced, prompted Barbara’s reaction: “ I hope this doesn’t mean I have to relinquish my position as Empress Regnant of the Multiverse.” I can see her, head slightly cocked to one side as she says this with a beautiful smile, amazed and amused by it all.
When Mystery Scene asked me to write about Barbara, I thought the flood of memories—our trips to Filene’s Basement, searching out the man together who could repair her fountain pens (her preferred writing instrument), our always talking and laughing in a friendship that began in 1991—would make this task a kind of Love in the Time of COVID. But it is not the pandemic making this difficult, but the word, “was.”
Rather than write much more here, I urge everyone to read all that has come out now about her life. Read the four Blanche White books (Blanche on the Lam, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Blanche Cleans Up, and Blanche Passes Go) in order—and then read them again. (And many, many thanks to Brash Books for making them available.)
I am missing you terribly, dear Barbara. I can hear your distinctive, lovely voice and can think of no better reminder of what you stand for (present tense) than this quote from Blanche Passes Go (2000): "Did white people have any idea how much energy and hope and downright stubbornness it took to live and work and try to find some fun in a place where you were always the first to be suspected, regardless of the crime?"
Katherine Hall Page is the author of the long-running Faith Fairchild mysteries, which began in 1991 with The Body in the Belfry and which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel in 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement, she has been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark, the Maine Literary, and the Macavity Awards. She lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.
The Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards are the mystery community's equivalent of the film industry's Oscars and are a time to celebrate mysteries and mystery writers. The symposium is a chance to learn more about the authors and publishers who make up our mystery community.
Unfortunately, the 2020 Edgar Awards Banquet, which was to be held April 30, 2020, and symposium April 29 are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's sad, but the right thing—and the legal—thing to do.
All bars and restaurants have been closed in New York City due to the pandemic (other than for delivery and pick-up), and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement on Sunday urging people to cancel or postpone all events bringing together 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the CDC stated on its website. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.
Yes, it is sad, but lives are at stake and people's health and lives are more important.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of MWA, and the Edgar week festivities were to be a celebration of that anniversary, stated author Greg Herren, MWA Executive Vice President, in an MWA press release. "But the health, safety, and well-being of our nominees, guests, members, and the hotel staff have to be paramount, nd it is not in anyone's best interest that we go forward with the festivities," said Herren.
Herren added that MWA still plans to celebrate the achievements of the nominees and award recipients, and to announce the winners.
"How we will do that is currently under discussion," he said. "We do hope you will join us next year, when we will celebrate this year's anniversary for MWA along with the 75th anniversary of the Edgars themselves," said Herren. "Please do everything you can to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, and we look forward to seeing you next year."
THE 2020 EDGAR NOMINEES
Mystery Scene congratulates all the nominees.
Fake Like Me, by Barbara Bourland (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
The Stranger Diaries, by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The River, by Peter Heller (Penguin Random House – Alfred A. Knopf)
Smoke and Ashes, by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus Books)
Good Girl, Bad Girl, by Michael Robotham (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)
BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
The Good Detective, by John McMahon (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott (Penguin Random House – Alfred A. Knopf)
Three-Fifths, by John Vercher (Polis Books – Agora Books)
American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson (Penguin Random House – Random House)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL
Dread of Winter, by Susan Alice Bickford (Kensington Publishing)
Freedom Road, by William Lashner (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Blood Relations, by Jonathan Moore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Mariner Books)
February’s Son, by Alan Parks (Europa Editions – World Noir)
The Hotel Neversink, by Adam O’Fallon Price (Tin House Books)
The Bird Boys, by Lisa Sandlin (Cinco Puntos Press)
BEST FACT CRIME
The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz-Age America, by Karen Abbott (Penguin Random House - Crown)
The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity, by Axton Betz-Hamilton (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century, by Maureen Callahan (Penguin Random House - Viking)
Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History, by Peter Houlahan (Counterpoint Press)
Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, by James Polchin (Counterpoint Press)
Hitchcock and the Censors, by John Billheimer (University Press of Kentucky)
Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan, by Ursula Buchan (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Hooded Gunman: An Illustrated History of Collins Crime Club ,by John Curran (Collins Crime Club)
Medieval Crime Fiction: A Critical Overview, by Anne McKendry (McFarland)
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women, by Mo Moulton (Hachette Book Group – Basic Books)
BEST SHORT STORY
“Turistas," from Paque Tu Lo Sepas, by Hector Acosta (Down & Out Books)
“One of These Nights," from Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers, by Livia Llewellyn (Akashic Books)
“The Passenger," from Sydney Noir, by Kirsten Tranter (Akashic Books)
“Home at Last," from Die Behind the Wheel: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan, by Sam Wiebe (Down & Out Books)
“Brother’s Keeper," from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Dave Zeltserman (Dell Magazine)
The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster, by Cary Fagan (Penguin Random House Canada – Tundra Books
Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydu (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Katherine Tegen Books)
The Whispers by Greg Howard (Penguin Young Readers – G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR)
All the Greys on Greene Street, by Laura Tucker (Penguin Young Readers – Viking BFYR)
Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse, by Susan Vaught (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books – Paula Wiseman Books)
BEST YOUNG ADULT
Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer (Tom Doherty Associates – Tor Teen)
Killing November, by Adriana Mather (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay (Penguin Young Readers - Kokila)
The Deceivers, by Kristen Simmons (Tom Doherty Associates – Tor Teen)
Wild and Crooked, by Leah Thomas (Bloomsbury Publishing)
BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY
“Season 5, Episode 3” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
“Season 5, Episode 4” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – Dublin Murders, Teleplay by Sarah Phelps (STARZ)
“Episode 1” – Manhunt, Teleplay by Ed Whitmore (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – The Wisting, Teleplay by Katherine Valen Zeiner & Trygve Allister Diesen (Sundance Now)
ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD
“There’s a Riot Goin’ On," from Milwaukee Noir, by Derrick Harriell (Akashic Books)
THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD
The Night Visitors, by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Harlequin – Graydon House)
Strangers at the Gate, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books)
Where the Missing Go, by Emma Rowley (Kensington Publishing)
The Murder List, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Tom Doherty Associates – Forge Books)
THE G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS SUE GRAFTON MEMORIAL AWARD
Shamed, by Linda Castillo (Minotaur Books)
Borrowed Time, by Tracy Clark (Kensington Publishing)
The Missing Ones, by Edwin Hill (Kensington Publishing)
The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
The Alchemist’s Illusion, by Gigi Pandian (Midnight Ink)
Girl Gone Missing, by Marcie R. Rendon (Cincos Puntos Press)
In addition, MWA honors its Grand Master, Ellery Queen and Raven honors. For more information about these honorees, please visit our blog that gives more information about them.
Left Coast Crime