Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Taylor-Made Affair

While the New York City crime and thriller fiction scene is all abuzz over this week’s Edgar Allan Poe Awards presentation and its associated events, the focus in London has been on the bestowal of the Crime Writers’ Association’s annual Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement. That coveted commendation was given this evening to British novelist Andrew Taylor.

The traditional venue for the CWA Diamond Dagger ceremony is the Savoy Hotel on the Strand. But that establishment is currently undergoing renovations, so tonight’s event was moved to the smaller Gore Hotel, located between Knightsbridge and Kensington. Although it’s not as prestigious, the Gore is still pretty swank, in my opinion.

My editor at Shots, Mike Stotter, arrived at the Gore early, as he’s recently been elected to the CWA management committee, and had to attend a meeting prior to the awards presentation. While I waited for him, I found a place in the hotel bar with Peter Lovesey (The Headhunters), a delightful writer and former Diamond Dagger winner (in 2000). Lovesey sat for several years as the chair of judges on the CWA Short Story Dagger committee, and it is in that way that I’d come to know him. However, I had not seen him for some while, so was pleased to catch up a bit on his life and work.

Cartier Diamond Dagger ceremony participants Peter Lovesey, Margaret Yorke, Andrew Taylor, H.R.F. Keating, Arnaud Bamberger, and Colin Dexter

I’ve long enjoyed these Diamond Dagger ceremonies. They inevitably bring out the stars and offer stimulating conversations. Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, John Harvey, and Ian Rankin have all received this accolade from their crime-writing peers. So did Sue Grafton last year, but I was unable to attend that event, due to a diary clash. (Fortunately, I had met her during the Shamus Awards presentation at Bouchercon 2003 in Las Vegas.)

Tonight’s event was no less interesting, with several previous Diamond Dagger recipients in attendance: Margaret Yorke, H.R.F. Keating, Colin Dexter, and of course the aforementioned Lovesey. There were so many writers, editors, and publishing professionals present, that even I would find it difficult to name-drop them all. Stotter and I could only mingle in amazement, our hands around flutes of champagne.

Author Lesley Horton, the exiting chair of the CWA, stepped to the front of the room and the crowd fell into a hush. She began by welcoming us to the Gore Hotel, and then introduced Margaret Murphy, her successor as the association’s chair. Horton followed this with a few words about how surprised Andrew Taylor had been when she called him to explain that the CWA committee had selected him as the latest Cartier Diamond Dagger recipient. Finally, she thanked members of the CWA committee for their assistance during her tenure as chair, and then handed over center stage to Monsieur Arnaud Bamberger, the managing director of Cartier.

One of the annual highlights of this ceremony is Bamberger’s amusing address, rendered with his quaint French accent. This year proved to be no exception. There was a round of applause when he reiterated that, despite the world’s present economic doldrums, he has ensured that Cartier will maintain its association with the CWA, a relationship that’s been in place now for more than 18 years. After his usual witticisms pertaining to crime writers--or as he likes to refer to them, “super sleuths”--Bamberger extolled the quality of Andrew Taylor’s prose.

Then it was Taylor’s turn in the spotlight. As he took the stand, we raised our champagne glasses in celebration. He opened his acceptance speech in French, which I thought was a wonderful touch. He went on to thank all of us for attending this ceremony, and explained that, as a former CWA committee member himself, he understands the heavy workload all those people take on for the organization. Holding his Dagger prominently aloft, Taylor remarked, “I am hugely honored to receive this award. It’s the sort of award that validates an entire career. What makes it particularly special is that I have been chosen by my fellow crime writers.” Taylor concluded by thanking his wife, Caroline, for her support--and the fact that she had made it possible for him to write full time. His speech was greeted with a round of warm-hearted applause.

More mingling and drinking followed. I was invited out to dinner after this party, but due to having an early meeting scheduled in London for tomorrow, I reluctantly declined. As I boarded my train for home, I found my mind filled with wonderful memories of having first discovered Taylor’s Roth Trilogy. Those three award-winning novels are very deeply disturbing tales, but so thought-provoking that I read all of them over the course of a weekend. I am always amused at how dark the imaginations of crime writers can be, when they are so jolly decent in person. Andrew Taylor is certainly an example of that breed, and a deserving addition to the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger Hall of Fame.

No comments: