Saturday, May 12, 2007

Of Daggers, Toasts, and Tie Pins

In the world of British crime fiction, no honor is greater than the annual Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, sponsored of course by Cartier jewelers. Nominees have to meet two essential criteria: first, their careers must be marked by sustained excellence; and second, they must have made a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language, whether originally or in translation. The award is made purely on merit without reference to age, gender, or nationality.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Diamond Dagger awards ceremonies at London’s Savoy Hotel for a few years running, during which I have met Lawrence Block and his wife in 2004, Ian Rankin in 2005, and Elmore Leonard last year. Naturally, I was also looking forward to this year’s event, celebrating recipient John Harvey, a UK novelist often described as “the crime writer’s crime writer.”

Joining the festivities this last Wednesday evening were a plethora of British fictionists, editors, publishers, and agents, plus teams from both the CWA and Cartier. I mingled among the notables, who included H.R.F. Keating (to whom I mentioned that my father is a huge fan of his Indian Inspector Ganesh Ghote mysteries), Colin Dexter, Peter Lovesey, Robert Barnard (last year’s CWA Short Story Award winner), Russell James, Stella Duffy, James Twinning, Lesley Horton, Natasha Cooper, Caroline Carver, Rebecca Tope, Laura Wilson, Zoё Sharp, and Peter Guttridge, as well as Christopher Fowler, about whom I am writing for Barry Forshaw’s mammoth Harcourt Encyclopaedia of British Crime Fiction, due out in 2008. (Apparently, Fowler has sold off his film-promotion business, and is now writing full-time--which, ironically, he finds challenging to his fiction output, forcing him to be rather more disciplined in his scheduling.) I also had the chance to chat with Lizzie Hayes from the Mystery Women blog, David Stuart Davies (my editor at the CWA magazine Red Herrings), Guardian critic and legal eagle Marcel Berlins, Thalia Proctor and David Shelly of Little, Brown, Richard Reynolds of Heffers Booksellers in Cambridge, and my friend Geoffrey Bailey of London’s Pan Bookshop.

As is customary at these occasions, the newest CWA chair, Philip Gooden (author of the Nick Revill historical series), welcomed everyone and then handed the microphone off to departing chair Robert Richardson. He, in turn, told us about his recent telephone call with previous Diamond Dagger winner Sara Paretsky. Seems she’d recently lost her dagger-shaped diamond Cartier tie pin while jumping through the hoops of airport security. She rang Richardson and told him that the only thing she cherished more than this little piece of jewelry was her wedding ring, and she was hoping the CWA could arrange a replacement--naturally, she would pay. The long and the short of it is, Richardson contacted Cartier, they made a replacement and sent it to Paretsky free of charge, and she was delighted at Cartier’s generosity and rapid response.

There has been a worrying rumor of late that Cartier was considering not renewing its longstanding (since 1986) sponsorship of the Diamond Dagger Awards, so we were all interested--or perhaps “anxious” would be a better word--when Monsieur Arnaud Bamberger, the managing director of Cartier UK, took to the mike for his annual witty speech. He told everyone that Cartier had valued its association with the CWA--but alas, he noted, lowering his eyes significantly to the carpet, things change, and the company had been looking to drop its support of the Diamond Dagger. However, he added into the hush, after hearing about Paretsky’s affair of the missing tie pin, and how much she valued it, he’d decided that the relationship should not only continue, but that Cartier would be making a long-term commitment to the award. This was met with a great cheer, as well as some discernible relief from CWA organizers.

M. Bamberger then quoted other writers on the subject of John Harvey’s literary excellence. Most amusing was his reference to the fact that both Harvey and Elmore Leonard, last year’s winner, had begun their careers penning westerns. With his tongue firmly planted in cheek, Bamberger then read a statement from the Dean of Detroit Letters himself, which suggested that Harvey’s lovely young wife might think to investigate this matter further, as Harvey and Leonard might be much closer than they ought to be! The audience broke out laughing at this, but Harvey blushed.

Finally, Harvey took center stage and said that, due to the day’s heat, he’d try to keep his speech short. After thanking everyone for coming to celebrate this occasion with him, he offered special appreciation to his family and to his publisher, Random House. Bamberger followed this by presenting the author formally with both the Dagger and the accompanying tie pin. But he warned that if Harvey were to lose the latter, he had better think of a better excuse for replacing it than Paretsky had offered ...

Afterward, everyone stepped up to shake Harvey’s hand, and we all raised our champagne flutes in tribute to his talent. This won’t be the last time he’s so celebrated, however; Harvey is also to be the guest of honor at Bouchercon 2008, to be held in Baltimore from October 9 to 12.

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