Monday, October 06, 2008

The Unstoppable Larsson

You may recall that, in my reporting on the 2008 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival a couple of months back, I noted that one of the highlights was a launch party for the Crime Thriller Season that was being produced for UK television channel ITV3. I am pleased to note that this six-week season has now concluded in style with a glitzy party held last Friday night in London at Grosvenor House in Park Lane. The centerpiece of the evening’s event was the recording for television of the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Award ceremony, which was delayed for broadcast on British television until 10 p.m. this evening.

I hadn’t planned to attend Friday’s ceremony, due to my abnormally busy schedule in the run-up to this week’s Bouchercon convention in Baltimore. However, my mind was changed by a phone call from publicist Nicci Praça of Quercus Publishing, who advised me that Erland Larsson, father of the late Stieg Larsson, who wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, would be among the featured guests. His journalist-novelist son had been nominated in the International Author of the Year category, and since Stieg Larsson was unable to accept the award if he won, his father would appear in his stead. Praça had invited me to the launch party earlier this year for Dragon Tattoo. She’d also made sure that I received a copy of the sequel to Larsson’s novel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, which Quercus/MacLehose Press will release in January 2009. So she knew I would be curious to meet the elder Larsson. What’s more, Quercus managing director Mark Smith and publisher Christopher MacLehose kindly set up an interview for me with Stieg’s father. After all of that work on my behalf, I could hardly eschew the ITV celebration.

I wasn’t convinced that the late Larsson would triumph in the International Author of the Year category. First, because of the caliber of his competition (Jeffery Deaver, Karin Slaughter, and the mother-daughter pair who write as P.J. Tracy). And second, because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had already failed to secure the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, given out in July by the British Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). Nonetheless, I now had to scramble to get my hands on a ticket to the Friday event, which I managed to do thanks to both Shots editor Mike Stotter and Midas PR’s Amelia Knight. Then, of course, there was the more mundane problem of getting my tuxedo dry-cleaned in time for the fête ...

Arriving at Grosvener House, I was completely bowled over by the roster of celebrity guests. The event was headlined by Dame Helen Mirren and Ricky Gervais, with the master of ceremonies being Alan Davies of Jonathan Creek fame. Apart from the TV and film personalities, there were also crime writers from the around the world, including Deaver, Lee Child, Slaughter, Chelsea Cain, and Michael Robotham, who’d come all the way from Australia just for this occasion. Also on hand were Ruth Rendell and P.D. James, taking a break from their duties at the House of Lords, as well as Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Laura Wilson, Martina Cole, Jake Arnott, Peter James, Robert Harris, Stuart MacBride, R.J. Ellory, Lynda La Plante, and many others.

It was great to see so many editors, literary agents, publishing professionals, and journalists turning out for this party. (Lots of opportunities there for future name-dropping.) And it was often surprising to learn who and what was given the evening’s prizes. Winners in nine categories were chosen in an entirely free online vote of ITV3 viewers.

Undoubtedly, the pinnacle of this star-studded event was the announcement--made by Oscar-winning actress Mirren--that Colin Dexter, the creator of Detective Inspector Endeavour Morse, had picked up the Writer’s Award for Classic TV Drama. Dexter was unable to attend, but his video message was most moving, and he looked genuinely touched to be receiving this commendation.

In the hotly contested Film of the Year category, Gervais presented the award to The Bourne Ultimatum, which beat three other blockbusting and critically acclaimed films--The Dark Knight, Gone Baby Gone, and No Country for Old Men--for the honor. That prize was supposedly accepted by “Matt Damon,” though in reality it was a stuntman in a hoodie outfit who came to the stage and fought off a “baddie,” quickly snatching the trophy from Gervais’ podium.

BBC-TV’s Criminal Justice scooped up the award for TV Crime Drama of the Year, beating Ashes to Ashes, He Kills Coppers, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Spooks, and Wire in the Blood.

The final season of the massively acclaimed U.S. drama The Wire saw off challenges from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Dexter, Numb3rs, CSI: Miami, and Shark to walk away with the gong for International Crime Drama of the Year. I guess many of us who attend Bouchercon later this week will toast The Wire’s victory, as both it and this year’s convention are Baltimore-based. And one of the show’s writers is Orion’s very own George Pelecanos, who will be making a return to Bouchercon after a five-year absence.

In the Best Actress category, Hermione Norris of Spooks trounced a varied selection of her peers--Kelly Reilly (He Kills Coppers), Jill Scott (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Amanda Redman (New Tricks), and Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes). The Best Actor prize went to Rupert Penry-Jones for his own role in Spooks. Runners-up in that latter category were Philip Glenister (Ashes to Ashes), James Nesbitt (Midnight Man and Murphy’s Law), Dominic West (The Wire), and Ben Whishaw (Criminal Justice).

Ian Rankin’s Exit Music (2007), his last novel featuring Scottish detective John Rebus, gained him the coveted Author of the Year title. Also nominated for that award were Peter James (Not Dead Enough), Robert Harris (The Ghost) and Lee Child (Bad Luck and Trouble). Rankin sent along a video, as he was unable to attend this event, due to his being in the middle of an overseas book tour.

In the Breakthrough Author of the Year category, Stuart MacBride, author of Broken Skin (2007), captured top honors. Runners-up were Chelsea Cain (Heartsick), Michael Robotham (Shatter, Sphere) and Anne Zouroudi (The Messenger of Athens).

The first three entries into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame were also made during the evening. Of those three--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dame Agatha Christie, and P.D. James--James was of course the only one present, and she was visibly moved as she collected her accolade from presenter Davies and paid tribute to her many peers. The audience rose to applaud her achievement once she was done. A fine show of respect for so much work well done.

Publisher Christopher MacLehose and Erland Larsson.

But the biggest surprise of the evening came when Stieg Larsson was posthumously presented with the International Author of the Year Award. A volcanic cheer rose from the Quercus table at that announcement. Erland Larsson was shocked as Christopher MacLehose and Mark Smith hugged him tightly. Emotions were high as the elderly Mr. Larsson walked slowly to the stage. After collecting the award on behalf of his son, he gave an extremely moving and dignified speech about the pride he felt in Stieg’s career--not only his crime fiction, but his tireless work in journalism and how he had exposed the sinister shadow of right-wing Neo-Nazism in Europe. He told the audience that his son spent much of his time in London consulting with Scotland Yard and advising them of the threats posed by the underground Nazi movement. As the elder Larsson left the stage, he too was honored by a huge round of clapping.

Over drinks later, I introduced Jeffery Deaver to Quercus’ Mark Smith. During our conversation, Deaver told Smith that although he had lost the International Author of the Year Award to Larsson, he was pleased that Larsson was the one who beat him, as he had read so much about Larsson’s life and work, and felt that his early passing was such a tragedy. I’ve known Deaver for many years now, and that statement is typical of his generous nature. As we were chatting, I managed to slip in a recommendation to Smith that he read Deaver’s 2004 historical thriller, Garden of Beasts, which I have often recommended, though I sometimes get strange looks when I do so. Joining our conversation, Mike Stotter winced at hearing me bang the drum once more for Garden of Beasts. He suggested, mostly in jest, that I simply get a sandwich board with Garden of Beasts stenciled on it and wear it to all book-related events in the future. I laughed at Stotter’s remark, while realizing that my enthusiasm for the books I love sometimes borders on the obsessive.

Then Nicci Praça and Christopher MacLehose appeared with Erland Larsson and indicated that we should seek a quiet room to record our interview, as Mr. Larsson, who had just flown into London that morning, was feeling tired.

This brought me back full circle to the reason I had finally attended this celebration. Having the chance to interview Stieg Larsson’s father was a remarkable privilege, and he was very open with me about his son’s life and labors. After my return from Bouchercon, I shall transcribe our conversation and publish it in The Rap Sheet. It was wonderful to listen to his recollections, as he told me proudly about the achievements of a son who was taken from him prematurely. The loss of Stieg Larsson’s talent in the crime and thriller world is a hard thing to bear, so remarkable was it. I really believe that after the second and third installments of his Millennium series--The Girl Who Played with Fire (January 2009) and Castles in the Sky (January 2010)--are released, Larsson’s name will become legend, mentioned in the same breath as Conan Doyle, Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ian Fleming. Yet so little has been written in English about this author and his work (apart from articles that Barry Forshaw and I have published). My interview with Larsson Sr. will address that issue, as well as the origins of author Larsson’s protagonist, Lizabeth Salander, and the partially completed fourth installment of the Millennium series.

For those wanting a simple list, here’s a recap of the winners of this year’s ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards:

Author of the Year: Ian Rankin for Exit Music (Orion)
Breakthrough Author of the Year: Stuart MacBride for Broken Skin (Harper)
International Author of the Year: Stieg Larsson for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Quercus)
Writer’s Award for Classic TV Drama: Colin Dexter for Inspector Morse
Film of the Year: The Bourne Ultimatum
TV Crime Drama of the Year: Criminal Justice
International Crime Drama of the Year: The Wire
Best Actress and Actor Awards: Hermione Norris and Rupert Penry-Jones for their roles in Spooks
Inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame: P.D. James along with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie

BUT THERE’S MORE: More photographs, that is, from this year’s ITV awards events. Simply click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel bad about buying the books and contributing to Larson's father wealth. This fellow stole what belong to Stieg and his wife Eva.