The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
CRIME-WRITING PRIZE: Mr. Owen, with the quill
Howard Owen, The Free Lance–Star’s business editor, has won the North America branch of the International Association of Crime Writers’ Hammett Prize.
He beat out four other authors for the award, which is given annually for literary excellence in the field of crime writing in a book published in the English language in the United States or Canada.
“I am stunned and thrilled,” Owen said Wednesday. “It’s the biggest honor I’ve gotten in 24 years of writing fiction.”
He received the organization’s “Thin Man” trophy Tuesday at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Fall Conference in Somerset, N.J.
Dashiell Hammett, widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time, was the creator of such enduring characters as Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” and Nick and Nora Charles in “The Thin Man.” “The Thin Man” was later adapted for film in a series of movies.
“I’m heading to the auto shop right now to have the statuette mounted on the hood of my car,” Owen joked. “I’m definitely thrilled and surprised.”
He won for “Oregon Hill,” the first in a series starring Willie Black, whom a review in The New York Times review described as a “world-weary crime reporter [who] covers the night beat for a hard-pressed daily in Richmond, Va.” Owen was a deputy managing editor at The Richmond Times–Dispatch before being hired by The Free Lance–Star.
Previous honorees of the Hammett Prize include James Sallis, who won for “The Killer is Dying: A Novel” in 2011 and Olen Steinhauer for “The Nearest Exit” in 2010.
Other contenders for the 2012 award were: “Defending Jacob: A Novel” by William Landay, “Truth Like the Sun: A Novel” by Jim Lynch, “Patient Number 7” by Kurt Palka and “Alif the Unseen” by G. Willow Wilson.
Owen’s first novel, “Littlejohn,” was published in 1992 and was nominated for the Abbey Award (American Booksellers) and Discovery (Barnes & Noble) award for best new fiction. He has since written 10 more books, including his latest, “The Philadelphia Quarry,” which also features Willie Black.
Titles for both “Oregon Hill” and “The Philadelphia Quarry” are taken from places in Richmond. Oregon Hill is a rough neighborhood which was cut off from the rest of Richmond when an expressway was built, while the Philadelphia Quarry is the city’s most exclusive swimming hole. Willie hails from the former, and it was almost a rite of passage in that neighborhood to sneak into the quarry and go skinny-dipping when he was a teen.
These days he’s a former political reporter whose shenanigans have gotten him demoted to the night police beat, and he’s always one step away from being let go as his newspaper downsizes. He drinks too much, smokes too much and disobeys too much. But even his bosses concede that he’s one fine reporter who knows how to dig out the truth of a story—even if it might get him killed.
As the review in Kirkus said of “Oregon Hill”: “Owen knows his setting, his dialogue is spot-on and his grasp of the down-and-dirty work of the police and news reporters lends authenticity to the narrative. This is Southern literature as expected, with a touch of noir, and with a touch of Dennis LeHane’s ‘Mystic River.’ Willie Black deserves a sequel.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407