Each year since 1946 the oldest mystery organization in the United States, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) presents the Edgar Award. Edgar Allan Poe, if you remember your English literature, is the father of the detective story with his three-story series, involving detective C. Auguste Dupin. A likeness of Poe in the form of a statue is the actual Edgar award, but it was not presented in the first two years. Rather, in its first year Edgar winners received a special edition of Poe’s works, and in the second year the award came in the form of a limited edition of Howard Haycraft’s book Art of the Mystery Story. Archives, early writings and books from MWA’s extensive collection can be found at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana. There are now eleven regional chapters of MWA.
Although the MWA awards about eighteen statues each year, I focused on the book categories that we, as fictional mystery lovers, would be most likely to know. These categories include the Best Novel (first presented in 1954), the Best First Novel by an American author (presented in MWA’s first year 1946) and the best paperback original (first presented in 1970).
Anthony Boucher, born William Parker White, was a co-founder of the MWA. He won three Edgars for his work as a mystery critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. He died in 1968 and his fans formed their first Bouchercon in Santa Monica, California in 1970. This assembly of fans created their own Anthony awards beginning in 1986.
The man, who won the most Edgars under the three mentioned categories, is Dick Francis. He won three times for Forfeit (1970), Whip Hand (1981) and Come to Grief (1996). Seven other authors, including James Lee Burke, William DeAndrea, Steve Hamilton, John Hart, Gregory McDonald, T. Jefferson Parker and Ross Thomas have won the Edgar twice.
The greatest winner of the Anthony Award has won five times. Laura Lippman won for Butcher’s Hill (1999), In Big Trouble (2000) and No Good Deeds (2007) all part of the Tess Monaghan mystery series. She also won for two stand alones, Every Secret Thing (2004) and What the Dead Know (2008). Runner up is Michael Connelly with four Anthony Awards. He won for The Poet (1997), Blood Work (1999), City of Bones (2003) and The Brass Verdict (2009). Sue Grafton and William Kent Krueger have each won three Anthony Awards.
For those who prefer a lighter, cozier approach to mysteries there is the Agatha Award, which started their mystery writing awards back in 1988. The big winner in the Best Novel category is Louise Penny, who has won four Agathas in a row (2007-2010) along with two Anthony Awards. Carolyn Hart, Margaret Maron and Nancy Pickard have each won an Agatha three times. Hart and Maron have won two Anthony Awards.
Looking through all the award-winning names, I was surprised at how many of them I have not read. I was hoping to figure out how many winners won for stand-alones, and how many winning books were part of a mystery series. It seems the answer to that question will have to wait just a little longer.