On April 29 the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2020 Edgar Alan Poe Awards. Two of the Edgars went to authors who have appeared in our Friends @ Home series of virtual author talks. Deepa Anappara’s Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line won Best Novel, and Elsa Hart’s The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne won the Mary Higgins Clark Award.
The Edgar Awards often go to books which expand the boundaries of genre fiction. An example would be Viet Than Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which won both an Edgar Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Anappara’s book certainly is in that category as well. While the plot details a mystery of missing children from a Basti, or slum, in a large Indian city, it is the brilliant description of life there, as narrated by a nine-year-old boy, Jai, which makes the book so noteworthy. With his friends Pari and Faiz he sets out to solve the crime using skills he imagines he has from watching endless episodes of Police Patrol in their one-room hovel while his parents and sister are off at work or track practice. Pari is considerably smarter than Jai, and she always figures out clues before him. Faiz, a Muslim boy, is convinced that the children are being kidnapped by djinns, soul snatching ghosts. Pari completely dismisses this as superstition, but Jai is not so sure.
When Deepa Anappara talked with us, she described how as a journalist in India she had written about the phenomenon of children who go missing. When she moved to England about a decade ago, she wanted to continue telling the story, but realized she would need the tale to be a work of fiction, since she no longer had access to the kind of research she would need to do for a non-fiction book. Her discussion with us went on to delve deeply into the plethora of social and political problems facing India today.
In winning the Mary Higgins Clark award, Elsa Hart’s book had to meet a number of requirements: The protagonist is a nice young woman whose life is suddenly invaded. She’s self-made and independent, with primarily good family relationships. She has an interesting job. She is not looking for trouble. She solves her problem by her own courage and intelligence. The story has no on-scene violence. It has no strong four-letter words or explicit sex scenes.
Interestingly, we originally invited Elsa Hart to talk with us based on her earlier books set in 18th Century China, beginning with Jade Dragon Mountain, which had been a local book club favorite. And while our conversation with her gave passing mention of the English setting of The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne, it focused mostly on her travels in China, and the research she did for her trilogy of books set in that land.