The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

December 31, 2011

Fourth Annual Lowhead Dam Awards

As I've been off my reading feed for the past couple of months, I gave serious thought to skipping the awards this year. But I decided that would be grossly unfair to those wonderful titles I did read, never mind that I've spent the last eight weeks re-reading mostly old favorites that would demand nothing of me. My memory is faulty, yes, but here are the works I read this year that, for good or ill, are unforgettable.

The Give a Dam Award, intended for a classic published at least 30 years ago, goes unclaimed this year. I read plenty of books this year that were published more than three decades back, but none of them were new to me. So, moving on...

The Water Over the Dam Award honors both a book and the person who recommended it. Well, my favorite influence peddlar, Ken Bruen, cops a share of this award for making me aware of THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED A BEAR, by John Straley. This book won the Shamus Award in 1993 for Best First Novel, and deservedly so. The series deserves more attention than it ever got.

John Hart, a rare double Edgar winner, also takes a pair of Lowheads this year for IRON HOUSE. This book rakes in the Not Worth a Tinker's Dam Award, for the most overrated work of crime fiction, as well as the Dam Your Eyes Award, for the book most anticipated and least enjoyed. Don't bother looking for my review of this one, because I didn't bother writing one.

The Dam With Faint Praise Award for the best, most-overlooked - underhyped, if you will - work of crime fiction goes to a book that caught me off guard: TEMPORARY PERFECTIONS, by Gianrico Carofiglio, is a philosophical, introspective tale about a lawyer searching for a missing woman, and finding out more about himself than he bargained for.

And now for a trio of short-story awards. I fell way, way behind on my short-story reading once autumn arrived but still managed close to 200 stories this year, so I had a wonderful array from which to choose these excellent stories:

     The Dam Skippy Award (Online) goes to Patricia Abbott for THE PERFECT DAY, published at All Due Respect. This story about a day at the beach for a dysfunctional family hints at Flannery O'Connor-like clouds on their horizon. 

     The Dam Skippy Award (Print) goes to HAIRCUT, a classic story by Ring Lardner. Lardner may be better known for his writing about baseball, but this tale of murder, narrated by an unwitting small-town barber, is chilling.

     The Dam Skippy Award (Digital) goes to Eric Beetner for his story included in the PULP INK anthology,  ZED'S DEAD, BABY. The story is about a persistent enforcer who always, always gets his man. Dead or otherwise. A darkly funny tale, far and away my favorite in an anthology that includes stories from such talents as Reed Farrel Coleman, Allan Guthrie, and Hilary Davidson.

Oddly enough, not one of the winning stories came from the best overall anthology or collection I read this year, which was DISCOUNT NOIR, edited by Patricia Abbott and Steve Weddle. Hm, I may need to add another award for next year for the best anthology or collection.

And at last, the award for the best novel I read this year, the Hot Dam Award. Well, there's a long list of the possibles. In the order I read them, first to last:
The single book that was, for me, the best read in 2011 came down to a choice between Roger Smith's DUST DEVILS - a stellar book: graphic, moving, and meaningful - and the book on which I bestow the Hot Dam Award: Megan Abbott's THE END OF EVERYTHING. Abbott steps away from classic noir to display an evocative, lyrical talent that captures all that is wonderful and frightening to an adolescent narrator caught up in the dark natures of the adults in her world. If you ignore everything else I recommend this year, don't miss this book.

As always, I owe a debt of endless gratitude to the authors, for their work and for their patience with this reader, who doesn't always "get it." I'll try to do better in 2012.

Happy New Year!


  1. I'm glad you put this up. It's great to see the range of reading and puts me to shame. Curious about Ring Lardner - I did start one of his baseball tales but drifted out of it, so maybe I'll go back.
    I also had the honour of meeting Megan for a small-group lunch this year (thanks Big Al) and that was a highlight for me, as was her appearence at the Edinburgh Book Festival.
    Cool picks.

  2. How did I miss this? Thank you so much Naomi! That truly made my day. Here's to some great reading for all of us in 2012!