The result is in! And the 600 authors who are members of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) have given double honours to the Queen of Crime. Agatha Christie has won both the Best Ever Novel and Best Ever Crime Author accolades.
At an event at Foyles bookshop in central London marking the 60th anniversary of the Association, the following winners were revealed:
CWA Best Ever Novel: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
CWA Best Ever Crime Author: Agatha Christie
CWA Best Ever Crime Series: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s a resounding victory for Christie, who died in 1976 having written 66 novels, many of them featuring her literary sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. While her puzzle-solving mysteries may be considered quaint – and perhaps unrealistic for their convoluted plots and bloodless bodies – there’s no doubting the huge pleasure she has given to millions of readers.
“With her elegant precision and her perfect sense of place, she is still our most popular crime author,” said Alison Joseph, chair of the CWA.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) is certainly one of her most innovative novels and, without giving anything away to those who now want to read it, her twists and narrative ingenuity made it hugely influential. Christie’s triumph with a Poirot novel is timely as the final TV adaptation starring David Suchet as the Belgian detective – Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case – is due to air on 13 November on ITV1. It also nicely tees up the authorised new Poirot novel from Sophie Hannah, who we recently interviewed on CFL.
What about Chandler?
Christie’s main rival in the novel poll was Raymond Chandler, whose superior hardboiled style and stunning facility for dialogue earned him nominations for The Big Sleep (1939) and The Long Goodbye (1953). In the event, Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) beat Chandler’s novels, and managed to see off serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988), Lord Peter Wimsey in The Nine Tailors (1934) and Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) as well as her own book Murder on the Orient Express (1934).
Nevertheless, Arthur Conan Doyle’s world-famous detective did triumph in the CWA’s Best Ever Crime Series, which makes sense as it’s the short stories rather than the novels that show Conan Doyle’s genius for detective writing. “The Holmes/Watson double act is unbeatable, which is why it has been borrowed, re-written and re-worked by numerous authors for at least a century,” commented Alison Joseph.
Despite the current popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction, the shortlists were based on CWA member votes and were dominated by dead British and US authors whose works are established within the crime fiction canon. The poll attracted plenty of media coverage and the results are sure to be discussed and debated by crime lovers everywhere. Where, for instance, are Patricia Highsmith and her amoral anti-hero Tom Ripley?
“It has been really fascinating seeing the shortlist emerging, and looking at the wide range of crime writing that tops the list, from Elmore Leonard, to Conan Doyle, via Silence of the Lambs,” said Joseph, whose latest novel is A Violent Act. “But the fact is, our genre continues to be so popular precisely because of its long and rich history, and our winners reflect that.”
PD James and Ruth Rendell (pictured) were the only living authors on the shortlist of 10 writers for the Best Ever Crime Author poll; Elmore Leonard died just three months ago while Reginald Hill died in January 2012. The 53-year-old Ian Rankin was the youngest author to make the cut – for Best Ever Crime Series. Rankin’s character Rebus returns this week with a new novel, Saints of the Shadow Bible, following his comeback last year with the acclaimed Standing in Another Man’s Grave.
The results are a turnaround on the last poll by the CWA 15 years ago, when Chandler won both the author and series category (for the Marlowe novels) and The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L Sayers was named best novel.
The 2013 shortlists for each poll category are below:
CWA Best Ever Novel
The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler
Gorky Park (1981) by Martin Cruz Smith
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Long Goodbye (1953) by Raymond Chandler
The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins
Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie – WINNER
The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L Sayers
On Beulah Height (1998) by Reginald Hill
The Silence of the Lambs (1988) by Thomas Harris
CWA Best Ever Crime Author
Agatha Christie – WINNER
Arthur Conan Doyle
Dorothy L Sayers
CWA Best Ever Crime Series
Albert Campion – Margery Allingham
Adam Dalgliesh – PD James
Dalziel & Pascoe – Reginald Hill
Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle – WINNER
Philip Marlowe – Raymond Chandler
Inspector Morse – Colin Dexter
Hercule Poirot – Agatha Christie
John Rebus – Ian Rankin
Lord Peter Wimsey – Dorothy L Sayers