Man Booker prize judge Colin Thubron has complained this week that star endorsements bully readers into admiring books, but it’s long been standard practice.
Setting cats among pigeons has long been an unofficial part of the contract for judges of the Booker prize. Remember Chris Mullin’s insistence on “zip–along” novels, or, way back in 1992, AN Wilson’s condemnation of the prize itself as “essentially trivial”?
This year’s flurry of fur and feathers was provoked by a tirade from Colin Thubron on celebrity endorsements. Some blurbs, said the veteran travel writer, “almost blackmail” readers into feeling that “you’re either intellectually or morally incompetent if you don’t love this book or you’ve failed if you haven’t understood it”. Some people, he felt, “seem to earn their living … saying: ‘This is the most profound book of our generation.’”
While he’s right to point out that “blurbs are outrageous in certain places”, it’s hardly a new phenomenon. The novelist Nathan Filer confronted the issue with disarming honesty at a festival three years ago. In a blogpost about the incident, he recalled “a kindly interviewer”, who hadn’t had time to read his debut novel, quoting a rather better-known novelist, who had. Filer’s The Shock of the Fall was “engaging, funny and inventive”, the interviewer assured the audience, in the words of Joe Dunthorne.
Val McDermid and Denise Mina have been named among the five finalists for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2017.
The other three contenders for the overall prize are Craig Russell, Jay Stringer and Craig Robertson.
A panel of judges including comedian and crime fan Susan Calman, writer Craig Sisterson and programmer of Granite Noir, Lee Randall, whittled down the final five from a 12-strong longlist featuring “some of the best names in Scottish crime fiction”.
Russell has won the award before, Robertson is one of the founders of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, while the judges described Stringer as a “relative unknown”.
McDermid has been shortlisted for Out of Bounds (Little, Brown), which follows protagonist Karen Pirie, who the judges say is “one of the most engaging and charismatic of all the fictional Scottish Detectives”. Mina’s “elegantly written” The Long Drop (Random House), “confirms Denise Mina’s stature among the great Scottish crime writers” according to the judges, while Russell’s The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid (Quercus), has been praised for being an “assured riff on a classic noir caper which reveals Glasgow in all its gritty and compelling glory”.
Robertson’s Murderabilia (Simon & Schuster) features “an intriguing premise in a contemporary setting which tiptoes along the darker edges of crime fiction with an unusual detective at its heart”, while Stringer’s How to Kill Friends and Implicate People (Thomas & Mercer) is an “unexpected and explosive novel” which proves the writer has “reached the major league of Scottish crime fiction”, the judges said.
Judge Sisterson said: “Reading the books for the prize has been a pleasure and a privilege, and has convinced me that Tartan Noir is a sparkling gem on the global crime-writing stage.”
The winner is to be announced at the opening reception of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival at Stirling Castle on Friday 8th September. The award recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1,000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones.