by Oline H. Cogdill
The Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery has become one of my favorite annual contests because of the quality of debut authors it has launched.
The crime fiction that wins the Hillerman Prize is set in the Southwest and honors the spirit of those wonderful mysteries that Hillerman wrote.
The latest winner of the contest is Kevin Wolf, who is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Crested Butte Writers. He lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife of 40 years and their two beagles. Wolf’s novel The Homeplace will be published during 2016.
Wolf joins an elite group of writers. Previous winners include John Fortunato’s Dark Reservations; CB McKenzie’s Bad Country, which was nominated for a 2014 Edgar Award; Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints; Tricia Fields’ The Territory; Roy Chaney’s The Ragged End of Nowhere; and Christine Barber’s The Replacement Child.
I have found the authors who take the Hillerman Prize write such affecting plots that capture the scenery so well. Many of their novels have made it to my best-of-the-year list.
Thomas Dunne Books/Minotaur Books and Wordharvest co-sponsor the award that is given annually at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries were set on the Navajo reservation and are considered to be the first "regional" mysteries to become national bestsellers. Hillerman’s novels combined Navajo traditions and beliefs in contemporary plots. His books have been translated into many languages and frequently make the New York Times bestseller list. Hillerman died at age 83 on October 26, 2008.
Hillerman’s daughter, Anne Hillerman, brought back Leaphorn and Chee in her 2013 novel Spider Woman’s Daughter; her novel Rock With Wings was published this year.
Anne Hillerman launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference, Focus on Mystery, in 2004 through Wordharvest, the business which she co-founded with Jean Schaumberg.
For more information about the Hillerman Prize, please visit http://wordharvest.com/contest/.
by Oline H. Cogdill
Many authors weave real events into their novels, making their fiction that much stronger, and even meaningful.
And the best authors use real events to complement their plot, careful not to go so overboard in reporting the facts that they lose sight of the novel.
Julia Keller is one of those authors who knows how to infuse reality into a gripping novel.
Keller’s latest novel Last Ragged Breath is a compelling story and the fact that real events are woven into the plot makes the story that much more intriguing. (Julia Keller is profiled in the latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine; Fall 2015 issue, No. 141.)
On February 26, 1972, the Buffalo Creek flood disaster occurred when the Pittston Coal Company's coal slurry impoundment dam, which was located on a hillside in Logan County, West Virginia, burst. Four days before, the dam had been declared “satisfactory” by a federal mine inspector.
The area was decimated.
The flood unleashed about 132,000,000 gallons of black waste water, which crested more than 30 feet high over 16 coal towns along Buffalo Creek Hollow.
Of the 5,000 people living in the area, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. The flood destroyed 507 houses, 44 mobile homes, and about 30 businesses.
The settlement to the families was small as Pittston Coal called the accident “an Act of God” in its legal filings.
Those are the facts.
And while Keller doesn’t change the facts, she makes us see the human faces that suffered because of that flood in Last Ragged Breath, the fourth in her series about prosecutor Bell Elkins.
“The financial settlement was meager and most [residents] were left living in trailers,” said Keller in the Mystery Scene interview.
Last Ragged Breath “is my most overtly political novel—not in terms of Republican or Democratic—but in terms of social justice and what we expect of our elected officials and of corporations and their responsibilities to the community,” said Keller.
“The novel also gave me a chance to explore West Virginia history and to tie that history to the present day.”
Last Ragged Breath gives Keller a chance to reflect on social justice.
“Buffalo Creek was such an egregious case of corporation malfeasance. It’s the same kind of thing we still deal with today when we talk about social justice and the responsibilities of corporations to the communities in which they are set. Buffalo Creek was a perfect poster incident of that,” said Keller, who is working on her fifth novel in the series.