'and the Edgar goes to … John Hart'

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008

By Deirdre Parker Smith
Salisbury Post
When John Hart heard his name called at the 2008 Edgar Awards, time stopped.
“My name came out of nowhere. I had zoned out. I figured it would be Michael Chabon.
But Hart had won the 2008 Best Novel Award for his second book, “Down River.”
“It was really exciting,” he said this week by phone from his office, where he’s trying to finish his third book.
Hart met Harlen Coben, president of Mystery Writers of America, which bestows the awards, at the reception beforehand, and Coben said he had no idea who might win.
In January, Hart’s editor told him he had good news and bad news. The good news was Hart was going to the Edgar Awards; the bad news was “you’re not going to win.”
“I went to the banquet just to have a good time,” Hart said. “We love New York. … I had told Katie (his wife) we’d have a fun time.
“Last year, (when he was nominated for Best First Novel) I did everything right, … so I could make a lovely speech. The second somebody else won, the rest was a gray fog.”
This time, he was sitting at a table near the front in a room with 1,500 people.
“Best novel is the last award. … It’s given around 11 p.m. Lee Child was the presenter and he’s doing this ‘I can’t get this envelope open’ thing,” and he said it was not delayed gratification or prolonging the suspense, he just couldn’t open it.
Hart thought, “Just say Michael Chabon so I can get a drink.”They were sitting two tables away from the podium. …
The other presenters had turned the plaque around to face them, but Child had the plaque facing out. …
“Of course I couldn’t really read it, but I was kinda looking where the names go, and it looked like a short name. I thought, it doesn’t look like the other names, like Michael Chabon or Benjamin Black.
“When he opened the envelope and said my name, I was completely unprepared.
“But I did not humiliate myself on stage. I was so flummoxed, but I remembered to thank everybody.
“They really do say ‘and the Edgar goes to…’ I have the envelope. It’s great, it’s got all the names of the nominees and my name.”
He tried not to anticipate, and “went through a complete cycle. It’s America, anything could happen, it’s a good book. … By the time I was in in New York, I thought, I’ll never win.”
It’s fun seeing lots of people.
“Lee Child was a big thrill. … I’ve always liked Harlen Coben as a person, his success story. He’s very affable, very tall, very much a ‘hail fellow well met’ person.”
Mary Higgins Clark he expected to be standoffish, but she was quite friendly.
He talked to Chabon, who was very popular, with a lot of people talking to him or trying to talk to him. “I think he’s a very important writer for our time.”
Hart got sincere well wishes from heads of other publishing houses, other agents. He met his Japanese publisher and has had some calls from foreign territories the books have not been published in yet.
When it was all over, he went to an exclusive party of mostly writers hosted by Otto Penzler at the Mercantile Library. Penzler owns the Mysterious Bookshop in New York.
Edgar (as in Allan Poe) is now on Hart’s desk in his office. “I’ve never been so thrilled to own such an ugly piece of plaster in my life. … It’s nice to have him here; when I start to get down, it’s nice to look at him and regain some faith.
“There were three things I never dared dream: Making the New York Times bestseller list, being published in 24 languages, and winning an Edgar. You just don’t go there, it’s bad karma. I thought the whole process is so slow, … but when I think ‘King of Lies’ came out two years ago … ”
Edgar is right at home.