Yesterday saw the announcement of the shortlists for the Orange Prize for 2010 and the Miles Franklin Award for 2010. After The Man Booker prize these two awards have the most impact on sales at Pages & Pages and both prizes have delivered excellent shortlists. But what I found most interesting was that two crime novels have made the shortlists of these two prestigious awards. BLACK WATER RISING by Attica Locke on the Orange Shortlist and TRUTH by Peter Temple on the Miles Franklin Shortlist.
I have always felt that crime as a genre is overlooked for major literary prizes. There is a perception that the crime genre is pure entertainment without any literary merit which is grossly unfair. While there are many crime novels that are pure entertainment (and I love a lot of them) there are just as many that have something important to say to all readers. More importantly the best crime novels have something important to say and are entertaining at the same time. You cannot always say that about books that win major literary prizes.
Crime makes us question all aspects of our way of life. How we deal with crime and criminals tugs at the fabric of our society. The current debate about Carl Williams’ murder is a perfect example. What leads people to commit crimes also brings into question our whole social order. Crime is a moral dilemma. Crime is about class. Crime is about poverty. Crime is about the elite and privileged. Crime touches everyone and everything. To ignore its literary merit is a detriment to our culture.
UPDATE: Peter Temple’s TRUTH has won the 2010 Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s highest literary prize.