I'm reading the recent Edgar winner: C.J.Box, BLUE HEAVEN. I wanted to know what makes this book worthy to be a winner among the many, many mysteries of all subgenres.

This one is a thriller. That was a tad surprising. Almost by definition, a thriller doesn't have much going for it but violence and suspense. The characters are black and white. There's frequently some evil conspiracy. And the violence is nasty -- in this case torture.

Mind you, it's not badly written and he has a multiplicity of character types. The threat is specifically against two children who saw too much. That would make it meaningful to men and women alike.

But what appalled me in this book (and once again raised the idea that writers have some sort of moral obligation) is the fact that the evil in this case is the LAPD. And lest you think that it involves only three retired officers, the book makes it clear that the Idaho community is the retirement village of large numbers of crooked LA cops: their Blue Heaven.

What does a book like that do to a decent police officer anywhere, let alone in L.A.? And in spite of the attention given to the occasional bad cop by the press, the vast majority of policemen are surely decent and doing a very tough and dangerous job.

There is very little here that, to my mind, deserved an award.

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I haven't read the book but have read the Publisher's Weekly review, which panned it.

Almost by definition, a thriller doesn't have much going for it but violence and suspense. is a bit hard to swallow though!
I was about to buy this one myself. I've heard very good things about Box, but I agree about policemen and the LAPD in particular. Maybe I'll try another one of his.

Ira Levin wrote some great thrillers that I think were more than violence and suspense.
"... the vast majority of policemen are surely decent and doing a very tough and dangerous job."

It's a tough issue and one that rarely gets any level-headed debate. (Well, what does, these days? ;)

Many police officers have to make split second decisions that involve life and death - a very stressful thing to do. And yet, the police as a group can never say that one of their members has ever cracked under the stress because it opens them all up far too much.

So, it would seem that this is the ideal place for literature to step into the breach, so to speak, and have some of that debate.
I disagree that most cops are good and decent people. Most that I've met are lying, manipulative, power-abusing, intimidating, dumb-as-rocks dickholes who don't deserve to wear a badge. And even if the instances of police brutality or whatever are the exception, where are these so-called "good cops"? They could do something about the bad cops; they could speak out against them or arrest them themselves. But instead they keep their mouths shut and let it keep on happening. So fuck the police. Just this week I saw first hand a police officer blatantly lying on the report on a citation he gave to a friend. I can't wait to move to Taiwan where the police aren't all-powerful and can't get away with that kind of shit.

But back on topic, sorry for ranting, but I feel better now, it seems you don't like it for it's moral depiction of characters, right? If so, how does that detract from the book's merit? You might not agree with its moral outlook, but that doesn't make it a bad book. The characters being "black and white" would put me off though.
I may be in the minority, but the "moral outlook" is an important part of a book's merit for me. Not that I want books to have a particular moral outlook, but I want them to be honest to the characters and settings - whether that means a negative moral outlook or a positive one. What I don't like are what I feel are phony outlooks.

I just received a review of one of my books that complained there were, "no answers given" for why the characters had turned to drug dealing. I think what the reviewer was looking for were easy, cause and effect answers. I was going for more of an emotional feeling for the world the characters lived in and I failed that reviewer, but I'm still not going to go for easy answers.

And a lack of morality is just another kind of moral outlook, isn't it?
I definitely want honesty to the characters and setting. I'm saying that it seemed to me that I.J. thought it didn't deserve the award because it depicted a large number of cops as bad guys and she didn't like that. If that is the case (and I could have misunderstood) then I don't think that's reason enough to say a book is undeserving of praise. Maybe the LAPD isn't that bad in real life, but this a work of fiction. As long as everything is believable within the world depicted in the story, then all is well.
Yeah, I agree with that.
To be perfectly clear about this: yes, my reaction to the "evil LAPD conspiracy" was subjective. My being less than enthusiastic about the book otherwise was not. My feeling is that there must have been stronger novels under consideration.

Having said that, I would urge you all to read the book. The libraries should have it if you don't want to risk money on it. It is not a bad novel, and it does move along well.
I've read both of John's books, as well as quite a few others that deal primarily with criminals and ongoing criminal activity. Supplying answers as to why the characters went into drug dealing may be germane if the book is slanted that way. Richard Price is a good example of an author who may well leverage that, as is George Pelecanos. On the other hand, it may not matter to the story. Or, even worse (I suspect) for the reviewer noted in John's comment, it may just be because the criminal thought it was a good way to make money. Some people hate to acknowledge that's sometimes all the reason criminals need.
If my only employment choices were minimum wage at McDonald's or some real money dealing crack, I'd be hanging in the Popeye's Chicken parking lot dealing crack. It's partly simple economics, but it's also true that we live in a culture in which money=status=respect. That all seems pretty obvious to me.
Maybe this should be a different thread of its own. I hope that in my books there are more choices than minimum wage and crack dealer. The main thing I do try and show with drug dealing is that as you move up the chain it pays better than almost anything else. So the choice often becomes years of school and slowly working your way up through your profession - or moving up the rungs of drug dealers.

At least that's the kind of thing I find interesting. Not characters with limited choices, but characters that make illegal choices - the same way the guys at Enron made illegal choices, it's quite often the same thought process.

I think that's what upset the reviewer - the characters in my books aren't street-level dealers, they're millionaires who stay in the drug business.
I'm going to have to read your books this summer, John--they sound interesting, indeed. At least high end drug dealers are selling an actual product--the Enron boys and the folks at Lehman et al were basically selling deeds to the Brooklyn Bridge.


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