Only one can win: The nominees for the Hammett Prize 2007

Next weekend this year's winner of the Hammett Prize will be announced. The nominees are:

The Outlander, by Gil Adamson
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon
End Games, by Michael Dibdin
Dahlia’s Gone, by Katie Estill
Stalin’s Ghost, by Martin Cruz Smith

This is a very strong competition and every single book would deserve to win. All the books reach a high level of literary quality. But clearly The Outlander, Dahlia's Gone, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union are truly outstanding in this aspect.


The Outlander takes the reader back to the beginning of the 20th century, somewhere in Canada, in the woods of a mountainous region. It tells the story of a widow, widowed by her own hand, hunted by the brothers of her deceased husband. It is one of this very rare books where the discussion whether it is a part of the crime fiction genre would be absolutely pointless. The main and dominant and overwhelming feature of the book is the language of Adamson. It was in reviews either characterized as lean or opulent (sic !). In the book examples for both denotations can be found but most of all the book shows that it is written by a poet, with an intense sense of atmosphere and deep empathy for a women on the flight and on her way into another world. It is a book that deserves to win a book prize but not especially a crime fiction prize.

Dahlia's Gone is another book that will satisfy literary aficionados. It is about women in a pious landscape, each of them reacting differently to circumstances. One tries to integrate, one to withdraw herself, and one to change the world – but all of them are unhappy. It is a small dearly story, full of beautiful scenes; it might be called suspenseful or, by those who subdivide society it might be called a female's book. It describes a culture and an attitude that are less far away than we would think. My insider tip, but I don't know if the jury is bold enough to vote for this book.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union is an exuberant and sometimes funny book. Yiddish in Alaska: The book constructs a world of its own and tells about it with a volley of anecdotes, it is entertaining and exploring. The language is not as lush as the style but rather lean, especially at the beginning. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is authentic: If you read this book you get a real Chabon. That there are authors who write more suspenseful is not the point. The book seems a likely candidate.

End Games and Stalin's Ghost follow more the classical genre rules.

End Games is a story about honor and revenge and the confrontation of cultures somewhere in the Calabria mountains. Is is full of tricks and red herrings but it developed real suspense only in the last chapters. The show-piece of the book is the humor that is mostly elegant and really funny, it ridicules most of the persons who appear in it and draws them with a broad brush. Something which makes it sometimes too easy for the reader. Many readers will most likely praise the description of Italian culture, politics, and idiosyncrasies but I don't find these really new or inventive. I would assume that End Games has only a small chance to win.

Stalin’s Ghost describes Russia in the present, a country that has lost the old order and not found a new one. Many people long for the good old times, the rich become richer and the poor ... interfere with business and are nothing more than a means of getting to power. By what this country is held together is not clear, but the longing for Stalin is as understandable as the situation in Chechenya is obscure. Stalin’s Ghost could be read as a sequel to Gorky Park, the book that made Cruz Smith famous. It is a complex book, full of action, allusions and historical lessons. At its end it describes an excavation of victims of the second world war. It is an exaggerated presentation demonstration literary skills and a subtle mind. It would be a worthy winner but I don't know if two former victories by Cruz Smith reduce its odds.

There are three outstanding books in this field of worthy nominees. Stalin's Ghost and Dahlia's Gone are up front but you never know with The Yiddish Policemen's Union. In my opinion End Games and The Outlander would be a surprise.

Bernd Kochanowski

This is also posted on Mystery BookSpot
and on Internationale Krimis.

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