Two Washington writers win Agatha Awards

Art Taylor at the Agatha Awards in Bethesda, Md. (Credit Catriona McPherson)
Art Taylor at the Agatha Awards in Bethesda, Md. (Credit Catriona McPherson)

Two Washington-area writers who frequently review for Book World won prizes at this weekend’s Agatha Awards ceremony in Bethesda, Md.

Art Taylor won the short story prize for The Care and Feeding of Houseplants.” His tale about a deadly case of adultery was originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Daniel Stashower won the nonfiction prize for “The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War” (Minotaur). A full-time writer who lives in Bethesda, Md., Stashower barely had time to relax from winning the nonfiction prize at the Edgar Awards given by the Mystery Writers of America two days earlier in New York.

(Courtesy of Minotaur)
(Courtesy of Minotaur)

The Agatha Awards, named for the genre’s legendary practitioner, Agatha Christie, are sponsored by Malice Domestic, a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating traditional mysteries. The group’s Web site defines these books as “mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.”

Taylor, an English professor at George Mason University, has been publishing mystery stories in Ellery Queen and other mystery publications since 1995. But it took him a while to fully embrace the form. “I kept trying to write more ‘literary’ stories,” he says, “drab little domestic tales that were steadfastly not crime-related.” Eventually, “I came home to the kinds of writing and reading that I truly love, that combination of both keen craftsmanship and tense, plot-driven drama.”

At George Mason, he’s found a way to bring that love of the mystery genre into the classroom. In one of his courses, he examines “hardboiled detective fiction as social critique.” In another, he studies “how fiction writers, poets and playwrights have incorporated and responded to true crimes in their work.” He also offers a course called “Super Sleuths” that surveys “iconic characters of detective fiction—from Sherlock Holmes to Columbo.”

Lest anyone doubt his dedication to the genre, he named his first child after Dashiell Hammett.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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