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Sell-out crowd on Wolfe Island as pioneering author receives award

A sell-out crowd was on hand at the 2004 Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival to witness the launch of The Grant Allen Award honouring Canada's crime-writing pioneers. The enthusiastic crowd offered inaugural winner, Howard Engel, a standing ovation for his ground-breaking work in Canadian crime fiction.

Image: Snapshots of Howard Engel and the Grant Allen Award (A kaleidoscope!)

"Howard Engel was the obvious choice for our first award," says Wayne Grady, chair of the award's organizing committee. "He has broken ground with one of the country's first detective series, he has produced a major body of work of a clear literary quality, and his work is as Canadian as maple syrup."

Engel received his award at the Scene of the Crime Festival on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004. Engel also participated throughout the day's events, including a panel discussion and special author interview highlighting his 24-year career as one of Canada's premier crime writers.

Howard Engel is best known for his highly successful Benny Cooperman series, created in 1980 and set in the fictional town of Grantham, Ont. Over the past two decades, Benny has clearly become Canada's favourite private detective.

"The main thing about Benny is that he is a Canadian private eye operating in an identifiable Canada," notes David Skene-Melvin, the Scene of the Crime's Festival's resident scholar. "With the 1980s and the introduction of Benny Cooperman, Engel proved that there could be and was a Canadian detective story with a Canadian hero that had international appeal. Canada was no longer an exotic locale; it was a country where real people lived, committed crimes, were detected, and died. There was truly Canadian crime fiction."

The Grant Allen Award -- made possible with the generous help of The Davies Charitable Foundation -- takes the form of a specially designed kaleidoscope, unique for each author honoured, specially crafted by Linda Sutherland, a noted stained glass artist residing on the Island. The kaleidoscope was chosen because of its unique place in the Victorian drawing rooms where Grant Allen's novels were popular. Engel's award included the inscription of the titles of his Benny Cooperman series. The honour also included a cash prize of $500.

Also paying special tribute to Engel was his good friend and fellow crime writer Alison Gordon. Gordon is well-known to mystery fans as the creator of tough amateur sleuth Kate Henry, and to sports fans as the first female reporter in the American Leagues when she covered the Toronto Blue Jays for The Toronto Star. Recounting his many triumphs as a Canadian and a writer, Gordon insisted Engel "be declared a national treasure."

Sharing the stage with Engel and Gordon were more of Canada's top crime writers, including:

James Powell, an award-winning writer who has published over 120 short stories of a mysterious and humorous sort since 1967, appearing in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Playboy, The Best Detective Stories of the Year and The Year's Best Fantasy And Horror anthology series.

Barbara Fradkin, president of Crime Writers of Canada. Her novels featuring Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green, have been short-listed for Crime Writers' of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award.

H. Mel Malton, who has published in the Toronto Star, Chatelaine, The Malahat Review and Grain. Her novels featuring amateur sleuth Polly Deacon have been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award.

Returning to the Scene of the Crime for the third time was writer Peter Sellers, winner of the prestigious Ellery Queen Readers Award, and editor of the award-winning "Hard Boiled" series of Canadian anthologies.

The Scene Of The Crime Festival was launched to honour Canada's first crime writer, Grant Allen, born on Wolfe Island at his family home, the manor of the Baron de Longueuil family. The first Canadian to write crime stories, Allen invented one of the most popular plot conceits of the genre. Allen went on to become one of the most prolific writers of the Victorian period and invented a plot staple, the thief who is actually the hero of the story.

And, indeed, another of Howard Engel's novels, Mr. Doyle and Dr. Bell, made him a special favorite at the Scene of the Crime because it features Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and a good friend and next-door neighbour of Grant Allen, when Allen lived in England.