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Book News: Prize-Winning Mystery Writer Is Also A Murderer

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

When Alaric Hunt was chosen as the winner of a mystery-writing contest that comes with a publishing contract and a $10,000 advance, the judges didn't realize he was serving a life sentence for murder. Hunt wrote the novel, Cuts Through Bone, while incarcerated for starting a fire that killed a woman, Joyce Austin, as he was robbing a jewelry store. In an article for The New York Times Magazine, Sarah Weinman describes how Hunt, though he had been in prison since age 19, used Law & Order episodes and novels set in New York to piece together descriptions of the city for his private-eye story.

She had initially assumed that Hunt wouldn't get the money from his book sales because of "Son of Sam" laws, which prohibit criminals from profiting from their crimes. But South Carolina repealed its version of the law, so Hunt can profit from his sales. Weinman added, "[S]ince he wrote a novel that is so markedly different from the crimes that landed him in prison — that in many ways is closer to the unpublished science fiction and fantasy he wrote for years before — instead of a memoir directly referencing Joyce Austin's death, that adds yet more nuance to the debate."

For the Times article, Weinman interviewed the mother of Hunt's victim, who told her, "This is America. I can't prevent him. Can't even try. But knowing this creates a lot of emotions I don't want to deal with." Weinman told NPR, "I knew I could not possibly report the piece without contacting Joyce Austin's family, as they needed to have a voice here. I hope they speak up further, but it's their choice to do as they wish."

Weinman says that she was drawn to his story after receiving a galley copy of the book and noticing that Hunt's bio said he "is currently serving a life sentence." In an email to NPR, she writes, "I knew there had to be so much more to the story." Asked about the ethics of Hunt profiting from his writing, Weinman says that, "I thought about the ethical issues a lot while reporting out the piece, and I don't believe there are easy answers — nor should there be."

  • Irish poet Sinéad Morrissey, the first poet laureate of Belfast, has won the 2013 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, which is worth £15,000 (about $24,600). Ian Duhig, chair of the judges, said that the vote was unanimous, adding that, "politically, historically and personally ambitious, expressed in beautifully turned language, her book [Parallax] is as many-angled and any-angled as its title suggests." Generally considered the world's most prestigious poetry prize, the T.S. Eliot prize is awarded by the Poetry Book Society annually for "the author of the best new collection of poetry published in the UK and Ireland each year." Former winners include Seamus Heaney, Anne Carson, Alice Oswald, Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott. Read examples of Morrissey's poetry here, here and here.
  • His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman gave a rare interview to Aeon magazine: "When I'm reading, I'm looking for something to steal," he tells the interviewer, adding that his "daemon" would be "a thieving magpie or raven." (In Pullman's novels, a "daemon" is the animal part of a human's soul).
  • James Frey, the writer whose memoir A Million Little Pieces sparked one of the biggest publishing scandals in recent history when it turned out to be exaggerated, has sold a Hunger Games-esque young adult novel called Endgame to HarperCollins, as well as the film rights to Fox, according to Deadline.

    Deadline describes the book this way: "In a world similar to Earth, there are 12 bloodlines, or races. Each bloodline has a champion between the ages of 13 and 17 who is trained as a warrior and is always ready to do battle. When they turn 18, the teen warrior behind them gets promoted. This has been the case for hundreds of years, but no one remembers why — they're always ready for some sort of battle to take place, but it never does. But the tradition continues. And then one day they're called to fight, and all the bloodlines but the winners will be exterminated. They're fighting to be the last race."

    The Norwegian thriller writer Jo Nesbø will write a retelling of Macbeth for the Hogarth Shakespeare series, according to a press release from the publisher. Nesbø is quoted in the release saying, "Macbeth is a story that is close to my heart because it tackles topics I've been dealing with since I started writing. A main character who has the moral code and the corrupted mind, the personal strength and the emotional weakness, the ambition and the doubts to go either way. A thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind. No, it does not feel too far from home." Hogarth has enlisted authors including Jeanette Winterson, who will retell The Winter's Tale, and Margaret Atwood, who will retell The Tempest, for its series launching in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

    The Omnivore has announced the shortlist for its annual Hatchet Job of the Year Award, which celebrates incisive book reviewing in order to "raise the profile of professional critics and to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism." The prize is "a year's supply of potted shrimp," (which The New York Times says is "a very English predinner nibble"). Finalists include David Sexton, who trashed the Booker-winning novel The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, and Lucy Ellmann, who reviewed Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland. In an interesting twist, Frederic Raphael, who was nominated for his review of John le Carré's A Delicate Truth, is also on the receiving end of the hatchet: Craig Brown was nominated for his takedown of Raphael's book Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet, which he co-wrote with Joseph Epstein.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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