The 2011 Edgar Award nominees have been announced. Originally Edgars were given exclusively to outstanding mystery novels (thus the reference to Edgar Allen Poe, one of the grandfathers of the mystery novel), but these days they encompass genres like thriller and crime, and mediums like nonfiction books, biographies, stage plays, and TV shows.

Sometimes that reach can bring interesting work to a wider audience, like Hampton Sides’s account of the hunt for MLK’s murderer, Hellhound on His Trail. Other times the Edgars reach beyond their grasp, like spotlighting Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, or last year’s nomination of the utterly atrocious The Girl She Used to Be.

All this is to say: just like last year, I’m going to be reading all the nominees in the Best Novel category in order to sift through the duds and highlight the real contenders. Then I’ll handicap the race heading into the award presentation in April. Unlike last year, I won’t be reading all the Best First Novel entries, but I will take a swing at a few.

Trying to handicap this year’s Best Novel category is, unfortunately, something of a fool’s errand, since Faithful Place will win. I don’t want it to win; I’ve already read it, and it’s not nearly as good as the hype. It’s poorly plotted, but some people evidently confuse that with depth or literary merit—people like the “editors” of Amazon, who named Faithful Place the second best novel of the year, over Freedom and The Imperfectionists, both genuinely great novels.

In any case, I’m not picking it to win, unless the rest of the field is intensely disappointing. On that note, a few predictions about this year’s field:

  • Judging by their covers and jacket descriptions, I’m guessing I’ll like The Queen of Patpong best, because it has the most unique setting, and The Lock Artist least, because it has the least interesting core concept.
  • Again judging solely by cover, Caught and The Lock Artist look like cranked-out bestseller schlock, which means they’re likely to feature the worst prose in the field. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and I’d Know You Anywhere look like literary crossover mysteries, which means they’re likely to have weak plots.
  • The one Best First Novel contender that I’ll definitely read is Rogue Island.

OK. I’ll check up on these and post my reviews in the next few weeks. Follow the 2011 Edgars here, or relive the 2010 Edgars here. And, again, my review of Faithful Place is here.