DANVILLE -- Mystery writer Penny Warner, fresh-back from winning her second Agatha Award, sets her paper cup down on the little round table with a thwock and smiles.

It's the sort of smile that reveals an appreciation for the sort of workaday irony that is so much a part of life if you look for it.

"You know what the trophy was?" she asks, not the least bit mysteriously, from behind the grin that has grown bigger. "A teapot."

Well, of course it's a teapot. It's the Agatha Award, a national prize named for legendary English mystery scribe Agatha Christie, who probably drank tea by the imperial gallon and spiked it with a little milk.

Author Penny Warner autographs one of her books for Samantha Asprec, 9, at Live Oak Elementary School in San Ramon, Calif. on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Warner
Author Penny Warner autographs one of her books for Samantha Asprec, 9, at Live Oak Elementary School in San Ramon, Calif. on Thursday, May 9, 2013. Warner just won the Agatha Award for 2012 for the Best Children's/Young Adult Novel, "Code Busters Club, Case #2, The Haunted Lighthouse". (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

Warner won her skull-decorated teapot for the best young people's book, volume two of her Code Busters Club series, "The Haunted Lighthouse," a mystery for 8- to 12-year-olds set on Alcatraz and in Berkeley. Her children's mystery, "Mystery Of The Haunted Caves: A Troop 13 Mystery," won the Agatha Award for Best Children/Young Adult Fiction in 2001.

The new book is a yarn about missing jewels, and to crack the case, Warner's young readers must break codes that will deliver clues.

To win her Agatha Award, the Danville author -- who also writes the Valley Life column and two adult mystery series and who has more than 50 books to her credit -- was pitted against five finalists, including Harlan Corbin, a mystery-writing legend, Elizabeth George, who didn't even turn up for the presentation, and another woman who had won an Edgar (Allen Poe) Award a few days before.


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The Edgar is the big one, Warner explains.

"OK, the Edgar is sort of like the Oscar," she says. "There, the judges are professionals. The Agathas are more like the People's Choice Awards, where the readers voted on them."

In fact, those who attended this year's Domestic Malice mystery convention in Washington, D.C., voted on this year's nominees just before the winners were announced on the final evening of the conference.

Before the announcement the nominees were introduced and given time to press the flesh and greet their readers informally, which, Warner says, Corbin did like a pro.

Warner, on the other hand, didn't do any of the meeting and greeting because she was fast asleep in her room after a long day of jet lag and visiting spy stores to browse gadgets and small gewgaws she might use in the evidence goody bags she gives young readers at her appearances. Summoned to the banquet room in time for the presentation, Warner didn't give herself a chance of winning. In fact, when she was announced as the winner, it didn't quite sink in.

"Somebody said I looked like a deer in the headlights, and someone else said I looked like I was going to faint," she recollects. "It didn't register with me; I kept wishing Nancy Drew would come along and give me a dose of smelling salts.

"Everybody else who won gave really good speeches, but I couldn't think of a thing to say or the people to thank. I do remember I gave Harlan Corbin a big smack on the lips, and thanked (husband) Tom, who was there."

For award details and a list of nominees and winners, visit www.malicedomestic.org.

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