Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bouchercon Day 2: Eye-Opening

More signings, more lugging around heavy books, more shoulder injuries. Idea for next Bouchercon - for all of us middle-aged folk who get shoulder and neck pain from schlepping heavy tote bags install a massage chair with a skilled massage therapist. It would be a big hit, I think. Of course next time I will register in time to get into the hotel where the darn convention is being held instead of having to do the ten minute walk every morning carrying all these books.

Megan Abbott (photo by Drew Reilly)
The panels on Friday, September 16 I attended were:

1. Lost in the Amazon: Authors discuss their bad reviews specifically the hysterically funny, sometimes illiterate, often just plain perplexing bad reviews that plague

2. Hot Ice: Thriller and crime writers talk about the subgenre of the caper and heist novel.

3. Shadows Rising: Movies for the crime fiction fan. Megan Abbott was on this panel. I've always wanted to hear her talk about movies. Prior to becoming a novelist she studied and wrote about crime in the movies - specifically the film noir genre. Plus I hoped to get some titles of movies I hadn't yet seen. I'm even more addicted to mystery movies, crime thrillers and heist movies than I am to the vintage crime and adventure fiction I normally write about on this blog.

Panel #1: Linwood Barclay, Bill Crider, Lisa Lutz, Elaine Viets. Alafair Burke was also scheduled but had to cancel her visit.

Colin Cotterill as the moderator had done his research and looked up as many bad Amazon reviews (especially the one star reviews) for each of the writers on the panel. As the discussion of bad reviews continued he would ask questions, wait for a reply, then produce evidence from his pile of print outs. Linwood Barkley commented: "Aren't you forgetting to say 'Perhaps this will refresh you memory!' " The classic Thurber cartoon uses that line for its caption. Colin might as well have been producing kangaroos as evidence for the hour.

Lisa Lutz and Elaine Viets also brought along email that were mixtures of praise, encouragement and slams. These included a letter from a Japanese linguistics professor who teaches Elaine Viets' books in a class on American culture that outlined his misunderstanding of some slang terms including a word I think Elaine made up. The sentence in question? "She felt a kazoing south of her belt." The professor wanted to know if "south of the belt" is related to the American slang phrase "South of the Border." Cue the uproarious laughter. But I joined Lisa Lutz' mystification of the word "kazoing." I can imagine what it might mean, but it's brand new to me.

It was all in good fun but we must all know that the internet allows for so much anonymous venting and name calling. No one really ever brought up the rather obvious point that a large number of these bad "reviews" are done by people with too much time on their hands who are simply entertaining themselves by manipulating and creating artificial controversy for the hell of it. The anonymity and hiding behind a user name in the world of digital communication has created a widespread outlet for antisocial havoc. I often wonder how many of these reviews are real or just forms of mean spirited creative writing intended only to fuck with people.

Panel #2: Keith Thomson, Eoin Colfer, Peter Spiegelman, Sean Doolittle, Chris Ewan. Moderator: Benjamin Whitmer.

I really didn't learn much about caper novels here that I didn't already know or gain any real insight into the skill needed in creating the intricate plots in these stories about elaborate crimes that often go wrong. There was a lot of comparing books to movies, but very little talk of writers who might have influenced the members of the panel. No one mentioned Donald E. Westlake (and not even his alter ego of Richard Stark or the Parker books) until the very end. It was Chris Ewan, by the way, who finally brought up The Hot Rock. Ewan writes a series of books about a mediocre mystery writer who becomes a thief with each book being set in a different city that gives the book it's title (The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris, etc.). I was glad someone mentioned Westlake because I nearly raised my hand and did so myself. Donald E. Westlake practically invented the caper novel. Certainly he needed to be given credit on this panel. But there was some dumb running joke about The Italian Job that I didn't fully understand since I arrived 15 minutes late having been detained with the usual long lines at the book signings.

What I did learn was that there were some interesting books out there by these guys. I knew of Eoin Colfer's juvenile series about Artemis Fowl which are genre blending fantasy/crime capers. His new adult novel Plugged is about a casino bouncer and is set in New Jersey. He sold himself several copies of the book. I bought one and so did about fifty other people right after the talk. Mostly I imagine because Colfer is the damn funniest Irish writer I've heard speak in a long time. He had the audience in stitches and probably in his pocket as well. Keith Thomson admitted his books were less caper novels than straight espionage thrillers. He explained the origins of the Alzheimer's plagued spy in the book who was based on the father of his girlfriend's former boyfriend. That story was so fascinating I'll probably seek out his book someday. I had a Chris Ewan book in my TBR pile at home (planned for the EuroPass series I'm contributing to), but his mention of his respect for Westlake and The Hot Rock from which he borrowed a few ideas got me to buy two of his books.

Panel #3: Todd Ritter, David Corbett, Megan Abbott, Wallace Stroby, Russell McLean. Moderator: Jeremy Lynch.

This discussion of crime films was a daunting task.  How to cram such a huge wealth of movies into a mere hour? Jeremy Lynch, entertainment editor for Crimespree,  confessed it took considerable collaboration through many email exchanges to come up with the final format.  The discussion was divided into three rounds. Each member of the panel would pick one film to represent the category of each round. After hearing all five films discussed in each round the audience would vote on the most persuasive argument for the most noteworthy of the five films. The rounds were "Pre World War 2 Movies," "The Cold War Years," and "The Sacred Cow You Would Most Like to Gore."

Ralph Meeker & Leigh Snowden in Kiss Me Deadly
I mostly chose this panel because I have always wanted to hear Megan Abbott talk about movies.  Her picks were Double Indemnity, In a Lonely Place and the sacred cow she got to gore (translation: an overrated film that didn't deserve all the attention it garnered) was Silence of the Lambs.  The surprise came from two other members.  I was very impressed with David Corbett's impassioned descriptions of some very obscure movies including Il Bidone written and directed by Federico Fellini and Bellman & True directed by Richard Loncrane.  Wallace Stroby also had some exceedingly interesting insights for the films he talked about: Public Enemy and Kiss Me Deadly.  I got more than I expected, a veritable wealth of movie lore and movie trivia from those three participants alone.  And Russell McLean's final pitch for an oddball movie written and directed by Larry Bishop and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin called Mad Dog Time really made the hour well worth my time.

When questions came from the audience someone asked for the best example of the traditional private eye movie, one that incorporated the Chandler type characters and overall tone of what we know as the private eye genre.  Astonishingly, after all the dissent and reviling and dumping on each other's favorites (especially between Todd Ritter, an avowed Hitchcock fan, and David Corbett who admitted to hating all but one of Hitchcock's films)  it was an almost instantaneous and unanimous call.  Chinatown.  Each member of the panel brought up things I had never thought of and I've seen that movie a couple of times.  I also learned that there was a different ending in the original screenplay and Roman Polanski, after heated arguments with screenwriter Robert Towne,  changed it without Towne's consent. To this day it remains an iconic film in the private eye genre almost supplanting all those private eye flicks that came before it as the epitome of the genre. I think more people know of and have seen Chinatown than the earliest original private eye films like Murder, My Sweet or The Big Sleep.


  1. The Amazon Panel sounds like it was a lot of fun and it's true that a lion's share of the Amazon reviews are text book examples of how not to write a review. Not that I am the greatest web critic on this side of the pond, far from it, but I feel comfortable in stating that the stuff dumped on my blog tends to be a little bit better than your average Amazon review.

    And Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books are a blast! I've read up till The Opal Deception, but then my blog came into being – preventing a further reading of The Lost Colony and The Time Paradox. Hm. Do you think I could get away with discussing an Artemis Fowl book on a blog dedicated to (neo) classic mysteries?

    Oh, Colfer also has a juvenile mystery, Half-Moon Investigations, to his credit, in which a 12-year-old boy with the brain of Sherlock Holmes and the voice of Archie Goodwin solves a variety of crimes – and he would be a perfect foil to Artemis Fowl. What can I say? I love crossovers!

  2. First, forget the tote bags, take a BACK PACK and put your stuff in that. If you have more than that will hold (books to be signed, get a luggage carrier with wheels.

    Now then, great post. Love what you did and your comments thereon. Thanks!!