Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bouchercon Cleveland - Sat, Oct 6

Writing and reporting for me requires no distractions. Last year I happily sat in my hotel room after the panels, eating expensive room service food while typing away busily on my laptop reporting all my activities. I'd spend up to three hours writing and uploading photos all on my own. This year Joe was with me. I could barely sneak in an hour's worth of writing on my blog about the convention. Every fifteen minutes or so I'd hear "Are you not done yet? We have to get going!" Aargh. So my reports are all late. You'll be reading posts about Bouchercon for the next two days.  Perhaps a good thing.  I'm still embarrassed I couldn't' get it all done on time.

"Murder Is Everywhere" was this year's panel moderated by Peter Rozovsky who blogs at Detectives Beyond Borders, devoted to international crime fiction and books set in foreign countries. Though I knew all the writers I'd not heard any of them speak before. The conversations were lively and covered all sorts of insights into the cultures of Thailand (Timothy Hallinan), Greece (Jeff Siger), Botswana (Stanley Trollip one half of "Michael Stanley"), China and Mexico (Lisa Brackmann) and most fascinating of all Iceland (Yrsa Sigurdardottir).

Two of the most memorable stories came from the women writers. Brackmann (subbing for Cara Black who had to leave due to a death in her family) told of an encounter she had with a Chinese cab driver and their discussion of the huge changes in Peking. Travelling to China these days is "a little like being strapped to the back of a jetliner" she said.  The changes are huge and keep coming with increasing frequency. The cab driver felt he had more in common with Brackmann than his own people many of whom have no memory of China from the 1970s.  And Yrsa (at left) had several riotous stories about Iceland the most insane being the desire for the marketing arm of the Icelandic government  to change the name of the country to something more inviting and enticing.  Iceland just doesn't cut it anymore. Originally intended to fool invaders into thinking it was a barren wasteland the name now tends to drive away all the refugees Iceland is trying to get to emigrate there like those in disaster plagued Pakistan. When they hear the name they are turned off. Believe it or not, the best substitute the marketing geniuses have come up with Niceland.

Later that morning was the somewhat dreaded "Bucket List" panel.  I had a chance to hear Otto Penzler whose resonant voice reminded me of announcers from the Golden Age of Radio.  Unlike most panels he also acted as participant because in his own words "I, of course, know more than anyone" about the mystery novel.  In some instances that is very true. His self-deprecating humor was very welcome for a panel that oddly tended to be a bit too serious and somber. "This is my 39th Bouchercon.  [pause] I'm very old."

I say somewhat dreaded because I expected to hear the same old books mentioned as THE books you have to read. My hope was that I would be introduced to at least a handful of books and authors that would be new to me. My prediction proved correct. I knew nearly all the books recommended and had read many of them. There were only five that were new to me and, with the exception of an obscure Victorian work, all of them were published after 1978. 

Penzler threw out a type of mystery novel and asked each panel member to talk briefly about their favorite in that category. Panel members included booksellers Don Longmuir, Harriet Logan and Jim Huang, reviewer Oline Cogdill, and MWA officer and mystery writer Larry Light. The list is below. I marked the ones I never heard of with an asterisk.

Penzler  - The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
Longmuir - anything by Mickey Spillane
Cogdill - The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
*Huang - Concourse by S.J. Rozan (confessing he was avoiding Hammet, Macdonald and Chandler)
Logan - The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler and most of Sue Grafton's work
Light - When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block

Penzler - The Three Coffins by John Dickson Carr (talked briefly about the impossible crime novel and mentioned the famous Locked Room Lecture in the book.  I was thrilled Carr got a nod.)
*Longmuir - the works of Giles Blunt, an underrated Canadian writer in Don's opinion
Cogdill - A Place of Execution by Val McDermid (traditional?  really?)
Huang - Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell (a book he has read several times. Very witty book. I recommend all her books, too.)
Logan - Hamlet, Revenge by Michael Innes (I nearly applauded)
Light - Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout (ALWAYS mentioned in talks like this)

THRILLER (espionage, action/adventure)
Penzler - Tears of Autumn by Charles McCrary (one of the many books that plagiarist stole from last year. A JFK assassination book that apparently has parts that "are not entirely untrue." )
Longmuir - Killing Floor by Lee Child (the first Jack Reacher book)
Cogdill - Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
*Huang - Chinaman's Chance by Ross Thomas
Logan - Rose by Martin Cruz Smith (The most enthusiastic rhapsodic speech made about any book. She says it will appeal to a wide range of readers from those who love techothrillers to those who like feminist fiction. "It's a superior crime novel," she said, "on so many levels." She sold me on this. I'll definitely be reading it soon.)
*Light - The Shipkiller by Justin Scott (this is another one so different that I will be hunting down a copy. A nautical revenge thriller that sounds like Cornell Woolrich meets Patrick O'Brian)

A PERSONAL FAVORITE (in any subgenre)
Penzler - The Hound of the Baskervilles (only because nobody mentioned anything by Conan Doyle) but also 
Night of the Jabberwock by Frederic Brown for it's surreal and very original story
Longmuir - In the Electric Mist of the Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
Cogdill - The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
Huang - Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (not really mystery or crime, IMO. It's more fantasy or supernatural with detective story elements. Whatever.)
*Logan - The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins. (very unusual choice and one I knew nothing about. Shame on me!)
Light - Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

No surprise that most of the books mentioned were all contemporary works. That's the way of these panels these days.  [...sigh...]  Thank God for the mention of Innes, Carr and Brown.  People really need to know of the best of the past.  I wish the Bouchercon committees would see the potentially exciting discussions that could take place if they were to allow more space for panels on vintage writers and books.


  1. Wow, someone who's heard of Michael Innes!!! It's like locating an endangered species!

    All these panels sound like a blast. I'm glad you're reporting everything for those of us who are stuck at home.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. Thanks above all for the thorough report on the panel!
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  3. Well, I see this one went from "Part One" to just the Saturday report, and c'est fini. Okay, but I was looking forward to the rest, as I've really enjoyed all the other of your Bouchercon reports. Rats. Still, I'm grateful for all you've written for us, the ones who did not go. Thanks, John.

  4. It was my plan to write two parts for Saturday but I decided not to write up the second part since I got very morose and bitter in the post. I deleted it. No one will see my final thoughts. Suffice to say, for me, it was not as much fun as St. Louis. So many people I was planning to meet cancelled. Several writers left the convention early due to family emergenicies or never made for one reason or another. It was kind of chaotic this year. Plus the weather was utterly lousy and put a further damper on my spirits. I wrote only of the highlihgts that I enjoyed. Better that way, I think.

  5. It seems to me that their choices are pretty wide-ranging in terms of years the books were published but perhaps too many of them are either USA or UK.

  6. I agree with your idea of more vintage panels even if I'm not able to attend Bouchercon these days. The one time I did go (Las Vegas) I had a helluva good time even if I discovered that Las Vegas has no trees.

    S.J. Rozan is a fabulous writer, John. She is contemporary but don't let that stop you.(That reminds me, I need to read her latest book.) I also like Martin Cruz Smith, though I haven't read ROSE - but I intend to. I think I'll also take a look at THE SHIP KILLER.

    THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT is my idea of a great private eye novel.

    I need to re-read HAMLET, REVENGE since I read it last year and can't remember a thing about it other than the fact that I couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

  7. I also would not mind seeing more vintage panels. Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis, for example, would have been a fine occasion to discuss, honor, and remember Frederick Nebel.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"