“My wife is going to a mystery convention,” my husband told a friend. The confused reply: “She doesn’t know where she’s going, or what it’s about?”
It’s about books. And it could be almost any place. Take your pick, there’s probably one near you. For two, three or four days, you gather with other readers, writers, librarians, book dealers, literary agents, editors, magazine publishers–all of whom are seriously in love with the mystery and crime genre.
The biggest is Bouchercon, held in a different region each fall. Just past: Bouchercon XLII in St. Louis. Next up: Cleveland, then Albany, NY, Long Beach, CA, and Raleigh, NC. Left Coast Crime is held somewhere in the west, early in the year. In March 2012, LCC rocks Sacramento, and in 2013, it invades Colorado Springs. Malice Domestic, founded in 1989, celebrates the traditional mystery in Bethesda, Maryland, in late April or early May. Attendance at the “big three” ranges from several hundred to 2,000 or more. Smaller one- and two-day fan conventions are scattered around the country.
Yes, of course there’s a dealers’ room, with new and old books by attending authors. Registrants receive sturdy bags stuffed with free books, bookmarks, postcards, magazines about mysteries, magazines filled with mysteries, even audio books. My keychain still sports a plastic skull from my first convention—I tell any mechanic who gives it a strange look that it’s from the last guy who worked on my car.
Panel discussions dominate the programming. Topics may be humor in mysteries, the search for justice, use of landscape, forensics in fiction—the possibilities are endless. Another popular feature: interviews with the American and international guests of honor. Recent honorees include Laura Lippman, Laurie R. King, David Baldacci, Robert Crais, Lee Child, Val McDermid, and Colin Cotterill. Other events have included a live radio play, short film debuts, movies set in the host city, mystery theater dinners, and tours of mysterious local haunts.
Each “con” gives awards. Another tradition is an auction, benefitting a local library or literacy program. Typical items: signed books, character names, themed baskets crammed with books and goodies from a region or related to an anthology.
Although you couldn’t swing a dead anything without hitting a writer, these are not writers’ conferences. They are fan conventions, and the fans are the stars. Most cons celebrate a fan guest of honor—a librarian who’s championed the genre, magazine publishers, past convention planners, or other readers who make the mystery world a better place.
And everywhere you go—the coffee shop, bar, restaurant, elevator, the necessary rooms, even the airport shuttle–people are talking about books. About mysteries and crime novels of all kinds: thrillers, cozies, thrillzies, police procedurals, P.I. novels, Irish crime novels, Scandinavian crime novels, Antarctic crime novels, original e-books, short stories, nonfiction about the mystery, classic novels and graphic novels, and on and on. It be mysterious, it be game.
For the obsessed reader, it is heaven. And while most mysteries and crime novels do have a dead body—or 10—you don’t have to die first to go to a mystery convention.
I hope to see you at one, soon.
Leslie Budewitz is a lawyer and an unabashed mystery fan. Her book, Books, Crooks, and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, October 2011), aims to help writers get the facts about the law straight while telling a killer story.