The 1,500+ attendees of the 44th Bouchercon (the 100% volunteer-run, self-described, big tent of mystery gatherings, led this year by Al Abramson), held in Albany, N.Y.,’s imposing (and labyrinthine) Empire State Plaza from September 19-22, could be forgiven for a little head-scratching. Why was a panel about continuing another writer’s series (e.g. Robert Goldsborough’s new Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe novels) entitled Highway 61? Or one about Sherlock Holmes featuring Peter Blau, Les Klinger, Lyndsay Faye, Michael Robertson and Terrence Faherty dubbed And So It Goes? Only the most astute-or possibly the least-worst-for-wear after the numerous extracurricular nighttime excursions-were able to figure it out.
The first Bouchercon in 30 years to be held in the Empire State was captioned A New York State of Crime, riffing on the Billy Joel song-and all the panels were named after the musician’s other hits. Apart from that code, the four days featured the variety of activities regulars have come to expect. There were over 75 expert-led discussions on subjects ranging from the use of animals as main characters in mystery fiction to the perils of engaging fans on social media. Prominent honored authors-Tess Gerritsen, Anne Perry and Sue Grafton-offered insights into their work, and more than a little humor; Grafton revealed that she has pledged to her children to haunt them from beyond the grave if they even thought of having another’s hand penning more Kinsey Millhone. Recognition of superfans, this year, Chris Aldrich & Lynn Kaczmarek, former editors of Mystery News. Awards were handed out, and books rare, and less-so, were available for purchase.
As in past years, the crowd could be divided into several occasionally-overlapping segments of a Venn diagram. There were the fans, many of them local, chomping at the bit to meet the authors they’d idolized, waiting for halves of hours in line to memorialize the cherished encounter with an autographed book. There were the authors, hoping that the book to be personalized was a new purchase, strewing tchochkes (such as bookmarks with catnip or peanuts attached, or an ice-scraper) on every available horizontal space to promote their work. Their publishers and publicists made free books, and sample chapters, available to attract attention to their particular stable of authors. And there were the regulars, looking to meet up again with geographically-remote friends and swap stories and recommendations of new talent to watch.
And democracy again was at work in the awarding of this year’s Anthonys, at a ceremony winningly presided over by Toastmaster Steve Hamilton. Full-time attendees voted to again select a novel by Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery (Minotaur), as the best novel of 2012 (marking the fourth straight year, and the fifth in seven years) that the New York Times #1 bestseller has been honored at a Bouchercon. Best first novel was awarded to Chris Pavone’s The Expats (Crown), and Johnny Shaw took home the prize for Big Maria (Thomas & Mercer) as best paperback original. Dana Cameron, creator of the Fangborn series, won Best Short Story for "Mischief in Mesopotamia," which appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels (Washington Square Press), a collection of over 120 essays that began as a Bouchercon panel concept, landed editors John Connolly and Declan Burke the nod for Best Critical Nonfiction Work. Sue Grafton, William Krueger and S.J. Rozan (whose contributions to the festivities ranged from arranging basketball and poker games to interviewing Grafton) selected William Regan’s "Becoming Lauren Klein" as the best short story by an unpublished convention attendee.
While the cynical commented on the appropriateness of celebrating law-breaking literally in the shadow of the building housing New York State’s ridiculously corrupt legislature, the more open-minded attendees habituated to the brusque daily interactions of life in their big home cities were charmed by the local’s friendliness. Will the residents of Long Beach, Calif., where next year’s Bouchercan will be held, be as welcoming? Only crime will tell.