May 022014
 

Back in Bethesda again and ready to rumble:

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"Not everyone's cup of tea," is it? It's mine, certainly. There will be more than 500 readers and authors gathered here for the weekend, all fans of (and creators of) traditional mysteries, lacking excessive violence, save for the occasional murder or two, and - as a rule - well-plotted and generally witty and fun to read. If you enjoy these mysteries, you really ought to try one of the major mystery conferences - with Malice Domestic a good example.

Apr 272014
 

At the 26th annual Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda, Maryland, next weekend, three fine mystery writers will be honored by their peers and by their readers with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Dorothy Cannell, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron all have long lists of credits to their name, and they richly deserve their honors.

To observe the occasion, I thought we might look back at the first novel written by one of these three authors: Margaret Maron's One Coffee With. Maron is best known for her later series of mysteries about Judge Deborah Knott. But before those books, Maron wrote an eight-book series about a New York City Police Lieutenant, Sigrid Harald. The first of those books, appearing in 1981, was One Coffee With, and it was Maron's first full-length novel - she had been a short story writer before then. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you may listen to the complete review by clicking here.

The mystery and the murder take place in the art department of the fictional Vanderlyn College in New York City. The deputy chairman of the department, Professor Riley Quinn, an art historian, takes a cup of coffee into his office…drinks it…and dies, having been poisoned with potassium dichromate, a chemical used in the art department’s printmaking workshop.

Lieutenant Harald arrives, along with her assistant, Detective Tilden, to begin her investigation of the murder. The first thing she will learn is that practically anyone in the department – certainly among the faculty, but also including a couple of the students and even a member of the building and grounds crew – had excellent reasons to hate Professor Quinn, and little reason to mourn his death.

The main problem – and it’s really a classic puzzle – centers around that poisoned coffee. It seems that the coffee must have been poisoned and placed on the tray that held everyone’s coffee. But – of course – nobody saw that happen. And how could the killer have known that Professor Quinn would take that particular cup…or was it not meant for him at all?

These are the questions Lieutenant Harald and her assistants must answer. The story is more along the lines of a classic mystery than a police procedural, and it is quite well and believably done. Sigrid Harald is a strong character, and part of the book focuses on her role as a woman in a job that, until that time, had been filled almost exclusively by men. Maron writes with grace and wit, and her observations of the academic rivalries at Vanderlyn College are both funny and quite perceptive.

One Coffee With has been republished in a new trade paperback edition from Oconee Spirit Press. It includes a new introduction by Margaret Maron explaining how the book came to be - and, for that matter, how she became a much-honored mystery writer. I think you'll enjoy it.

Jan 302014
 

Malice Domestic, the organization behind the annual conference of traditional mystery readers and authors, has announced the nominees for this year's Agatha Awards. The envelopes, please...

Best Historical Novel

  • Heirs and Graces, by Rhys Bowen
  • Death in the Time of Ice, by Kaye George
  • A Friendly Game of Murder, by JJ Murphy
  • Murder in Chelsea, by Victoria Thompson
  • A Question of Honor, by Charles Todd

Best Children's/YA Nominations

  • The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Traitor in the Shipyard: A Caroline Mystery, by Kathleen Ernst
  • Andi Unexpected, by Amanda Flower
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein
  • Code Busters Club: Mystery of the Pirate's Treasure, by Penny Warner

Best Contemporary Novel

  • Through the Evil Days, by Julia Spencer
  • Pagan Spring, by G. M. Malliet
  • How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny
  • Clammed Up, by Barbara Ross
  • The Wrong Girl, by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Best Nonfiction

  • Georgette Heyer, by Jennifer Kloester
  • Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova
  • Not Everyone's Cup of Tea: An Interesting & Entertaining History of Malice Domestic's First 25 Years, by Verena Rose and Rita Owen (editors)
  • The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower

Best First Novel

  • Death Al Dente, by Leslie Budewitz
  • You Cannot Die Once, by Shelley Costa
  • Board Stiff, by Kendel Lynn
  • Kneading to Die, by Liz Mugavero
  • Front Page Fatality, by LynDee Walker

Best Short Story

  • "Evil Little Girl" in Don't Get Mad, Get Even, by Barb Goffman
  • "Nightmare" in Don't Get Mad, Get Even, by Barb Goffman
  • "The Hindi Houdini" in Fish Nets, by Gigi Pandian
  • "Bread Baby" in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold, by Barbara Ross
  • "The Care and Feeding of House Plants" in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Art Taylor

The winners will be determined by votes cast by those attending the 26th annual Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, MD, from May 2 through May 4, with the awards being presented at a gala banquet at the festivities. Congratulations are in order for all the nominees.

Dec 292013
 

We are approaching rapidly the end of 2013. And, as we raise our glasses to toast in the New Year, our glasses will not be the only things being raised. A couple of the major mystery conferences set for 2014 will cost you more to attend, as of January 1.

First (in terms of event dates) will be Left Coast Crime, or Calamari Crime, as they call themselves. Price through December: $209; price as of January 1: $239. Hey, it's in beautiful Monterey, California, March 20-23. I'll be there. Will you join me?

Only a few weeks later, from May 2 through May 4,  Malice Domestic 26 will open for business - as always, in Bethesda, MD. It's the ideal conference for traditional mystery enthusiasts with hundreds of authors hobnobbing with hundreds more fans. These are the kind of mysteries that Agatha Christie readers enjoyed and still enjoy, and it's quite a lineup of panelists and events. This one costs $295 until midnight December 31st - as of January 1st, it will cost you $320. As an added bonus, sign up by the end of this year and you will have the opportunity to suggest 2013 mysteries for consideration for the Agatha Awards. I wouldn't miss it. Will you join me?

There's still plenty of time to register for Bouchercon 2014, which will be held in Long Beach, California, from November 13-16. However, if you want to be in a hotel near the action, you'd better get moving quickly. Registration is currently $175; it goes up again to $195 after July 31, 2014. It's a marvelous way to spend a few days talking about all kinds of mysteries - in print and on screen. It's looking like a great conference. Will you join me?

Three fine conferences for mystery lovers of all genres. Just walking around these gatherings and talking with (up-until-then) strangers is the best part of the conferences; you're bound to come away with new friends and/or renew acquaintances with favorite authors and fans. I hope to see you there!

May 072013
 

With the 25th anniversary edition of Malice Domestic having concluded this past Sunday, it is time, clearly, to begin making plans for next year's conference.

Why, you ask? Well a partial answer would have to include the honorees next year:

  • Guest of Honor: Kathy Lynn Emerson;
  • Toastmaster: Earlene Fowler;
  • Lifetime Achievement Awards - three, count 'em, three: Dorothy Cannell, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron;
  • Malice Remembers: Reginald Hill
  • Poirot Award: Tom Schantz
  • Fan Guest of Honor: Audrey Reith

Add to that honor roll the usual features of the Malice Domestic program - panels galore, interviews with the honorees, book signings, Malice Go Round to expose attendees to as many authors as possible, the voting for, and awarding of, the Agatha Awards, and so much more. It all happens May 2 to May 4, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda. And, yes, registration is open now.

My wife and I are already registered. We hope to see you there. If you've never been to a Malice Domestic conference, you will be amazed and delighted. Promise.

Apr 242013
 

I'm getting ready for next week's visit to Bethesda, MD, and the 25th annual Malice Domestic conference. I see that the conference has sold out - registration has been closed, with something over 600 people set to attend. By my (probably inaccurate) count, about a quarter to a third of that number will be mystery authors, ready to meet with, entertain, instruct and sign books for their readers.

So...anyone else heading that way? If so...I hope to see you there. I've been to several past Malice Domestic conferences and enjoyed them thoroughly. This one is shaping up to be another great weekend.

Apr 152013
 

With the annual Malice Domestic conference coming up in less than three weeks, I thought it was high time that I made the acquaintance of some of the fine authors of traditional mysteries who will be honored at the event. One of the honorees this year will be Aaron Elkins, who will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, and I thought it would be good to start by reading one of the books in his primary series featuring the "Skeleton Detective," Dr. Gideon Oliver. Have I been missing a lot?

Well...frankly...yes. I may be late to the party, but I found Dr. Oliver a most enjoyable companion, as he led me through a rudimentary appreciation of forensic anthropology, the scientific study of human remains, in an often funny, if sometimes grisly, mystery.

I found a good example of what that means - and how Gideon Oliver puts together the fragments of a mysterious death to reveal a pretty shocking crime - in "Make No Bones," originally published in 1991, and the seventh book in Elkins' continuing series. It's the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.

In "Make No Bones," members of the Western Association of Forensic Anthropologists are gathering for their biennial get-together - what the organizer calls the group’s "eagerly anticipated bone bash and weenie roast." It’s a combination of a scientific business conference, with academic discussions of forensic science and anthropology, together with a social gathering. The problem, this year, is that the organizer has chosen to hold it at Whitebark Lodge, in Oregon, where the association was formed, ten years earlier. That original ill-fated conference had ended in tragedy, as Albert Evan Jasper, called the “dean of American forensic anthropologists,” died in a fiery bus crash. As the scientists gather again a decade later at Whitebark Lodge, there will be unpleasant surprises in store – not to mention murders, old and new to be solved. It will be up to Gideon Oliver, working with his wife, Julie, and their friend, FBI Agent John Lau, to unravel a grisly set of clues to reveal a deadly secret.

There's a fair amount of police procedure here, and some insight into how these forensic scientists go about finding clues in a handful of bones or bone fragments. But it's also a traditional mystery, with considerable fair play and some very nicely hidden clues. And there's a lot of humor - sometimes very dark, to be sure, but also quite funny. I thoroughly enjoyed "Make No Bones," and I'm looking forward to meeting Aaron Elkins and hearing him speak at Malice Domestic.

Mar 142013
 

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The secretive (but friendly) cabal behind this year's 25th running of the Malice Domestic conference has released the preliminary program schedule for the gathering, which will be held from May 3 through May 5 in Bethesda, Maryland.

It looks like another outstanding gathering for readers and authors of traditional mysteries - the kind personified, perhaps, by Agatha Christie, with little in the way of "on-stage" violence and even less of "on-stage" sex.

What you'll find is a wide variety of programs and panels. (DISCLOSURE: my wife will be moderating one of the Sunday panels.) There will be one-on-one interviews with this year's honored guests, including Laurie R. King, Peter Robinson, Aaron Elkins, Carolyn Hart and Laura Lippman. Author panels cover a wide range of topics of interest to fans and authors alike. Plenty of books to be read and plenty of authors signing their books. And there are regular features, including the wonderful Malice-Go-Round (described as being "like speed dating, with authors") and, of course, the grand banquet featuring presentation of the Agatha Awards.

If you've never been, there are still some spaces available - check out the registration information. It should be a wonderful weekend. I hope to see you there.

Feb 092013
 

The folks who bring us the Malice Domestic conference every year have just announced the nominations for the 2012 Agatha Award. Malice, and the Agathas, celebrate the traditional mystery, as practiced by such first-rate writers as Agatha Christie. Nomination for one of the Agatha Awards is quite an honor. Here are this year's nominees:

Best Novel

  • The Diva Digs Up the Dirt, by Krista Davis
  • A Fatal Winter, by G. M. Malliet
  • The Buzzard Table, by Margaret Maron
  • The Beautiful Mystery, by Louise Penny
  • The Other Woman, by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Best Historical Novel

  •  The Twelve Clues of Christmas, by Rhys Bowen
  • Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for Murder, by Catriona McPherson
  • Murder on Fifth Avenue, by Victoria Thompson
  • An Unmarked Grave, by Charles Todd
  • Elegy for Eddie, by Jacqueline Winspear

Best First Novel

  • Lowcountry Boil, by Susan M. Boyer
  • Iced Chiffon, by Duffy Brown
  • A Scrapbook of Secrets, by Mollie Cox Bryan
  • A Killer Read, by Erika Chase
  • Faithful Unto Death, by Stephanie Jaye Evans

Best Nonfiction

  • Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels, by John Connolly/Declan Burke
  • Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950, by Joseph Goodrich, Editor
  • More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers Morbidly Curious Qudestions Expertly Answered, by D. P. Lyle
  • Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, by Ben Macintyre
  • The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery Agatha Christie, by Mathew Prichard, Editor

Best Short Story

  • "Mischief in Mesopotamia," by Dana Cameron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
  • "Kept in the Dark," by Shelia Connolly, Best New England Crime Stories 2013: Blood Moon Anthology
  • "The Lord is My Shamus," by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder
  • "Thea's First Husband," by B. K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
  • "When Duty Calls," by Art Taylor, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder

Best Children's/Young Adult Novel

  • Seconds Away, by Harlen Coben
  • The Edge of Nowhere, by Elizabeth George
  • Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead
  • The Code Busters Club, Case #2: The Haunted Lighthouse, by Penny Warner
  • Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Attendees at this year's Malice Domestic Conference - the 25th annual, by the way - will vote on the final awards, which will be announced at the conference banquet over the first weekend in May. Congratulations to all the nominees!