The Austin Chronicle


An insider's guide to Bouchercon

By Jesse Sublett, October 18, 2002, Books

Before tackling a big case like this, a smart P.I. fiction aficionado would pour a couple fingers of good scotch, log onto and print out the schedule, and carefully make choices. But you'd save yourself a lot of trouble if you'd just do what I tell you to do. Who knows? You just might achieve total genre hipness and noir nirvana.

Thursday, October 17

The convention kicks off at noon. Unfortunately, depending on when you pick up today's edition of the Chronicle, there's a good chance you've already missed a lot. Highlights include the noon-12:50pm reading by Scott Phillips (Ice Harvest, one of the bleakest debuts I've ever read) and G.M. Ford (Who in Hell Was Wanda Fuca). Next up, conventioneers are introduced to this year's two guests of honor (1-1:30pm), George Pelecanos (Hell to Pay), and Mary Willis Walker (Under the Beetle's Cellar), Toastmistress Sparkle Hayter (The Chelsea Girl Murders), Fan Guest of Honor Bill Crider (A Knife in the Back), and special guest Elmer Kelton (Ranger's Trail). Fan Ghost of Honor, the late Barry Gardner, a prolific reviewer of mystery fiction, will be represented by his wife, Ellen. If you're lucky, you got wise to the con in time to catch the beloved Jan Grape (Austin City Blue) on the "Highlighting New Series" panel (3-4pm), and "Bringing American History to Life" (4:30-5:30pm), with Charles O'Brien (Black Gold) and the great James Carlos Blake (World of Thieves).

Friday, October 18

Start the day off with a bang at "Small Town Noir" (9-10am), where my chief interest is Vicki Hendricks (Sky Blues, Voluntary Madness). I don't have Hendricks' last two novels, but her 1995 debut, Miami Purity, was a mean and addictive read. Tough choices abound today, because J. Robert Janes (Sandman, Mannequin) works the "Mysterious Protagonists" beat during this same slot. Janes writes about a pair of detectives in World War II occupied France, one for his Vichy French bosses, the other for the Gestapo; both dicks have the usual low opinion of the people who sign their paychecks, but they've got a job to do, and the joy they find in doing it among the horror and slaughter around them is contagious. "Regional Sleuths" (10:30-11:30am) covers the waterfront: Gary Phillips (Shooters Point) sleuths hard-boiled modern L.A., and Rick Riordan (Devil Went Down to Austin) shamuses San Antonio, leaving the mean trails of Alaska to Sue Henry (Coffin Corner) and Megan Rust (Cold Company). Next, I'm signing you up for James W. Hall (Blackwater Sound). Your next hour (1:30-2:30pm) should be spent in the sweat box with Michael Connelly (City of Bones) grilling noir publisher extraordinaire Dennis McMillan, whose small but strong press (Dennis McMillan Publications) has produced some of the best noir fiction in the last 20 years. Which brings us to the next event I'll definitely be attending: the author signing of Measures of Poison (3-4pm), an anthology that collects mostly new works by McMillan's authors. Novelists included in the collection, and slated to autograph copies, include Kent Harrington, Jon Jackson, Pelecanos, Scott Phillips, Gary Phillips, Don Herron, and your humble reporter.

My presence is also required at the next slot on my itinerary (4:30-5:30pm), when I interview Jon Jackson (Badger Games). Previously, Jackson's friend and fellow Missoula, Mont., resident James Crumley (The Last Good Kiss, The Final Country), was booked for this spot, but had to cancel due to a scary few weeks in the hospital with a heart condition. But Crumley appears to be on the way back, which might explain the giant sigh of relief that blew 'round the world recently. The big guy is much loved and highly esteemed. I'm sure we'll all toast to his continued recovery at all the swell parties going on Friday night. Unfortunately, the only one I can tell you about is the "Meet the Brits" soiree in the Bouchercon Hospitality Suite (9:30-11pm). Should be good. Take some Texas: bigger than France bumper stickers and see how many you can sell.

Saturday, October 19

Start the day with noir as black as coffee at the reading by Kent Harrington (Dia de los Muertos, The American Boys) (9-10am). Next up is "Music to Die For" (10:30-11:30am), with Ace Atkins (Crossroad Blues, Dark End of the Street), Bill Moody (Looking for Chet Baker), J.R. Ripley (Skulls of Sedona), Keith Snyder (The Night Men), Rick Blechta (Knock on Wood), and me (Rock Critic Murders). The bummer is that "Ethnicity in Mystery" runs concurrently, but I'm sure I'll run into my good pals Gary Phillips, Darryl Wimberley, and Joe Lansdale somewhere else during the weekend. Be sure you pack an energy bar, because you may need it when you ride along with Philip Reed in his "15 Minutes" slot (noon-1pm). Reed's Bird Dog and Low Rider follow the SoCal automotive grifting exploits of Harold Dodge. After one particularly gruesome death, Harold remarks, "No one deserved to die like this. Not even a car salesman." How could you not love this guy? It seems a shame to have Mr. Detroit, Loren Estleman (The Hours of the Virgin), holding forth during the same hour. Prolific, profound, and a hell of a nice guy, Estleman is best known for his Amos Walker hard-boiled P.I. series, but apparently requires no sleep, because he's also produced a trunkload of high-quality contemporary and period crime and Western novels. The 1:30-2:30 slot might present a tough choice for some, but between "The Impact of 9/11" and "Laughing Fit to Kill," I'd most definitely run from the former toward the latter, even if it didn't star Bill Fitzhugh (Fender Benders), one of the best comic crime writers to appear in a long, long time. Expect more laughs from former Austinite Dan Barton (The Heckler, Dead Crowd) on the "L.A. Cool" panel (3-4pm). Barton, a stand-up comic when he's not writing mystery novels about a stand-up comic, used to play in bands at Raul's, the nerve center of Austin's late Seventies/early Eighties punk/ new wave scene. The lovely and lyrical Jan Burke (Nine and Sweet Dreams, Irene) is also on the panel. President Bill Clinton is another one of her big fans. I sure miss them both. The last readings of the day (4:30-5:30pm) spotlight the fabulous Don Winslow (Power of the Dog) and Richard Barre (Bearing Secrets). Go.

Afterward, take a little disco nap in your car or someone's lap, leaving just enough time to touch up your eyeliner or clean your gun before the Anthony Awards banquet at 7:30pm. As you probably know, banquets can be pretty grueling experiences, typified by rubber chicken, watery drinks, and speakers who have a way of making time crawl by on gooey boots. I will state here that the vast majority of mystery writers banquets I've attended have been typified by rubber chicken, strong drinks, hilarity, wit, and conviviality. The ones I can remember, anyway. I've got a good feeling about this one. For starters, the entrée is beef.

Sunday, October 20

This being your last chance to hear the words on the page read by the actual voices of the people who wrote them, you should try to hop between the "15 Minutes" sessions (10:30-11:30am) with the terrific and zealous Thomas Zigal (Pariah), Barbara Burnett Smith (Skeletons in Purple Sage), and Rick Riordan, and get a dose of each. Tell them I said it's OK. Authors will be signing books at various times throughout the convention, including after their interviews. The last scheduled events of the weekend are the author signings (noon-1pm), which will include the guests of honor. Throughout the weekend, be sure to make frequent visits to the giant book dealers' room, which will be open until 2:30pm Sunday. Expect a paradise of new, used, rare, and deluxe special-edition items from book dealers from all over the country. You need to buy lots of books and get them signed by the authors. This is a good investment. Just imagine if you'd gotten Dashiell Hammett to sign a first edition of Maltese Falcon back in the 1920s. It'd be worth more than a new SUV, but unlike an SUV, it wouldn't roll over and kill you.

Check out for Jesse Sublett's conversations with James Carlos Blake, Bill Fitzhugh, Jon Jackson, and Gary Phillips, as well as his review of Michael Connelly's latest, Chasing the Dime.

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