Solving ConMisterio

A preview

Solving ConMisterio

With SXSW, ACL, and the last KKK microdemonstration, Austin needs another convention like a hole in the head, right? Well, ConMisterio is a convention for people who just can't seem to write or read enough about holes in heads – bullet holes, that is, along with an endless variety of other means of sudden exit from the planet.

Loosely modeled after the fabulously successful Bouchercon (going on its 37th year), ConMisterio convenes for its second annual gathering July 14-16 at the DoubleTree. It will feature the usual author discussion panels, author readings, a banquet, a dealer room, and creative loafing opportunities. (Full disclosure: I'll be one of the authors attending the convention and promoting work, but I'd be writing this even if I weren't.)

This year's guests of honor are Margaret Maron and James Crumley. Maron, whose Bootlegger's Daughter nabbed the Edgar in 1993, and Crumley, whose The Last Good Kiss would appear near the top of any intelligent reader's top 10 list, might seem to be an odd couple. Both hail from the South: Maron from North Carolina, Crumley from Three Rivers, Texas. Maron's novels, however, are of the cozy, tea-sipping variety, while Crumley's are drenched in booze and dope, not to mention blood and cordite and other liquids and vapors that appeal to those who like their fiction served hardboiled.

Bill Crider, best known for his Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels, will serve as toastmaster. Dennis McMillan, the professional guest (a title that sounds suspiciously similar to veteran freeloader), publishes deluxe editions of some of the greatest noir writers past and present and has a bigger collection of shoes than Imelda Marcos. One highlight of the convention will be the joint panel by McMillan and Crumley (Saturday, 3pm), which could begin with a discussion of Crumley's latest, The Right Madness, although some attendees are bound to want the Big Crum to recite the last line of his excellent 2001 novel, The Final Country: "The only thing I wanted out of Texas was my ass."

It takes a remarkable person to fill the shoes of fan guest of honor at a gathering like this, but those who knew and loved Elmer Grape, the owner of Mysteries & More and the husband of author Jan Grape, would be the first to say that he could do the job lying down ... in his grave. Elmer, who passed away last year, will be the subject of many toasts and reminiscence during the con. Jan, co-fan guest of honor, will be promoting her new novel, Dark Blue Death.

A short list of other highlights: Milton Burton, whose debut, The Rogues' Game, a bleak noir set in post-World War II, earned a starred review in Booklist, as did Austin author Jeff Abbott's August release, Fear... Michael Putegnat's Laguna drips with Texas coastal creepiness... Anthony Neil Smith, author of The Drummer, wins the best Web site prize with his Crimedog One: The Virtual Dive Bar... John Maddox Roberts (Nobody Loves a Centurion) is for all you readers with a thing for private eyes in togas (as in Roman)... Karen MacInerney (Muffins Are Murder) is for those who like a little blood with their oat bran... Duane Swierczynski's (The Wheel Man) Secret Dead Blog site turned me on to some cool noir podcasts... J.F. Margos (Shattered Image) writes about a forensic artist in Austin... If Harry Hunsicker's (Still River) Dallas P.I., Lee Henry Oswald, didn't have tough cases, he'd have no cases at all... Omaha author Sean Doolittle (Rain Dogs) writes "full body press" mysteries, according to one of my favorite blurbs.

As for myself, next to drinking a single-malt scotch with Crumley, I'm especially looking forward to Megan Abbott, whose Die a Little boasts a retro pulp cover complete with a suicide blonde and wanton lust in the background, but it's no mere marketing ploy. Abbott, hailed as the "mistress of noir," established her credentials in spades with a treatise on the subject in The Street Was Mine.

Recognizing the fact that the Live Music Capital of the World is not only a place full of killer guitarists but writers of killer prose, ConMisterio is holding a music-and-crime contest called the Desert Island Dead Top Five. The idea is to list your favorite five murder ballads, cop/detective film or TV soundtracks, or any other tunes that inspire images of dead-end dames and no-hope heroes. Think: "Theme From Peter Gunn," "Killing Me Softly," "Gangster of Love," "Saturday Night Special," "I Fought the Law," or even group names, like the Killers, or songs by artists who just can't stay out of jail, like Boy George and Gary Glitter.

The winner of a preliminary drawing on Wednesday, July 12, will win free admission to the convention. There will be assorted prizes for runners up, as well.

Meanwhile, a second contest is open only to registered members. The rules are the same, but the winners will be selected by a panel of qualified judges and announced at the Music to Die For panel on Sunday at 10am. First-place winner receives a $50 certificate for book purchases in the dealers' room; second and third, $25.

Submit all entries to by Monday, July 10. Specify whether you are a member or nonmember.

Admission for all three days of ConMisterio, plus the banquet, is $115 through Friday, July 7. After that, admission increases, but day rates will be available at the door. Parking in the DoubleTree hotel garage (6505 N. I-35) will be free. Check for the full schedule and other information, including author links.

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ConMisterio, James Crumley, Margaret Maron

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