Malice Domestic: murder with a lighter touch

malice1As you read this, I expect to be in Bethesda, Maryland, attending my first Malice Domestic conference, which gathers together a few hundred writers and fans of mysteries with a low violence and sex quotient.

Sometimes called “cozies,” the novels are more properly described as “traditional mysteries” in the vein of the classic whodunits by Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and other masters of the form.

At another mystery writers’ conference a few years ago, one of the reigning practitioners of the genre, Carolyn Hart, explained to me that there should be nothing “cozy” about murder, especially in the small and seemingly safe communities where many of these stories are set.

As Hart pointed out, there is something even more frightening about a murder between acquaintances in a peaceful place than a homicide on the mean streets of New York City or Los Angeles. What could be worse than finding out that a feeling of safety and comfort is a total illusion?malice

Christie’s great creation, Miss Marple (above), didn’t have any weapons at her disposal other than a steel-trap mind, but she ran up against crimes as appalling as anything in the novels of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

I’ve been to the international crime writers gathering, Bouchercon, and the annual ThrillerFest in New York City, but I’m looking forward to two days of panels and interviews devoted to a slightly kinder and gentler examination of murder. I expect to report back to you on Malice Domestic next week when I return, but while I’m there I’ll be live Tweeting at @joesview.

Joe Meyers