Cleveland Bouchercon: a love-in for mystery fans

If you’re a fan of mysteries, and you haven’t  attended a Bouchercon, you’ve missed out on one of the best annual events for book people.

I just got back from the 2012 edition in Cleveland and am still getting adjusted to being in the “real world” after five days of being immersed in the wonderful and sometimes slightly wacky gathering of fans and writers and publicists and agents who love the crime fiction genre.

The shindig is named in honor of the late New York Times mystery critic Anthony Boucher and it moves from city to city each year, attracting somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 people.

There are great panels every day with topics such as “Cop vs. Constable” (a comparison of crime and law in different countries), “Murder in Small Town USA” and “Wolfe at the Door” (about the legacy of the great crime writer Rex Stout who created Nero Wolfe).

I was asked to join a panel called “Putting the Fan in Fanatic” about the way that the new-ish online communities are forging tighter connections between readers and books. It was fun to meet in person a critic I’ve enjoyed online and in print for many years, Oline Cogdill, who has reviewed mysteries for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and Mystery Scene magazine.

Oline also did one of the guest of honor public interviews with Robin Cook, who launched his career in spectacular fashion with “Coma” almost 40 years ago, and has been writing medical-themed thrillers ever since.

Cook, who is a doctor, talked about how he has been able to channel into his books much of his frustration with medicine as it is practiced in this country. His attack on the advertising of prescription medicine on television in the United States was fascinating (he thinks it is deeply irresponsible on the part of both the drug companies and the television conglomerates to engage in this dangerous practice).

Mary Higgins Clark (below) was another guest of honor. The funny and down-to-earth New Yorker took a big crowd through her up-and-down progress in the New York publishing world, starting with her first book, a disastrously unsuccessful biography of George Washington (who knew?)

It doesn’t take much time at a Bouchercon to suss out the fact that mystery writers and readers are one of the nicest and most interesting groups of people you could choose to hang out with in a big hotel for a four-day weekend.

The panels and one-on-one interviews are great but the chance encounters in the hotel bar or elevators with folks like Lee Child, Alafair Burke, and S.J. Rozan give Bouchercon the feel of an almost endless — but fun — cocktail party.

I had a blast with writers who have become friends over the years, but also met lots of new novelists who are expanding the genre in all sorts of adventurous ways.

Next year’s Bouchercon will be a lot closer to home — in Albany, N.Y. — and I am already looking forward to the kick-off on Sept. 19, 2013. These things take a prodgious amount of planning and work to pull-off so the events for 2014 and 2015 have already been nailed down by groups in Long Beach, California, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Joe Meyers