Yours truly with Ali Karim, outside the Hyatt Regency.
My first visit to Long Beach, California, came during the early 1970s. My father had been stationed in Great Britain during World War II, and had worked there as some sort of wheeling-and-dealing army supply officer (picture James Garner’s “Scrounger” from The Great Escape). But after the fighting ended, he returned to the States aboard the RMS Queen Mary, which had been painted gray for service as a troop transport vessel. When that ocean liner was finally retired from service in 1967 and subsequently repurposed in Long Beach as a tourist attraction, my father decided he wanted to see her once more. So he packed up our family, and we drove from Portland, Oregon, all the way down to the so-called Aquatic Capital of America to see what had become of the old girl. I was pretty young at the time and don’t recall much of that trip, but I do remember standing on the dock below the Queen Mary and staring up in awe at how mammoth the ship appeared (she was, after all, some 200 feet longer than the ill-fated RMS Titanic).
Last week marked my only other journey to Long Beach, and while I could see the Queen Mary from my hotel window high above Ocean Boulevard, I never did reach her moorage across Rainbow Harbor. Instead, I spent almost all of my time partaking of this year’s Bouchercon (“Murder at the Beach,” November 13-16), held at the Hyatt Regency hotel and adjacent Long Beach Convention Center. It was my fifth Bouchercon, after the 2011 convention in St. Louis, so I knew pretty much what to expect. Yet every one
of these World Mystery Conventions offers a little something new, even if it’s only a novel panel-discussion topic (not easy to come by), a happenstance encounter with an author previously unknown to you, or learning about a book that had eluded your radar.
For me, the best part of this whole shindig was reconnecting with good friends I don’t see nearly often enough, especially The Rap Sheet’s ever-energetic UK correspondent, Ali Karim. He and I got to know each other during the early days of the 21st century, when he volunteered to write reviews for January Magazine (for which I still serve as crime fiction editor), and we have traveled back and forth across the Atlantic to drink together and swap reading recommendations ever since. Ali likes to say we could have been brothers in another lifetime, or perhaps in an alternative universe, and I won’t disagree with that. I value his friendship tremendously. And I’m pleased that he usually makes these Bouchercon forays in the company of two other pals of his, Shots editor Mike Stotter and author R.J. “Roger” Ellory. Between them, their fine humor and equally fine stories leave me laughing for weeks after the conventions conclude.
Other highlights of Bouchercon 2014, though, included: dining out with Canadian-American author David Morrell (whose novel Murder as a Fine Art won
the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award); sitting through Art Scott’s slide presentation of artist Robert
McGinnis’ gorgeous paperback covers and paintings (during which I learned that McGinnis had imagined both James Coburn and Goldie Hawn as models for his players on the front of the 1971 paperback, As Old As Cain); two panel talks moderated by Peter Rozovsky--“Belfast Noir,” which included Stuart Neville and Gerard Brennan as speakers, and “Beyond Hammett, Chandler and
Spillane,” during which Gary Phillips, Max Allan Collins, Sarah Weinman and others swapped stories about “forgotten” crime writers of the mid-20th-century pulp era (Joseph Nazel, Dolores Hitchens, and Ennis
Willie among them); attending the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Awards banquet with The Thrilling Detective Web Site’s Kevin Burton Smith and his wife, author Diana Killian, as well as writers such as Brad Parks, Sue Grafton, and Richard Helms; Poisoned Pen Press publisher Barbara Peters’ interview with International Guest of Honor Edward Marston, who proved to be a wellspring of entertaining stories (and was later kind enough to remember me, when I went seeking his autograph on a book); J. Robert Janes’ generosity in gifting me with an out-of-print hardcover copy of his 1991 thriller, The Alice Factor; Sebastian Rotella’s onstage interview with Michael Connelly; and a reminiscence-filled post-Bouchercon dinner featuring Ali Karim, Mike Stotter, January editor and author Linda L. Richards, and several others who had booked Monday flights home. In addition, my wife and I sat down for dinner one evening with my
cousin Scott and his wife, Lori, at a Long Beach restaurant (and classy converted former bank) called The Federal Bar. I don’t have nearly as many chances as I would like to get together with members of my mother’s sister’s family. Since Scott and Lori live in the Los Angeles area, I wasn’t about to miss seeing them on this trip.
In addition to all of that, I spent some time with writer friends such as Lee Goldberg (who shares my passion for old TV detective series), Keith Raffel, Kelli Stanley, Mystery Fanfare’s Janet Rudolph, and the aforementioned Gary Phillips and Max Allan Collins (the latter of whom, with his wife, fellow fictionist Barbara Collins, hosted the Shamus Awards party). I was only sorry that I didn’t have more contact on this occasion with Mark Billingham, Sarah Weinman, and Otto Penzler, and never so much as clapped eyes on a few people I had hoped to meet--Lyndsay Faye, Owen
Laukkanen, and Bruce DeSilva among them--but maybe I shall bump into them during a near-future Bouchercon. I’ll call it compensation that I returned to Seattle with a few goodies, prominent among those being two additions to my modest collection of Robert McGinnis-illustrated paperbacks: 24
Hours to Kill (1961) and Murder Me for Nickels (1960). I would surely have purchased more, except that the Book Room at this event was conspicuously short of sales tables offering classic paperbacks (and, sadly, didn’t feature a British bookseller at all).
As it happens, my friend Ali is responsible for the programming at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina, so there’s every chance I’ll swing by those festivities next October. I shall use the intervening months to rest my liver and catch up on sleep in preparation.
(Click here to find Part II of our post-Bouchercon coverage.)
READ MORE: Detectives Beyond Borders blogger Peter Rozovsky began posting about Bouchercon 2014 long before the conference even opened, and he continues to do so here; author Jeri Westerson posted a three-part series about Bouchercon 2014 in her blog, Getting Medieval; and Dana King has posted two parts of a Bouchercon wrap-up in One Bite at a Time--see here and here; “Bouchercon 2014 Recap--Tuesday Through Friday (Part One),” by Kristopher Zgorski (BOLO Books); “21 Years Later--A Third Shamus,” by Max Allan Collins; “Bouchercon 2014: There Are Faces I’ll Remember,” by Kevin Burton Smith (The Thrilling Detective Blog); “Bouchercon 2014 Recap--Tuesday Through Friday (Part Two),” by Kristopher Zgorski (BOLO Books); “Bloody Murder at Bouchercon,” by Erin Mitchell (Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room); “Bouchercon 2014: Seven Mystery Superstars Give Us the Inside Scoop” (Book Reporter).