Bouchercon 2014

The Appeal of Locked Room Mysteries

Otto Penzler's new collection.
In November I spoke on the panel “Murder in a Locked Room: Solving the ‘Perfect’ Crime” at Bouchercon, the world mystery convention. I wrote up a recap of the whole convention here, and I'm revisiting the panel in greater detail today because I've been on a locked room mystery kick. 

Two things have renewed my interest: 

  1. Otto Penzler's new collection of locked room stories, The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries. 960 pages and 68 stories! As I write this, I'm about halfway through it. I've encountered many of the stories before, but there are many that are new to me. 
  2. French author Paul Halter, who is being hailed as the new John Dickson Carr—and for good reason. His plots are every bit as ingenious, and he uses supernatural overtones to great effect. Halter's books are being translated into English by John Pugmire and Locked Room International

“Murder in a Locked Room: Solving the ‘Perfect’ Crime”

I'm a huge fan of locked room mysteries, so I was thrilled to be selected for the panel along with Jeffery Deaver, Janet Dawson, Laurie King, Marvin Lachman, and Bill Gottfried moderating. I wasn’t sure how many people would attend a panel on a mystery sub-genre most popular during the Golden Age of detective fiction, so it was heartening to see well over 100 people of all ages in attendance. 

Murder in a Locked room panelists (left to right):
Marvin Lachman, Janet Dawson, Bill Gottfried, Gigi Pandian, Jeffery Deaver, Laurie King
Marv Lachman kicked off the discussion with a definition of locked room mysteries. The classic example is a murder victim found in a room sealed from the inside, with no way for a murderer to have escaped. But the term “locked room” is used more broadly for any “impossible crime” situation, such as an outdoor murder in a remote area with only the victim’s footprints in the snow.

Jeffery Deaver mentioned John Dickson Carr’s famous “locked room lecture,” a treatise inside his novel The Three Coffins that explains the overarching methods in which an impossible crime could indeed be possible. The specific methods used to carry out these theoretical ideas are endless, and therefore reading the lecture doesn’t ruin the solution of The Three Coffins or any other book.

Why are locked room mysteries so appealing? 

We all agreed that they provide the ultimate puzzle. Not only is the reader baffled by who committed the crime and why, but also how. There’s a promise to the reader that there will be a satisfying resolution at the end of the book. 

A secondary feature of many locked room mysteries is the Gothic, ghostly atmosphere that dominates the investigation—because if a crime is impossible, then surely it can only have a supernatural explanation. But that’s the trick of a good locked room mystery: like a good magic trick, what seems supernatural is in reality a clever illusion.

My John Dickson Carr bookshelf.
Stage magicians are therefore a natural for locked room mystery sleuths. Clayton Rawson’s Merlini character is a favorite of mine. Merlini appeared in several novels and over a dozen short stories. Rawson was a contemporary of Carr, and wrote most of his stories in the 1930s and 40s. 

Clayton Rawson's novels featuring The Great Merlini.

Janet Dawson mentioned Agatha Christie as an author who is primarily thought of as the queen of puzzle plots more generally, though several of her books feature locked room mysteries. And Laurie King brought up Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as one of the stories credited with creating the sub-genre.

Daniel Stashower, best known for non-fiction,
also writes the Harry Houdini Mysteries. 
Many present-day writers are carrying the tradition forward. Authors include Paul Halter, a French author with several novels translated into English by John Pugmire; Daniel Stashower, who writes the Harry Houdini mysteries; the prolific Bill Pronzini, who writes the Nameless detective series; and panelist Jeffery Deaver, who wrote an impossible-crime magician thriller for his fifth Lincoln Rhyme novel, The Vanished Man. There are also many modern Japanese authors writing in the genre. Many, but not all, have been translated into English—as our moderator Bill Gottfried learned when he accidentally ordered a Japanese locked room mystery printed in Japanese!

As for me, I haven’t yet pulled off writing a full-length locked room novel, but I love writing locked room mystery short stories. When I started writing my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series, I created a small sidekick character who was a stage magician: Sanjay Rai, who performs under the moniker The Hindi Houdini. But Sanjay refused to remain a sidekick, so I’ve written several locked room short stories with him as the hero, beginning with “The Hindi Houdini” (that was the story short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards).

For a handout at the Bouchercon panel, we compiled some of our favorite locked room novels, stories, anthologies, and reference guides. Here’s a portion of the list we gave out:

A “starter guide” to Locked Room Mysteries: Novel Recommendations from the Panelists

Note this is NOT an exhaustive list, but rather a few favorite novels from the panelists. 
The handout given to attendees also included additional reference guides, anthologies, and short stories.

  • Edmund Crispin THE MOVING TOYSHOP
  • John Dickson Carr THE BURNING COURT
  • John Dickson Carr THE CROOKED HINGE
  • John Dickson Carr THE THREE COFFINS, aka HOLLOW MAN (includes Carr’s famous “locked room lecture”)
  • Carter Dickson THE JUDAS WINDOW
  • Carter Dickson A GRAVEYARD TO LET
  • Arthur Conan Doyle THE SIGN OF FOUR
  • Keigo Higashino MALICE
  • Ellery Queen THE DOOR BETWEEN
  • Clayton Rawson DEATH FROM A TOP HAT
  • Daniel Stashower DIME MUSEUM MURDERS

Happy reading! 

Bouchercon 2014

I'm home after four days at Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, which was held in Long Beach this year. On my way home on Sunday I was on a flight with several other Bay Area authors, and our conversation as we waited to board sums up the whole convention experience: even though we attended the fan convention as authors, we were most excited when talking about the new mystery books and authors we discovered over the long weekend.

I roomed with a pal who was attending the convention for the first time. This wasn't my first Bouchercon, but it was my first time with multiple books out and multiple events scheduled. In other words, it was the first time I felt like I was attending professionally. But since I was a huge mystery fan long before I became a writer, I had to set alarms on my phone so I'd remember to stop browsing in the book room, chatting with old and new friends, or attending cool panels -- so I could be sure to attend my own events!

Roomie Mariah Klein in front of the hotel.

My gorgeous book cover for The Accidental Alchemist was on display at the Midnight Ink table. The publisher gave away Accidental Alchemist mugs and I signed Advance Reader Copies of the book for readers. And it was great having a chance to get to know my editor, publicist, and fellow Midnight Ink authors better over the weekend.

The Midnight Ink booth at Bouchercon, with The Accidental Alchemist on display!
Here I am with my fabulous editor Terri Bischoff. 

At the "Author Speed Dating" breakfast event on the first day, writers table-hopped to tell readers about their books. I handed out goodies from a magician's hat, because stage magic is one of the overlapping subjects in the two books I've got coming out in early 2015: The Accidental Alchemist coming from Midnight Ink in January, and Quicksand, the third Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, coming from Henery Press in March. I paired up with fellow Henery Press author Susan Boyer, who writes the Liz Talbot mysteries, the first of which won an Agatha Award. We had fun until we started to lose our voices!

With Susan Boyer at "Author Speed Dating."

The Macavity Awards, given out by Mystery Readers International, were presented at the opening ceremonies. My locked room mystery "The Hindi Houdini" was up for Best Short Story. Up against fabulous short stories including Art Taylor's "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants" and John Connolly's "The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository," I knew I wouldn't win, but it was such an honor to be nominated alongside those authors and stories. The Macavity went to to Art Taylor's story from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. You can see the full list of Macavity nominees here.

The opening ceremonies. Fancy!

It was only a little over a year ago that I participated in the New Author breakfasts at mystery conventions. I got up early to support the authors I knew with new books out. Plus, I had my own selfish reason for attending: I learned about several new authors I hadn't previously heard of but who are now on my reading list. (I've already downloaded Andrew Mayne's Angel Killer.) 

New Author Breakfast. Top row: Lisa Alber, Kathy Aarons, Annette Dashofy.
Bottom row: Tracy Weber, Ray Daniel, Sybil Johnson.

Appearing on the Locked Room Mysteries panel was a treat both because of the line-up (Jeffery Deaver's The Vanished Man is absolutely brilliant, and Marv Lachman's Heirs of Anthony Boucher makes him the resident Bouchercon historian) and because the subject is dear to my heart. I've always thought I was rather old-fashioned because I love locked room "impossible crime" stories that were most popular during the Golden Age of detective fiction between the two world wars, but I learned that I'm not alone! The audience was packed with well over 100 people of all ages. (I'll do a separate post on what we talked about, because otherwise I'd go on forever.)

On the Locked Room Mysteries panel with Marv Lachman, Janet Dawson,
Bill Gottfried (our moderator), Jeffery Deaver, and Laurie King.

With Jeffery Deaver, who in addition to writing brilliant books is the nicest guy.

Mystery conventions often raise money for local literacy charities through a silent auction and a live auction. Dozens of authors contributed to the auctions that raised money for the Long Beach Public Library Foundation and WriteGirl. Camille Minichino donated this hand-made miniature (check out all the miniature mystery novels!). I donated a Pirate Vishnu-themed treasure chest filled with San Francisco chocolates and a signed hardcover edition of the book.

Top: Camille Minichino's mystery miniature.
Bottom: my Pirate Vishnu treasure chest.

Conventions are always a combination of meeting new friends and catching up with old ones I don't see often enough. Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn have been two of my stalwart writer pals since early in this journey. Sadly they don't live locally, but happily we all love attending mystery cons.

With Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn. 

And then there are some people who feel like old friends as soon as you meet them. Steve Steinbock, who writes a regular column for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, is one of those people.

With Steve Steinbock.

Since there are far too many great books and far too little time, of the ways I decide which classic mysteries to read is by listening to Les Blatt's Classic Mysteries Podcasts, so it was nice to catch up with him in person.

With Les Blatt, who runs the excellent Classic Mysteries website. 

The Sisters in Crime breakfast was extra special this year because it included the presentation of the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award to Maria Kelson. I served on the committee that read through many outstanding applications. Maria's rose to the top, and I can't wait to see her book in print.

Eleanor Taylor Bland grant-winner Maria Kelson.

With Frankie Bailey and grant-winner Maria Kelson.

Laura DiSilverio handing over the Sisters in Crime presidency to Catriona McPherson.

I didn't remember to take photos at the Bouchercon Anthology signing, but here's the book. My locked room mystery story "The Haunted Room" appears in the anthology. (If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you may recognize the story from its original incarnation as a Halloween 2013 exclusive gift to newsletter subscribers. The new story is even better thanks to Dana Cameron's editorial guidance.)

The Bouchercon anthology, Murder at the Beach.

UPDATE: Thanks to Tanis Mallow and Rob Brunet, I have these photos from the anthology signing!

The Anthony Awards, named for Anthony Boucher, were given out at Bouchercon at a celebratory event on the last evening of the convention. The lovely Catriona McPherson won an Anthony for As She Left It.

Catriona McPherson with her Anthony Award
and our shared editor Terri Bischoff.

On the last morning of the convention, while not attending panels I camped out in the lobby in hopes of catching up with people I hadn't yet seen over the long weekend. It worked! Though I didn't manage to see everyone on my list (with over 1,600 people in attendance that would have been tough), in addition to two scheduled meetings I ran into several more people I hadn't seen all weekend. I'm glad I kept my own Bouchercon tips in mind, even if it was on the last day! Thanks to chair Ingrid Willis and all the volunteers for a great convention.

View from the Long Beach Hyatt.

Now that I'm home, I'm incredibly inspired to finish writing my latest mystery. If only I could pull myself away from all of these great new books.... Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Book Deadlines & Bouchercon

Yesterday I gave a draft of my latest novel to my critique readers (woo-hoo!), and tomorrow I head to Bouchercon to hang out with mystery readers and writers. I already shared my 5 Tips for Getting the Most out of Bouchercon, so I'm just popping in to share my schedule.

Surrounded by notes of all kinds as I wrapped up a draft.

Here's what I'm up to at the convention: 
  • Thursday, Nov 13 at 8:30am: “Author Speed Dating” breakfast, table hopping to chat with readers.
  • Thursday, Nov 13 at 1pm: Panel & Signing, Murder in a Locked Room, along with Bill Gottfried (Moderating), Janet Dawson, Jeffery Deaver, Marvin Lackman, and Laurie King.
  • Friday, Nov 14 at 11am: Signing Advance Reader Copies of The Accidental Alchemist at the Midnight Ink table.
  • Saturday, Nov 15 at 12:30pm: Bouchercon Anthology Book Launch & Signing.
Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention.

My short story “The Haunted Room” appears in the Bouchercon mystery anthology, released this month.

The Bouchercon 2014 short story anthology.
 Now I'm off to finish packing!

Bouchercon short story fun: an award nomination & a new anthology

Two bits of exciting short story news to report:

Locked room mystery "The Hindi Houdini" appears in
FISH NETS: The Second Guppy Anthology, published in 2013.
1. My locked room mystery story "The Hindi Houdini" has been nominated for a Macavity AwardThe award is given out by Mystery Readers International at the Bouchercon mystery convention in October.

This is the short story that appears in Fish Nets: The Second Guppy Anthology, and was nominated for an Agatha Award earlier this year. In “The Hindi Houdini,” magician Sanjay Rai, aka The Hindi Houdini, solves a locked room mystery at the Napa Valley winery theater where he performs.

Best Mystery Short Story Macavity Nominees:

  • Reed Farrel Coleman: "The Terminal" (Kwik Krimes, edited by Otto Penzler; Thomas & Mercer)
  • John Connolly: "The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository" (Bibliomysteries: Short Tales about Deadly Books, edited by Otto Penzler; Bookspan)
  • Martin Limon: "The Dragon's Tail" (Nightmare Range: The Collected Sueno and Bascom Short Stories, Soho Books)
  • Gigi Pandian: "The Hindi Houdini" (Fish Nets: The Second Guppy Anthology, edited by Ramona DeFelice Long; Wildside Press)
  • Travis Richardson: "Incident on the 405" (The Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble, edited by Clare Toohey; Macmillan)
  • Art Taylor: "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013)

2. "The Haunted Room," a Jaya Jones locked room mystery story, will appear in the Bouchercon 2014 Anthology. 

If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you got a sneak peak of an earlier version of "The Haunted Room."

The Bouchercon 2014 anthology will include stories by:

"The Haunted Room" will appear in the
Bouchercon anthology, coming in October 2014.
  • Patricia Abbott
  • Roger R. Angle
  • Craig Faustus Buck
  • Bill Cameron
  • Judith Cutler
  • Ray Daniel
  • Phillip Depoy
  • Sharon Fiffer
  • Delaney Green
  • Eldon Hughes
  • Tanis Mallow
  • Krista Nave
  • Gigi Pandian
Plus Guests of Honor:

  • Jeffery Deaver
  • Edward Marston
  • Al Abramson

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on social media over the last couple of weeks! I always thought I was rather old fashioned because of my love of impossible crime stories that were quite popular during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, so it's really fun to see that people are enjoying my locked room mysteries.