Bouchercon Book Bounty!

  • By Art Taylor
  • September 26, 2016

Some of the terrific titles I encountered at this year's conference.

Bouchercon Book Bounty!

Another of the Independent’s columnists, my friend E.A. Aymar, has already shared some of the highlights of Bouchercon, the world mystery conference that he and I and more than 1,800 of our friends recently attended in New Orleans — and I couldn’t agree more with his take on the conversations and celebrations that made the weekend such a stellar event.

In conjunction with his post, I want to share some of the books I enjoyed en route to and from Bouchercon, with a focus on short fiction, of course, and also give a shout-out to the convention bookroom itself, with its delightful mix of old and new — sellers of rare and collectible titles (I saw first editions of both Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, both out of my price range) and tables full of the best contemporary books, like the greatest mystery bookshop ever, and you just wish it was in your own neighborhood.

On the flight to New Orleans, I read The Witnesses by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois, part of Patterson’s new Bookshots program offering fast-paced novellas (each under 150 pages) for $5 or less. Brendan DuBois is a friend and a short-story writer whose work I very much admire, and his Bookshots contribution didn’t disappoint.

In it, a husband and wife and their two kids are forced into hiding without knowing why. A bodyguard is tasked with protecting them — but he has a guilty secret he can’t share. A neighbor thinks they may be terrorists — and he’s determined to make up for all he didn’t do on 9/11. A hit man tracks them all, determined to take out his target — but which one is it?

The interweaving and intersection of these characters and their conflicts proves key to the crisp pacing, as does the mix of work count and structure — less than 30,000 words, divided into exactly 50 chapters. Those short scenes and quick shifts drive the book forward, and DuBois’ talents as a short-story writer serve him well, sneaking in sharp characterizations alongside that briskly moving plot.

A new book I picked up in the Bouchercon bookroom, Last Fair Deal Gone Down, is also a standalone novella — sort of. And then I might have to qualify that word “new,” too. As Ace Atkins explains in his introduction, he wrote this story a couple of decades ago, and then filed it away while writing the character Nick Travers into four novels. It was only after those novels appeared that the story itself was published — and went on to be a finalist for the 2010 Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

Now, six years later, Marco Finnegan has adapted the Atkins’ tale into a graphic novel with stark and evocative black-and-white illustrations that embody the bluesy and noir-tinged mood of the story. It’s a fascinating collaboration.

Given my overriding interest in short fiction, I picked up a few anthologies in the bookroom, too — including this year’s Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren (and which I haven’t delved into yet), and the not-officially-released-til-December collection In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, edited by Lawrence Block and featuring stories by Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Lee Child, and more, a terrific line-up.

The concept on that latter title is, frankly, brilliant — Hopper’s paintings are always steeped in mood and thick with drama — and the book itself is elegant, with each story preceded by a full-color reproduction of the painting which inspired or informed it.

I’ve only sampled a few of the stories so far, but already there’s a wide range: Megan Abbott’s “Girlie Show,” for example, revolves around an artist crafting a painting like Hopper’s and using his wife as a model — tension in each portrait session — while Michael Connelly’s “Nighthawks” has his series character Harry Bosch trailing someone into the gallery where that famous painting is on display.

The only thing truly disappointing so far is the number of typos and troubles in the text itself. The second paragraph of Connelly’s story has Bosch turning “east toward Michigan and the park.” Later, a character asks, “Did he mentioned Maui?” and on the next page, that character speaks in “a quiet voice.” Abbott’s story simply has a sentence without a period at the end of it. In all cases, a good editorial eye should’ve caught and corrected the missteps.

These are small troubles, admittedly, and my attention to them maybe niggling. But somehow, given the elegance and ambition of the project overall, it seems the equivalent of having a brilliant architectural design, hiring master craftspeople to build the project, and then neglecting to sweep the front porch.

We’ll see what the rest of the book brings.

Art Taylor won this year’s Anthony Award for Best Anthology/Collection for Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015. Later this week, as part of the Fall for the Book festival, Art will moderate a panel of writers from the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America: Maya Corrigan, Dan Fesperman, Shawn Reilly Simmons, and David Swinson — Thursday, September 29, at 6 p.m., in Merten Hall, Room 1203, on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus.  

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