American: Robert Crais & Charlaine Harris
International: Colin Cotterill & Val McDermid
Life Time Achievement: Sara Paretsky
Fan Guests of Honor: Kate Stine and Brian Skupin
Special guests (local living legends): Robert Randisi and John Lutz
all brought together by…
Toastmaster: Ridley Pearson
American Guest of Honor
By Gregg Hurwitz
There are the fifteen novels, sure, the Ross McDonald Literary Award, the bestseller lists the world over, but if you just look at the accolades and the successes, you’re missing what’s really special about Robert Crais. What makes him so remarkable is how involving his work is. He’s got an uncanny ability to talk directly to readers, to tell a tale that’s so engaging that you forget you’re reading. Nathaniel Hawthorne famously remarked, “Easy reading is damn hard writing,” and what’s so compelling about Robert is that even this many bestsellers into the game, his work ethic and level of craftsmanship remain undiminished. His characters live and breathe, his plots throttle, his language soars, and you’d better believe that every sentence, every turn of events, every frozen image is painstakingly chosen and polished so that you’re never on page 43 or 257—you’re in a story.
The writing is unpretentious yet poetic, poignant yet not purple, smart-as-hell but never condescending. Years after a read, details still pop. Elvis Cole helping a devastated widow balance a checkbook. Carol Starkey kicked away from an explosion in a burst of white light. A trust-funder speeding through the streets of L.A., her hair on the wind, her eyes closed—a lost girl with an Aston Martin and a death wish. This is stuff that goes right through your skin.
Throughout the arc of a stunning career, Robert has shifted his focus from first-person PI mysteries to hard-edged thrillers, but the books have remained about the bigger issues. Navigating the terrain when life cracks apart. Exploring how we build family in unexpected ways. Holding true to those values that define who we are. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we read.
Sharp of wit, keen of mind, and bright of shirt, Robert can be found at www.robertcrais.com.
American Guest of Honor
By Dean James
In 1980 a young woman named Charlaine Harris published her first novel, a mystery, entitled SWEET AND DEADLY. This was followed four years later by A SECRET RAGE. Sometime that year, needing a break from the grind of graduate school, I picked up this second novel, intrigued by the fact that the author was a fellow Mississippian. I planned to read a few chapters before going back to whatever I was working on. Instead, two or three hours later, I closed A SECRET RAGE, never having moved out of my chair until I finished the book.
That’s what happens when a reader encounters someone who is a born storyteller, a writer whose narrative voice immediately engages the reader and pulls him or her into the world of the novel. Twenty-five years and twenty-six novels later, Charlaine Harris still exerts that powerful spell on me. The difference is that, in 2009, she is exerting that same spell on hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, in many languages and many cultures. No longer is the name of Charlaine Harris known only to the select connoisseurs of intelligent, beautifully crafted crime fiction. She has reached the very heights of the publishing world; her most recent novel, DEAD AND GONE, debuted at #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Bestseller List.
I met Charlaine Harris in 1990, when she attended Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland, for the first time. Her third novel, REAL MURDERS, the debut of the Aurora Teagarden series, was an Agatha Award nominee for Best Novel. I was chair of the Agatha Awards Committee at the time, and it was with great pleasure that I welcomed her to Malice Domestic. As I recall it, Charlaine was a bit shy, new to the experience of a mystery fan convention, but nevertheless delighted to be meeting her fans and many other writers for the first time. She was gracious (as befits the born and bred Mississippian), intelligent, witty, and just plain fun to be around. This first meeting was the beginning of a friendship that I still cherish.
After publishing three novels between 1980 and 1989, Charlaine began to publish more frequently. At the same time she was a busy housewife and mother of three children—not to mention the menagerie of pets she also looked after. The Aurora Teagarden series attracted more and more fans and consistent critical acclaim. Then, in 1996, Charlaine introduced a new series character, Lily Bard, resident of tiny Shakespeare, Arkansas. Readers and critics alike had labeled Charlaine’s work traditional mysteries (called “cozies” by some), and in many ways her novels do fit in that category. But astute readers had noticed all along that there was a dark edge to Charlaine’s otherwise “cozy” crime novels. Lily Bard, survivor of a horrific crime, was a far cry from the heroine of most traditional mystery novels.
Charlaine had been working on a novel that had elements of the paranormal as well as those of the traditional mystery novel. At first the concept was a difficult sell, because paranormal mysteries and romances hadn’t yet exploded into the publishing juggernaut they are at the moment. But in 2001 Ace published the first novel, DEAD UNTIL DARK, and small-town Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse stepped onstage. Mystery fans were quick to recognize this new heroine with the ability to read people’s minds; DEAD UNTIL DARK was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Novel and it won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original in 2002. More books in the series followed, one every year since.
Then producer Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under”) found the Sookie books in a bookstore. The result? The hugely popular HBO series “True Blood” and a vast wave of new readers for Charlaine Harris. The wave only continues to grow. In addition to the Sookie books, Charlaine has a new series character, Harper Connelly. At one point, Charlaine had a new hardcover high on the NYT list and seven paperbacks in the Sookie series in the top 15 on the paperback bestseller list. No mean achievement for a girl from Tunica, Mississippi, who wanted to be a writer when she grew up.
Even though she’s a huge bestseller all over the place, Charlaine is still the witty, gracious, warm and delightful person she was before she could afford a butler, two footmen, a cook, and two chambermaids.
Just kidding—about the servants, that is! But the rest holds true. Charlaine still does her own laundry, as far as I know. The important thing is, Charlaine is the same dear friend she has been since we first met. She is very deserving of the “Guest of Honor” recognition, and I am pleased to know that Bouchercon is honoring one of the true treasures of the mystery world.
International Guest of Honor
By Eric Stone
It did perturb Colin that I wouldn’t let him drive. But I like to drive. And I’m a nervous passenger. And he’s English, after all. And if he drives at all these days it’s in Thailand. Neither of those country’s drivers instill the sort of confidence in me that would allow them behind the wheel of my car. But he was mighty fine company on a road trip from Los Angeles to Madison for Bouchercon 2006.
He was good enough company that I’ve already started working on him to come along for the ride to St. Louis with me in 2011.
Of course, being English, living in Thailand, writing books that are filled with ghosts and spirits and oddities in Laos, the guy does have some quirks. He’s the opposite of a vampire in that he won’t eat after dark. There were times when we were together that I felt guilty about wanting dinner. By day, he’ll eat fish but no other flesh and I felt really guilty when I’d been building up the delights of a café in Cortez, Colorado that has great huevos rancheros for breakfast. We got there, ordered our meals, and for some reason the cook had tossed a bunch of meat in with our eggs, chilies and tortillas. I’d never seen that before. I don’t know that he believed me. (If you’re reading this Colin, really, I’m sorry, it was a surprise to me.) I did, however, have the pleasure of introducing him to the delights of southern fried catfish at a soul food restaurant in Kansas City, as well as the Jazz Museum. Colin likes jazz. Although harmonica blues really winds his crank. And in spite of being English—which isn’t his fault, really—he’s excellent company at a baseball game.
He was great company in general. Most of us writers are at least somewhat like our characters, and Colin shares much with Dr. Siri. He exhibited a powerful curiosity and an open mind about nearly anything and everything we encountered. He has a wry, and at times cutting, sense of humor; a healthy skepticism, a highly developed sense of right and wrong and a willingness to do something about injustice. He has a great love for, and a deep and growing understanding of the people and culture in which, while an outsider, he has immersed himself.
All that contributes to why his books are so damn good, and so much fun to read. And they’re intelligent, too. He sneaks an awful lot of well reasoned commentary on such matters as politics and economics into his books, but he does so seamlessly and painlessly, so that you almost don’t know he’s doing it.
And he contributes a whole lot more than books. There are a lot of school kids in Laos who have books to read in their own language thanks to Colin’s hard work and organization. There are teachers being trained, also in Laos, a country in dire need of their services, also thanks to Colin.
We met when we were on a panel together at the Hong Kong Literary Festival earlier in 2006. We liked each other immediately and spent a lot of time capering around town with our girlfriends. (His, Jessi, is now his wife.) There were drinks involved. One of Colin’s other fine qualities is that he can really hold his wine.
Our friendship has grown ever since, although in some odd ways. In CURSE OF THE POGO STICK, I didn’t know whether to be honored or not that he named a bag of bones—the remnants of a downed Vietnam War-era U.S. pilot—after me. I got back at him, but he got the better of the deal. I named a Hong Kong policeman who was retiring to open a brothel in the Philippines after him. (I don’t know how Jessi feels about that.)
In any event, with his remarkable energy and enthusiasm and talent and creativity, Colin is a good long way from retirement. And we should all be thankful for that.
International Guest of Honor
By Stuart McBride
The first time I met Val McDermid, she scared the living crap out of me. Not on purpose: we were both on our way to rubber-chicken dinner, I was a shy, soon to be published newcomer, and she was … well, Val McDermid. The Val McDermid. Just sitting there in the hotel reception, reading a manuscript. I was going to go over and say hello, thanks for blurbing my book, but I only got as far as clearing my throat when she looked up, frowned … and I bottled it. Did another turn of the lobby, pretended to be interested in the paintings.
You see, I’m married a woman from Fife, and I know what that expression means. I think they teach them it at school: they line all the girls up and see who can terrify the arse off of a stone gargoyle with a single stare. shudder
By then I’d been enjoying Val’s books for years. There’s something infinitely satisfying about curling up with a McDermid, doesn’t matter if it’s one of her series novels or a standalone, you know you’re in for a treat. She’s something to be savoured—like a fine wine, or a stinky cheese—both on and off the page.
Since that pretty bloody awful rubber-chicken affair I’ve been lucky enough to get to know the lady behind the books and she’s not nearly as scary as she seemed. She’s got a wicked sense of humour—look at KILLING THE SHADOWS where she gave us a serial killer who preys on crime writers—an excellent singing voice, tells a great anecdote, the occasional filthy joke, and isn’t afraid to stand her hand.
She’s also incredibly supportive. She helped set up the Harrogate International Crime Writing Festival, where every year she hosts a panel pimping new authors to packed audiences (when she’s not wearing an Agatha Christie bag on her head). I was lucky enough to be one of her pimpees. I wasn’t the first, and I certainly won’t be the last writer to stand on her street corner, dressed up in fishnets and… Hold on, this analogy has taken a turn for the worst.
The point is, she’s helped a lot of newbies get a foot up in the crime world. Let’s just forget all about us being her hos, OK? That’s just not wholesome.
Speaking of unwholesome, if you’re a fan of Val’s work—like I am—for God’s sake, don’t do what one woman did at a convention a couple of years ago: follow Val into the toilets and slip a paperback under the stall for her to sign. No one likes to be gushed at when they’re on the bog. And you seriously don’t want to end up on the wrong end of the Fife evil eye.
I’d like to finish this toadying love-fest by saying that Val McDermid isn’t just one of the finest crime writers in the world, she’s a lovely person too.
But most importantly of all, she writes a bloody good book.