Who's who in whodunits share MOs

October 14, 1992|By Susanne Trowbridge | Susanne Trowbridge,Contributing Writer

The Royal York Hotel has been the site of at least a couple of notorious murders. Fortunately, there were no real-life homicides at the Toronto hotel last weekend, but there was plenty of talk about stabbing, strangling, poisoning and other methods of murder.

It was all part of the 23rd Annual World Mystery Convention, better known as Bouchercon (named for the late mystery critic Anthony Boucher). More than 250 authors, including heavyweights like Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, Robert Barnard, Sara Paretsky and Barbara Michaels, joined hundreds of fans to celebrate the mystery novel.

Just as Bouchercon has expanded from a rather intimate affair into an international convention,the mystery novel in recent years has become one of the hottest genres in publishing, with more than 1,600 titles released every year, according to Publishers' Weekly.

"The mystery novel is being admitted as a novel, not just an entertainment for a lazy afternoon," said Charlotte MacLeod, Bouchercon's guest of honor, who has been writing mysteries since the mid-1970s. "We really have become respectable, and it's a little nerve-wracking."

One of the most noteworthy recent developments is the prominence of female authors, who now write nearly half of all books published in the genre, according to Publishers' Weekly.

Six years ago, a group of women writers formed Sisters in Crime at the Baltimore Bouchercon to boost their visibility in the mystery world; today, the organization has more than 1,500 members, and all six of this year's Best First Novel nominees for Anthony Awards were written by women. The Anthony Awards, voted on during the convention, honor the best mysteries of the year in various categories.

"Women's mysteries are enormously popular now, and we're delighted," said Carolyn G. Hart, a two-time Anthony Award winner and outgoing president of Sisters In Crime.

"The situation is very good now for women writers," agreed Silver Spring author Margot Fromer, president of the Chesapeake chapter of Sisters In Crime. "I've heard many editors say they want women writers who have women protagonists in a series. That's very hot now."

Ms. Grafton is not a member of Sisters In Crime, but the enormous popularity of her Kinsey Millhone series has certainly opened the door for other female sleuths.

Her seminar, "P is for Practicum," was the hottest ticket of the convention; limited to 100 people, the lecture, which provided helpful suggestions for fledgling mystery writers, attracted a number of already-published authors as well as novices.

Baltimore resident Dr. Jacob Casper, attending his first Bouchercon with his wife, Ruth, found the experience fascinating. "We're attending lectures that make the reading of the mysteries more enjoyable," said Dr. Casper, a veterinarian for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, whose favorite authors include Dick Francis and Ed McBain. "It's certainly fine to see the thought processes of the authors as they talk about their mysteries and some of the things that go into the writing of their mysteries."

There were dozens of panels, covering such topics as "A Matter Of Laugh And Death," "Crime With A 18Conscience" and "History Mysteries."

As for the Anthony Awards -- voted on by convention participants -- British crime writer Peter Lovesey took home the Best Novel prize for "The Last Detective," while Sue Henry won Best First Novel honors for "Murder On The Iditarod Trail." Sun reporter David Simon's "Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets" was named the year's Best True Crime Book, and "A Woman's Eye," edited by Ms. Paretsky, won the Best Anthology award.

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