I was having too much fun to take thorough notes, but I did note a consensus among the panelists, who also included J.T. Ellison, that the putative restoration of order at the end of a crime story is illusory (Coleman) or, at best, temporary (Ellison).
Nothing impresses me as much as intelligent people who think deeply and seriously about what they do, so this panel was one of the conference's highlights. "I find nothing funny about murder," Coleman said, and he quoted with approval the pronouncement that "A cozy is a book in which someone gets murdered, but no one gets hurt."
"War creates opportunity," said moderator Suzanne Arruda, a suggestion immediately endorsed by the panelists. James R. Benn, author of the Billy Boyle World War II mysteries, noted the immense attraction of military supplies for black marketeers, but also a loosening of social structures and inhibitions that allowed black marketeers and others to act in ways they never would during peacetime.
Martin Limón noted the dreadful toll of the Korean War and the country's current success as a robust, if sometimes spectacularly fractious, democracy. The intervening years, he said, offered "tremendous conflict of gangs, the black marketeers ... In the interim there was a lot of room for crime." Limón, who served twenty years in the U.S. army, said there was much to admire about that institution. Nonetheless, he said, "the military does not talk about crime unless it has to." And that sounds like a superb source of tension for a crime novel.
The seven deadly sins are with us at all times, said Charles Todd, "but war magnifies it. ... War is a tremendous opportunity to make money."
And what about the odd, poignant task of a wartime crime novel: to single out one death as pivotal amid the deaths of hundreds and thousands? Perhaps the surrounding carnage makes a murder victim's killing all the more tragic. "I do think that once you've waded through death, said Rebecca Cantrell, "you don't want to see any more of it."
Said Benn: "It is a grave offense for someone to be murdered when they could have survived the carnage of war."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009