Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bouchercon 2016: A break from Beef Wellington

Bouchercon is about socializing, too, a rare chance for writers and other bookish sorts to get together and talk about something other than recipes for Beef Wellington, as Ali Karim likes to put it.

And we don't talk just about books. One day over lunch at Mena's Palace, just around the corner from the convention hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans, for example, I talked Quebec politics and history with a tableful of people that included my Montreal homeboys John McFetridge and Jacques Filippi.

Jacques Filippi and palm trees on Canal Street.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky
John McFetridge
Jacques doesn't post on Facebook much (What does that man do with his life?), but John, like Benjamin Whitmer and Benoit Lelievre (yet another Montrealer), is one of the sanest, smartest, most articulate people on social media. Quite apart from the perspective afforded by time and by our somewhat different backgrounds, the discussion of René Lévesque's legacy was an invigorating break from the social, political, and professional Beef Wellington of everyday life.

Christa Faust
Over on the book side, a lot of neo-noir writers seem to think meth, violence, and trailer parks are enough for a good story. This decidedly does not apply to Christa Faust, John Rector, Martyn Waites, Johnny Shaw, and some of the other folks who read at Wednesday's pre-Bouchercon Noir at the Bar. That lot has big heart, big laughs, or both. And they all have big chops. The atmospheric Voodoo Lounge on Rampart Street was a fine venue for the best Noir at the Bar I've attended since I created Noir at the Bar eight years ago.

A girl playing guitar in Chris Acker
and the Growing Boys.
And the music in New Orleans! I attended no shows, but I heard more good live music in more varieties in one night just walking down the street in some delightful company and looking in at bars for a gin and tonic than I'll hear in a year where I am now. Suffice it to say that having heard a sidewalk full of people, including an 89-year-old woman, sing "Your Cheatin' Heart" along with Chris Acker and the Growing Boys, I now understand the appeal of Hank Williams much better than I used to.

But nothing beats Cajun music, which can incorporate country and blues. Nothing I've heard so abounds with joy even if one does not understand the French lyrics. This music can express joy and yearning at the same time, and that's even before the singing starts. It's one of the most beautiful things I've experienced in my life

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, the books: "This is a job for the meat wagon, Ed," a look at Frank Kane

Two members of my council of experts on vintage paperbacks at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans said Frank Kane tended to repeat passages whole from book to book. I haven't read enough Kane to judge his book-to-book repetition, but his 1951 novel Bullet Proof, another of the vintage paperbacks I bought at Mystery Mike's table in the book room, contains loads of repetition all by itself. The protagonist or his friends and adversaries "scowled" on Pages 72, 83, 87, 91, 103, 108, 111, 140, 154, and 176, for example.

Characters groan on pages 86, 95, 108, 136, and 155, and when they're doing neither, they moan and grunt a lot. And that was before I started counting, around Page 72. It's a fair bet that P.I. Johnny Liddell; his gangster adversaries (several of whom Kane describes as "silky"); the cops with whom he scraps but ultimately grows to enjoy mutual respect; his feisty, beautiful reporter love interest; his curvaceous red-headed secretary; the oleaginous district attorney;  the victim; and others scowled more frequently than even I was able to detect.

Kane also  chooses an odd locution when his characters ask questions and repeats it throughout the novel: "`Where are you going?' Liddell wanted to know."  From book to book, from page to page, Kane apparently practiced extreme economy of thought; why come up with new words when old ones will do?  But you know what? Kane was fresh where it mattered. Squabbles between police and private investigators are one of the hoariest staples of P.I. novels, but Kane adds a vicious, funny swipe from a medical examiner aimed at the querulous cop over an autopsy table:
"Inspector Herlihy slammed his hat down on the table, ran his fingers through the thick mane of his hair. `How the hell can you tell it's a thirty-two until you get the damn bullet out?' he roared.
 "The medical examiner dropped his topcoat on the couch, took off his jacket, started to started to roll up his sleeves. `I can't, if you're going to get technical about it, inspector. Not any more than you can tell when you find a hole under your sink whether it was made by a mouse or an elephant.'"
And that's one reason Frank Kane is so much fun to read. (Read my discussion of Kane's novel Liz and why Kane was a better writer than Stieg Larsson.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, Part V: What do rachitic newts like? Plus even more pictures

Saint Louis Cathedral, New Orleans.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky
Here's another vintage paperback I bought at Bouchercon based on the say-so of one of my cabinet of vintage-paperback advisers, this time Rick Ollerman. The book is Date With Death, by Leslie Ford, Page One contains a passage one is not likely to read every day, not even in hard-boiled crime writing:
Lawrence Block

"Agatha was beautiful, but Agatha was a snob. Agatha laughed, but Agatha had the sense of humor of a rachitic newt."

Ato Onatade shocked by Jay Stringer
Craig Robertson
Martyn Waites
I can't imagine what sort of sense of humor a rachitic newt would have, but I like the passage.
Nanci Kalanta (Mountain Jane Laurel), Ali Karim

Steve Cavanaugh and his fellow night creatures
Russel McLean
Jeffrey Siger, Barry Lancet

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Bouchercon 2016, Part IV: Music on the streets and in the bars of New Orleans

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, Part III: One panel and another mess of pictures

Eric Beetner and his sister Gretchen don't take no
mess. Photos by Peter Rozovsky 
My only complaint about the panels on lesser-known writers of the pulp and paperback-original eras that I've moderated at the last three Bouchercons is that time inevitably runs out well before I run out of questions and the panelists out of answers.  This year's panelists helped out by anticipating some of those questions and incorporating the answers into their replies to questions I did ask. Eric Beetner, for example, offered some interesting comparisons of the writing style and literary chops of the two writers he discussed, William P. McGivern and Charles Williams.

Rick Ollerman
Alexandra Sokoloff
I chided several of the panelists for stealing my questions, but I was grateful to be up there on stage with such interested panelists. Thanks, Eric, Martin Edwards, Rick Ollerman, and Gary Phillips. You can buy CDs and MP3 files of the panel and all other Bouchercon sessions at at VW Tapes Conference Recording,, purveyors of fine Bouchercon recordings for a number of years now.
Steve Cavanaugh shot by Ayo Onatade
shot by me, Noir at the Bar, Voodoo

Danny Gardner
Craig Faustus Buck
Johnny Shaw
Harlan Coben
Sarah M. Chen

Josh Stallings
Christa Faust
© Peter Rozovsky 2016 

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, Part II: One book, lots of pictures

French Quarter, New Orleans. Photos by Peter Rozovsky
for Detectives Beyond Borders.
I rarely find time to read at Bouchercon because I'm too busy doing other things, and that was about five times truer for New Orleans than it was for the previous eight cities where I'd attended the annual world mystery and crime fiction convention.

Photo not by
Peter Rozovsky
The first acquisition that I've dipped into is Harold Q. Masur's novel Bury Me Deep, published in 1947 (despite Google's assertion that it first appeared in 1924). I bought this one on the advice of J. Kingston Pierce, part of a coterie of wise men who know a lot more about vintage paperbacks than I do and who were frequently hovering around the old paperbacks at Mystery Mike's table in the Bouchercon book room. (The other members of the triumvirate were Bill Crider and Rick Ollerman. Only the best can tell me how to spend my money.)

A baby alligator and its admirers in the bayou country.
Masur builds his story to a tight, efficient climax in the early chapters, something like how David Swinson does in his fine novel The Second Girl. Done well, that sort of thing knocks me off-balance in the best possible way and leaves me eager to find out what happens next--not that the stories degenerate into a string of cliffhangers, either. I think of it as a narrative apéritif that whets the appetite for the story to come. Or maybe it's more like an operatic overture, offering clues to the themes that will follow. Whatever your preferred metaphor, Masur pulls it off.

Nanci Kalanta, known on
Facebook as Mountain Jane
Laurel. I'm a gentleman, and

when a lady says, "Do me in
black and white," I smile
and oblige.
The pre-, post-, and para-Bouchercon activities were the most unusual and entertaining I'd enjoyed, and for whatever reason, it seemed that a larger group of folks from various circles of my friends and acquaintances than ever before mingled and intersected in a giant Venn diagram of gin, powdered sugar, and po'boys. What a city!

Garden District, New Orleans.
© Peter Rozovsky 2016
Mike Stotter, Sara Paretsky, Ali Karim.
In the bayou country.
Terrence McCauley
Alison Gaylin, Ali Karim
Jay Stringer, Eric Beetner
Christa Faust
Suzanne Solomon
Joe Lansdale

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bouchercon 2016, Part I: Crime with alligators

The Garden District, New Orleans.
Photos by Peter Rozovsky for
Detectives Beyond Borders
Bouchercon 2016 was like no other in my experience, with more music, more color, more humidity, more good food, more courtesy, more good fellowship, more nobility of character, more drama, more hospitality, and more alligators than any I'd attended before.   That's New Orleans and the bayou country, I guess.

My Thursday morning panel went as well as any I'd moderated. The panelists — Eric Beetner, Martin Edwards, Rick Ollerman, and Gary Phillips — were articulate, knowledgeable, and entertaining talking about their favorite crime writers of the past. Those crime writers included some I had previously read and enjoyed, including Charles Williams, Peter Rabe, and Michael Gilbert, and others new to me.

The latter included William Peter McGovern and the remarkable Clarence Cooper Jr. Ten minutes into the panel, Walter Mosley walked in and took a seat in the crowd. He even offered a trenchant and entertaining interjection during the session's question period. I have no photographic evidence of Mosley's presence, but you might be able to hear him on CDs and MP3 files of the session,  available from VW Tapes Conference Recordings.

Christa Faust
The fun had begun the previous night, with the best Noir at the Bar I have attended since I invented Noir at the Bar eight years ago. The Voodoo Lounge on North Rampart Street was a perfect venue: crowded, amiably seedy, with a low, steady buzz of talk punctuating breaks between the superb readings.

The highlights for me? Martyn Waites and Christa Faust, who write violence and grotesquery, which anyone can do, but who do so with sympathy and heart, which few even try.  John Rector's deadpan story, whose television food-show host character appears to cook something you'll never eat, was not just gross-out funny, but also superbly controlled. Johnny Shaw gave a hilarious reading-performance of a story featuring Chingón: The World’s Deadliest Mexican.

Chris Acker and the Growing Boys. French
Quarter, New Orleans
Sunday evening, two of us wandered the French Quarter, stopping in at bars or lingering in the street wherever the music sounded interesting. We heard funk and blues that brought home how important New Orleans was to the formation of rock and roll. We heard pure and clear country music from a sidewalk quartet whose audience included an 89-year-old woman who sang along to everything.

Jay Stringer, Noir at the Bar's
apparently headless host
But she couldn't top the blind man who walked into the first place we had stopped and danced up a storm using his impassive seeing-eye dog as a maypole. At one point in the evening a young man backing out of a doorway carrying an amplifier accidentally bumped my friend and said to her in a voice filled with concern: "Excuse me, sweetheart." That would not have happened in Philadelphia or Boston or Montreal or anywhere else I've ever been.

Music in the French Quarter,
New Orleans
Along the way we became separated from Ali Karim and Mike Stotter, much to Ali's consternation. But his anger had a benevolent cause: He had gone out of his way to help a fellow convention attendee who had got into trouble, and he was worried that the same had happened to us.  Ali is a good human being as well as a hilarious boon companion.

New Orleans food you know about already. Suffice it to say that the spices will wake you up and that the best meal I had was the andouille-crusted fish at the Palace Café. Cajun music? Sone of the rhythms are tricky, but a lot of the songs are based on a simple I-IV-V chord progression that even I can play.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016

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