Saturday, October 11, 2008

So What is Bouchercon, Anyway?

Jeffrey Marks (Guest Blogger)

Bouchercon, the yearly world mystery conference where authors and fans of all types of mystery meet and talk about their favorite books, will be held in Baltimore this year. The conference was named after Anthony Boucher, a renaissance man in genre fiction. He mastered the novel, the short story, radio, and genre criticism in a short, but full life. Following Boucher’s death, the mystery community decided to honor him by starting a conference in his name.

Since its inception in 1970, the world mystery convention has drawn in over 35,000 mystery fans, authors, and publishers. The annual conference, better known to fans as Bouchercon, has grown from a few hundred fans to the largest gathering of crime writers in the world.

The first Bouchercon hosted 82 mystery fans and writers, including Robert Bloch as guest of honor for the conference. Bloch and Boucher had known each other for years through their mutual love of science fiction.

After the first year, the conference was moved to the fall to avoid conflicts with the annual Edgars dinner, held in late April in New York City. The conference was a success, in that they had enough funds to plan a second Bouchercon and then a third.

It wasn’t until 1976 that I first heard of Bouchercon through a series of newsletters from mystery booksellers. All of them had stories of the generosity of spirit that embodied Anthony Boucher. Everyone involved in mystery and science fiction had a kind word to say about Boucher and a volume of those tributes could easily be compiled. A number of tributes came out after Boucher’s death in 1968 and continued over the next decade.

It was no wonder. Boucher was a tireless force for genre fiction. He not only wrote mystery novels, but penned a number of mystery and science fiction short stories. He wrote radio plays for both Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen. He founded one of the preeminent science-fiction magazines and started a true crime magazine as well. He translated the mystery works of authors into English for magazines, and of course, he reviewed mysteries and science fiction for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times.

It took another 16 years for me to attend my first Bouchercon in Toronto in 1992. The 23rd annual convention was no longer an intimate gathering of mystery fans. Over 2000 people jammed into the Royal York hotel. It was a formidable sight to see people ebbing and flowing through the panels, discussions, and book dealers’ room. The convention had added a Guest of Honor, Margaret Millar, and a Toastmaster, and a Lifetime Achievement award. I had the opportunity to sit with a table of writers at a banquet which hosted its own “best of” awards, appropriately called the Anthony awards.

Still, even with the addition of more mystery-related events in the four-day event, it felt as though something more had been lost. Many people no longer knew who Anthony Boucher was and what he represented to the genre. I frequently heard attendees refer to the event as “Boo-cher-con” instead of the proper “Bow-cher-con”.
Some ties to the past remained. In the last several years, the Bouchercon committee has come up with a memorial to Boucher, so that new members might know who he was and his place in the genre. Phyllis White, Boucher’s widow, was still given membership number one. She faithfully attended the event, but as time progressed, fewer people could pick her out of a crowd. Sadly, she passed away in 2000 and no member of the family has taken her place.

Even as direct memories of Boucher fade as time goes by, his reputation lives on. Bouchercon continues to thrive in its fourth decade. Boucher is still widely regarded as the best mystery reviewer for the New York Times. Mike Nevins recently collected his reviews for Ramble House, a project that was long overdue. His magazine, The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, still publishes some of the best genre fiction available.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to miss this year’s event, but I’m on the planning committee for next year’s event in Indianapolis. I am looking forward to seeing all my friends there.

Jeffrey Marks is the Edgar-nominated author of Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of the Screwball Mystery, Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s, and the recently published Anthony Boucher. Marks has written novels and short stories in addition to his history of mystery series, which looks at the lives and writings of some of the most popular authors of the middle years of the last century. His website is:


Lonnie Cruse said...

Great post, Jeff, thanks! I haven't attended a B'con yet, but hope to someday.

Laura Benedict said...

Great post! I had so much fun in Anchorage and Madison and I was sorry to miss this year. Can't wait until Indy. See you there, Jeff!