The Malice Domestic convention represents the biggest gathering of avid mystery readers (excluding Bouchercon as drawing lovers of crime fiction and thrillers as well). Malicegoers have a fanatical loyalty to their favorite authors and series characters and an encyclopedic knowledge of the books they’re read (and in many cases, reread over and over). It’s not guaranteed that attendees will have conversations about these books, apart from those of authors who are present and those nominated for the Agatha awards (or the Edgars, which MWA announces just as Malice begins). But it does happen. I had two such conversations during this year’s Malice: one with the old friend with whom I stayed (located conveniently two and a half miles down the road from the convention hotel in Bethesda, MD) and the other with the gentleman who sat on my left during the Agathas banquet, Steve Steinbock, recently appointed book reviewer for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
My friend and her husband are mystery readers, but they aren’t connected to the mystery community, so I had the fun of recommending writers they didn’t know, once they’d told me enough about their tastes to get a sense of whose books they might like. They read James Patterson but find his work “a little too formulaic” and his characters lacking in depth. (They knew nothing of Patterson’s team approach to writing.) They enjoy Robert B. Parker because the formula is redeemed by witty dialogue and characters they have become attached to. (They were surprised to hear that many readers don’t like Susan Silverman.) They don’t mind the gore in Jonathan Kellerman’s books, but think John Sandford goes too far. They had reservations about Linda Fairstein on the counts of characterization and excessive detail in the passages on police procedure.
Between the dealers’ room at Malice and the bag full of books given out to attendees, I was able to give my hosts books I knew they would enjoy along with the fun of making recommendations. Felony & Mayhem Press was selling some of my very favorite traditionals: I bought Janet Neel’s Death’s Bright Angel for them—a police procedural with sophisticated and intelligent characters the reader falls in love with—and Peter Dickinson’s Sleep and His Brother, which I had recently been thinking of and wishing I could reread, for myself. The husband is interested in the World War II era, so he got two excellent books from the goodie bag that I’ve already read: James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle and Charles Todd’s The Red Door. I can’t wait to send my friend a list of series authors she can put on her Kindle, including Margaret Maron, Laurie R. King, and Donna Leon, all of whom I’m sure she’ll love. I think the husband will enjoy Jan Burke, Reginald Hill, and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
Steve Steinbock, whom I first met in the bar at Bouchercon a couple of years ago, is a kindred spirit who loves many of the same books I do. He agreed with (or at least let me rant on about) my theory that the middle ground between the heirs of Agatha Christie and the heirs of Raymond Chandler is occupied by the heirs of Dorothy L. Sayers, who introduced the character-driven novel to mysteries of the Golden Age. This goes largely unacknowledged in the perennial cozy vs hardboiled debate, although imho the descendants of Sayers include some of the most extraordinary writers of traditional mysteries, including Maron, King, Hill, and Julia Spencer-Fleming, as well as (arguably) Laura Lippman and S.J. Rozan (usually considered crime fiction writers) and Nancy Pickard and Charlaine Harris (usually considered cozy writers). Steve and I had a grand time talking about Manning Coles’s Tommy Hambledon spy novels. I was able to recommend to him a writer he didn’t know, Michael Gruber, whose The Book of Air and Shadows I consider the perfect thriller (plot, characterization, listen-to-this language, and even humor) as well as a brilliant World War II era suspense novel he didn’t know, the late Ariana Franklin’s City of Shadows. I also recommended Peter Dickinson's superb King and Joker, a refreshing alternative-history view of British royalty (and a propos as the royal wedding competed with Malice itself).
What mysteries do you love? Which authors do you recommend?