There’s mayhem afoot in Bethesda this weekend as hundreds of mystery fans from around the country flock to the or this year’s Malice Domestic mystery convention. At the annual gathering of mystery writers and readers of the genre, specifically the “cozy” or traditional mystery as typified by Agatha Christie, you won’t find gruesome true crime, explicit sex or endless autopsies. Instead you’ll find carefully crafted puzzles often taking place in small towns populated by charming and quirky characters—some with murderous intent!
There’s a mystery for every possible interest, with sleuths in every possible profession, from wedding planner to antique dealer, from chocolatier to herbalist. Most are series, satisfying avid readers’ thirst for their favorite protagonist’s next adventure.
But don’t think you have to know a lot about the authors or have read tons of mysteries to attend Malice this Friday through Sunday—the speakers and panelists are, well, a hoot, and you’ll find their stories of where they get their inspiration, how they create characters and how they kill off the fictional victims entertaining regardless. There’s also a tempting book dealer’s room where you can find titles to start or build your mystery collection.
Malice is a Who’s Who of mystery writers, from Elizabeth Peters to Carolyn Hart. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Awardee is Sue Grafton, whose eagerly awaited next alphabet series mystery featuring sleuth Kinsey Milhone is slated to come out in late 2011-- V is for Vengeance.
Grafton had Friday attendees to the panel “You’ve Got Fan Mail: Mail from Fascinating Fans” in stitches with the story of a letter from an MBA student aggressively querying her on product placement in her novels; she replies by weaving a tale of cadging freebies from pickles to peanut butter.
Fellow panelist and Guest of Honor Carole Nelson Douglas, whose protagonist is a cat named Midnight Louie, scored big by getting a crystal shoe with a picture of the puss from Stuart Weitzman after mentioning in a book her affinity for his heels. She then cracked that since that worked out so well, she’d be putting her love for Lamborghinis in her next book!
Also on Friday, Reston, Va. author Donna Andrews, 2011 Malice Domestic Toastmaster, was toasted herself by Daniel Stashower, a Washington, D.C. whodunit writer. Andrews talked about how she does the research for her humorous series featuring blacksmith Meg Langslow “by serendipity,” adding, “I am a creature of many strange obsessions” which she tries to weave into her stories. Friends are also helpful, bringing to her attention oddities like the Tennessee belted fainting goats featured in one of her latest mysteries, Swan for the Money.
Friday evening closed with Malice Domestic’s annual charity auction to benefit The John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents, a Rockville community-based facility serving children and adolescents with severe emotional disabilities.
Saturday's panels will range from “Haunted Spots, Paranormal Plots: When Ghosts Settle in for the Long Haul,” to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Deadly: Murder Among the Upper Crust,” and from “It’s Not Easy Being Green: Murder in the Garden and on the Farm” to “Gumshoes with Gams: Female PIs on the Job.”
Members of Malice Domestic (both authors and fans) vote and the organization confers the prestigious Agatha Awards in five categories. Best Novel nominees for 2010 are:
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews (a Meg Langslow mystery)
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (a Chief Inspector Gamache mystery)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard (startling truths emerge about a family’s tragic past)
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (with investigative reporter Charlotte McNally)
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (a new series with psychic Lucy Valentine)
Winners will be announced at the sold-out Saturday night Agatha banquet.
Visit www.malicedomestic.org for a list of registered authors, speakers and the complete convention program.