Monday, October 20th 2008 : "Charm City"
I didn't know what to expect of Baltimore, known in the US as Charm City. I'd read a couple of Laura Lipmann's books and had a sense of tension: this seemed to be a place where people from different races, backgrounds and religions, the wealthy and the very poor, co-existed a little uneasily.
In the end I loved Baltimore. I arrived 3 days before Bouchercon, the USA's biggest mystery convention, after spending a night with my old friend, Joni Langevoort and her family in Virginia. I'd been a fortnight on the road, staying in hotels, living off sandwiches and it was wonderful to have a relaxed Sunday with home cooking and good company. And perhaps talking to Joni's son Jackson about the pressure on High School kids to perform and conform gave me a better understanding of American politics too, went some way to explain that intense patriotism that Europeans just don't get.
My first impression was that Baltimore was scruffy. Washington had been grand and clean, but scruffy suits me better. I arrived just in time to sit in on the dress rehearsal for BROUGHT TO BOOK in the Pratt Library. The suspects were all staff and in the end gave one of the best performances of the event that I can remember. Kathy from Murder Loves Company took time out from her hectic preparations before Bouchercon to sell books. The following evening was my last Elderhostel programme. My old friend and Murder Squad colleague Martin Edwards had arrived in town early and I persuaded him to take over the lecture on the history of the British crime novel. It was as good as I knew it would be - witty, informative and dead to time.
Then Bouchercon. Friendly British faces - within minutes I'd bumped into Stuart Macbride and Zoe Sharp - and the chance to catch up with old acquaintances, British and American. The highlights? Talking about books with real enthusiasts - with booksellers Marilyn and Lisa from The Moonstone Mystery Bookstore, Flemington New Jersey, with Carolyn, Pari, Kathy-Lynn and Martin during our panel on sense of place, with Janet Hutchings from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine over a good lunch. And with the readers, the enthusiastic, money-spending readers, who are so overlooked at these huge conventions. They pay our wages and often we treat them with too little respect.
I had my fan moments too. It was a delight to meet Arnaldur Indridason. I've loved his books since I first read Jar City and he was affable and relaxed, even as the Icelandic banking system was collapsing and he had no idea whether he'd be able to retrieve enough cash to get home. And although I didn't pluck up courage to speak to her personally I enjoyed hearing Laura Lipmann talk about her home city. After all, she'd introduced me to it through her books and gave me a sense of its complexity and its charm.
Posted by Ann at 10:52 AM GMT