Get a clue
Major mystery convention adds a page to Reno’s literary history
Not much in our popular culture is hotter than mysteries these days. Just look at the sudden proliferation of escape rooms, murder mystery games and websites wholly devoted to selling murder mystery party packages. Almost every nighttime network TV show is a crime, police, detective or true crime drama. I’ve been invited to three murder mystery dinners in the last six months alone.
Maybe it’s the catharsis of living out our worst nightmares from the safety of our couches, the non-threatening adrenaline rush of narrowly escaping death or just our natural human desire to solve puzzles. They’re all reasons why the most popular literary genre in the U.S. is mystery/thriller/crime. If you’re yearning for your own mystery fix, Left Coast Crime 2018 might be your ticket to paradise.
The annual conference was created by and for authors and readers of mystery novels, in particular those set or created in Western North America. The convention gathers authors, critics, librarians, publishers and fans together in one place for four days to honor their favorite works and meet the writers behind them, get into the minds of their favorite characters, discover new authors and series, and spend a few days living in a mysterious world.
Though the conference has drawn hundreds to a different Western city each year since its inception in 1991, LCC has curiously never made its way to the Reno-Tahoe area. Lynn Bremer thought that was a mystery she needed to solve.
“I’ve been an active mystery reader for years,” Bremer said. “About five years ago, I started going to Left Coast Crime. And when I came back from Portland [site of the 2015 convention], I asked one of my friends on the national board how come they’d never been to Reno. She said it was because they’d never had an invitation.”
Unlike other cities that host local chapters of such mystery writing groups as Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America, which usually would spearhead an effort to bring LCC to town, Reno has no such group. So Bremer turned to the only group she knew of to help draft a bid—her Mystery Books Group out of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Nevada’s Extended Studies Program. Five volunteers from the group stepped forward to volunteer alongside Bremer and draft the bid: Bobbi Lazzarone, Lucinda Long, Cathy Retterer, Sally Snow and Joanne Yau.
With the bid accepted and a location—the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks—selected, the local volunteers, with Bremer at the helm as convention chair, began working with the LCC Standing Committee to plan the 2018 event.
Each year’s convention incorporates a theme related to its location. This year’s is Crime on the Comstock, and the conference festivities tie in quite nicely. Bremer secured local Mark Twain impressionist McAvoy Layne to put in an appearance or two, as well as local mystery author Todd Borg as toastmaster.
Borg is a Tahoe-area writer with a popular 15-installment mystery series that features detective Owen McKenna as its central character and is set at real locations in and around the Tahoe Basin. As toastmaster at LCC, he’ll moderate several panels and serve as an MC and presenter at various activities.
“I think it’ll be the biggest literary event to ever happen here in the Reno-Sparks area,” Borg said.
The plot thickens
Upon arrival on Thursday morning, guests will receive tote bags emblazoned with this year’s locally designed Crime on the Comstock LCC logo and filled with books. The four-day lineup will kick off with an author “speed-dating” event, a silent auction, an opportunity to hear Scottish mystery author Catriona McPherson interview Borg and an opening night reception, where fans and writers will mix and mingle, and Borg will introduce the rest of the conference agenda.
Friday, G.M. Malliet, an author of cozy mysteries—a popular subgenre invlolving less violence—will interview one of the conference’s two guests of honor, William Kent Krueger. Layne’s Mark Twain will appear as well.
Saturday, S.J. Rozan will interview the other guest of honor, Naomi Hirahara, and that evening’s Lefty Awards dinner gala will take place. Chosen by registered members of the convention, the Lefty Awards honor books and authors in the categories of Best Humorous Mystery Novel, Best Historical Mystery Novel, Best Debut Mystery and Best Mystery Novel.
Sunday’s final event is a guest of honor panel in which next year’s toastmaster—Cathy Ace of Vancouver, British Columbia—will moderate a panel featuring Borg, Hirahara and Krueger.
But perhaps the most important parts of the conference are the more than 60 panels taking place throughout the four days, offering illuminating discussions with writers. Subjects include everything from “Left Coast Crime 101” (a primer on navigating the conference) to “How Much Research is Too Much?,” “Romantic Elements in Crime Fiction,” “Writing Medicine and Science,” “Paths to Publication,” “Writing Political Thrillers,” “What’s Your Prequel?” and “Writing Great Dialogue.” Attendees can find out, for example, what characters their favorite authors would love to write or how they come up with their ideas for thriller, suspense, cozy, political, historical or paranormal mysteries.
The Author-Reader Connections series is also a great way to ask the burning questions you’ve been dying to ask your favorite authors. In this series, registered attendees may sign up to spend quality time with authors in small, intimate groups over snacks or drinks.
The event organizers have arranged side trips through Patty’s Tours, scheduled before and after the conference: History of the Comstock in Virginia City on March 20, Donner Party Historic Site on March 21, and The History of Brothels in Nevada at the Mustang Ranch on March 26.
Sundance Books will be on hand throughout the conference to sell books. And conference attendees—both fans and roughly 200 authors—will be listed on the website, so you’ll know whom to watch for and can even link to author websites from the listings, to brush up on their works before speaking with them in person.
“I think some of the best contemporary writing is in the mystery genre,” said Bremer. “At the conference, I learn about new and upcoming writers. There are lots of wonderful writers who aren’t on the New York Times bestseller list, and I think it’s some of the most interesting writing that’s going on.”
“I’m a writer, so it’s interesting meeting the authors,” Borg added. “Like any profession, we like to get together with our colleagues and talk shop. … But we’re also addicted readers. And avid fans will enjoy soaking in it. Almost every serious mystery reader will have read works by multiple writers who are coming to Left Coast Crime.”