Bouchercon Bound

David Corbett

It’s Wednesday, which means I’m packing my writerly clothinganything that looks okay wrinkled (jeans, a denim shirt, a Hawaiian shirt–what I wouldn’t give for a decent bowling shirt), a pair of suitably retro spectators, the blue guayabera from Mexicoand getting ready to rise tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM to join my fellow crime-writing heathens as we descend en masse on poor, unsuspecting St. Louis to attend the year’s grand event for crime writers: Bouchercon

As Captain William Lewis gaily quipped when happening upon the same territory after Thomas Jefferson’s unconstitutional Louisiana Purchase:

“These are the vilest miscreants of the savage race, and must ever remain the pirates of the Missouri, until such measures are pursued, by our government, as will make them feel a dependence on it…”

Prescient bastard. But I digress.

Sadly, only a handful of the Murderati Mob will be there: Alafair, Alexandra, JT, Zoë, and Jonathan. But a great many other first-rate writers and fans and assorted publishing wonks and weasels and wonderful joes are migrating in, and I’m on two great panels with a number of folks I admire, as well as a few writers who are new to me and whom I’m incredibly jazzed to meet.

The first panel (Friday, 1:00 PM) is titled SHADOWS RISING—Movies for the crime fiction fan, and we will try to come up with a canon of must-see films for the crime buff. It will include a stellar group: Megan Abbott, Russel McLean, Todd Ritter, Wallace Stroby, with Crimespree’s Jeremy Lynch moderating.

Trust me: This panel is going to be an unqualified kick in the pants.

We’ve divvied up the history of crime film into five time periods:

Classics (Pre-1945)

Cold War Crime (1946-1965)

Revolution (1965-1980)

Reaction: Reagan, Glasnost and the Tech Boom (1980s & 1990s)

The Reign of Terror (2000 to present)

And added a final category titled:

        Sacred Cow We Would Love to Gore

Each of us gets to propose three films from each time period and one sacred cow, and we’ll slug it out as to who has the savviest take on cinematic crime. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve suffered over my choices, and agonized over the ones that didn’t make the cut.

I don’t want to give anything by away blurting out here the films I’ve chosen but let’s just say I intend to be the panel’s contrarian. Unless Stroby beats me to it.

But here’s a sampling of the films that made my final cut:

Classics (Pre-1945) 

Double Indemnity  Fury M

La Bete Humaine Scarlet Street Woman in the Window

Laura Phantom Lady

Cold War Crime (1946-1965)

Rififi Le Samourai Try and Get Me!

Asphalt Jungle Out of the Past Force of Evil

Il Bidone Night and the City Sweet Smell of Success

Pickup on South Street Nightmare Alley Odds Against Tomorrow

Revolution (1965-1980) 

Chinatown Mickey One The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

The Godfather Bonnie & Clyde Taxi Driver

The Clockmaker Coup de Torchon Mean Streets

King of Marvin Gardens Dog Day Afternoon

The Friends of Eddie Coyle  

Reaction: Reagan, Glasnost and the Tech Boom (1980s & 1990s) 

Donnie Brasco The Grifters After Dark, My Sweet

Mona Lisa Bellman & True The Long Good Friday

Glengarry Glen Ross Garde à Vue Following

Lisboa LA Confidential Reservoir Dogs

Pulp Fiction True Romance Jackie Brown

Out of Sight The Limey Drugstore Cowboy

The Color of Money Prizzi’s Honor

The Reign of Terror (2000 to present) 

Mesrine, Parts 1 & 2 Red Riding Trilogy Memento

El Aura Amores Perros The Secret in their Eyes

Sexy Beast Animal Kingdom The Town

Dirty Pretty Things Training Day London to Brighton

The Prophet Traffic In Bruges

Oldboy Infernal Affairs Zift

Sacred Cow I Would Most Like to Gore:

        Inception Rear Window Maltese Falcon North by Northwest

Whew! See what I mean? Hard work. NowI need a nap and a bowl of Wheaties.

The second panel (Saturday, 1:00 PM) is titled WITNESS TO AN INCIDENT—The Human Element, and will focus on the role of human witnesses—not forensics or other techy whoop-de-doo—in both the real world and crime fiction. And the panel features some of the most impressive bios it’s ever been my privilege to be humbled by, belonging to: Deborah Crombie, Clea Koff, Taylor Stevens and Amanda Kyle Williams, with Meg Gardiner serving as moderator.

The keen observer will have noticed that all of the panelists are women, with the sole exception of you know who. Fear not, brave brothers: I fully intend to hold my own. (Wait—not quite sure I worded that as well as I might have…)

I know Deborah, having met her at the Book Passage Mystery Conference a few years back, where we became fast friends. She’s not just a brilliant, best selling writer with an international audience, she’s one of the most charming, generous, sweet-natured human beings you will ever meet. (If only all Texans were the same.)

Clea Koff likes to pretend she’s nervous to be the “newbie” on this panel—afterall, the only thing she’s accomplished in life is getting chosen by the UN International Criminal Tribunal to join a crack team of scientists to go to Rwanda to unearth physical evidence of crimes against humanity. Oh, and she was twenty-three at the time. Her book, The Bone Woman, recounts her experience in Rwanda and also additional work she did in the Balkans on behalf of the UN. (I know. What a lightweight.)

Taylor Stephens is another slacker whose bio is an utter yawn. She grew up in an apocalyptic cult, begging on city streets from Zurich to Tokyo, culminating in four years spent in East and West-Central Africa—the primary setting for her critically acclaimed first novel The Informationist.

Important note: The woman who will be appearing on the panel is Taylor Stevens, the author:

  Not Taylor Stephens, the porn star:

If this news comes as a disappointment, my guess is you’re not much of a reader.

Amanda Kyle Williams also likes to play the neophyte debutante, claiming she’s just happy to be on a panel with such experienced old hands—despite having written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and working as both a private investigator and a court-appointed process server.

Oh, and who gets to corral this herd of cats? Meg Gardiner, another underachiever—Stanford Law grad, Edgar winner, author of nine novels.

What a pack of wannabes. 

Seriously: I can only imagine what the visual experience will be for the audience, looking up at four smart, witty, accomplished and attractive women—and wondering who invited Uncle Fester.

If you’re coming to Bouchercon, make sure to come up and introduce yourself. If not, stay tuned. I’m sure one or more of the Murderati Poohbahs will be letting you know right here how it all panned out.

So, Murderateros: What films would you pick as the best in each of the time periods I and my fellow Shadow panelists have designated? What sacred cow crime film would you most like to gore?

What would you like to ask my world-wise partners-in-crime on the Witness to an Incident panel? (I’ll try to sneak them in, if Meg will let me.)


Jukebox Heroes of the Week: Well, Bouchercon is one big unabashed bash, more or less, so why not have a party anthem—say the theme from Psycho Beach Party, by the one and only Los Straightjackets:



47 thoughts on “Bouchercon Bound

  1. Reine

    "I don’t want to give anything by away blurting out here the films I’ve chosen but let’s just say I intend to be the panel’s contrarian."

    David, you a contrarian? My brain is too fried for any good ideas on your categories. But do have a great time, m'dear. Wish I could be there to cause trouble.

  2. MJ

    Holy crud, those are some big bazongas!!! How do you stand upright with those?!?!?!?!

    On another note, I agree with most of the Sacred Cows. Can't wait to hear more from Bcon (someday I will attend, darn it!).

  3. Louise Ure

    Hi David,

    Great introduction to your panels and panelists here. I'm particularly pleased to see BELLMAN & TRUE show up on your list. Based on your last recommendation of it, I found an old copy of the book and read it. God, what a miracle of writing. Haven't seen the movie yet, but if it compares at all well with the original inspiration, I'll be voting for that one.

  4. David Corbett

    Reine: yeah, me the contrarian, go figure. Hope your brain got a rest.

    MJ: I'm no expert on the anatomical singularities, here, but I agree. What an incredible pair … of glasses!

    Meg: I'm on it like white on rice.

    EV: I don't think I've ever been as excited by my panels as I am this year.

    Louise: So glad you enjoyed the book. (Secret? I'd have been crushed if you hadn't.) The film is one of my top 5 favorites of all time. No joke.

  5. Jake Nantz

    What's this?? No Point Break?!?!? (j/k)

    I can honestly say that I'm so "now is the time" that I haven't seen anything I'm aware of from your first two categories. I would agree with Chinatown being in the third, and I LOVE that Dog Day Afternoon is in the same group as The Godfather, as I firmly believe it is just as good a film (I know, torches and pitchforks outside my door, and all that).

    For the 80s/90s I'd go Resevoir Dogs, True Romance, and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (dude, Vinnie Jones, okay?), though The Grifters and LA Confidential also rock.

    From 2000 on I'd start with Layer Cake, throw in Payback (before Mel went crazy), and yeah, I guess Training Day would have to be three.

    I don't know if IDENTITY or MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL count as "sacred cows", but as much as I love Cusack I'd fucking roast either one of those on a spit.

  6. David Corbett

    Jake: I think Frank Pierson's script for for DOG DAY AFTERNOON is stellar (he also did COOL HAND LUKE, which I overlooked in my first pass).

    I like LAYER CAKE a lot but it's a little too glib to make the classic list for me. . Same with LOCK STOCK etc. Both really enjoyable, just not forever memorable. SEXY BEAST has much of the same humor but a much deeper, harder edge to it.

    I agree: GARDEN was a snooze. And I'm sure I've sen IDENTITY but can't remember a damn thing about it, which I think confirms your vote.

    I now also realize I overlooked THE USUAL SUSPECTS. This isn't as easy as it looks, believe me.

    As for THE GRIFTERS: As much as I like it, I hate that it overshadowed James Foley's AFTER DARK, MY SWEET. I still think that's the best of the Thompson adaptations out there, even better than Tavernier's COUP DE TORCHON. (Bruce Dern as Uncle Bud: Priceless.)

  7. Judy Wirzberger

    David, Good Morning.
    I D-Douible-Dare you to cross the river to travel through East St. Louis, Illinois. A perfect setting for an apocalypse movie or book. Houses stand, burned out shells. Homes where toddlers played, lost in overgrowth of trees and shrubs. Streets narrowed to paths between elephant eye high weeds. The Baptismal font where Father Dismas Clark, the Hoodlum Priest, blessed the sons and daughters of gangsters. A former boys' Catholic high school, now a prison with curls of barbed wire. Just across the river, the city has a history.

    St. Louis had my favorite watering hole on Seventh and Olive–The Pit of the Seventh Olive. Wish I could be there. Don't ya make my brown eyes green. J.

  8. Jake Nantz

    Wow, I missed Usual Suspects too. Damn. And I guess I wasn't thinking about classics with the two Brit films so much as a break from the usual when looking at the dark side of crime. Sort of the same reason I love Gary Oldman and the "I work for Mr. Blue Lou Boyle" scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken in TRUE ROMANCE. Just a different and amazingly well-written light on the material.

  9. Gar Haywood


    Clearly, you guys get out to the movies a lot more than I do. Still, I've seen and can appreciate most of your choices, though there are a few I've missed that would probably shock the hell out of you. (I swear I will get around to seeing RESERVOIR DOGS one of these days…)

    The Sacred Cow I'd most like to gore? It's no contest: THE SPANISH PRISONER. It wasn't mentioned here, and I'd have lost my lunch if it had been, but some people actually think this film is a work of genius. As much as I love Mamet in general (and I think Glengarry Glen Ross IS a work of fucking genius), THE SPANISH PRISONER hold water about as well as a rusty colander, and it amazes me that more people can't see that.

    Have a great time at B'con!

  10. David Corbett

    Gar: I'm not sure SPANISH PRISONER qualifies as a sacred cow because I don't know that many people who think it's any better than you do. I agree, it has all the worst of a Mamet movie. And that's saying a mouthful.

    GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS had the advantage of James Foley directing, who refused to let Mamet genuflect before his own dialog. (Foley, as noted above, also directed AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, which I think is a another great flick.)

    I'm not on an anti-Hitchcock bandwagon, btw. but I do find his films overly cerebral and emotionless. VERTIGO is an exception, at least in that last scene when JimmyStewart damn near beats Kim Novack up. (I was a little amazed during a recent re-viewing by just how violent that final scene is, given Hitchcock's propensity to make his violence shocking not through drama but image.)

    I happen to know that PSYCHO is one of my fellow panelist's sacred cows, so apparently I'm not alone.

  11. David Corbett

    Jake: I'm with you on breaking the mold. I think all the films you cited are WAY better than average. (You should see the f**king list I made up for this thing — I'm insane. Really.) And I wholeheartedly agree on the Oldman role in TRUE ROMANCE, and the Walken/Hopper scene as well. That's why that movie creeps real close to the top for me. Tarantino did the script but didn't direct. Not sure what that means, but the film is just a gas, with superb performances across the board.

  12. Shizuka

    I loved BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING, which I think is Otto Preminger. It's a mid-sixties film, but feels older. There's the suspense of the woman trying to find her daughter while the audience and the police start to doubt that there is a daughter. USUAL SUSPECTS, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES would be on a favorites list as well.

    THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY also really worked for me. It's interesting as an audience member to find yourself rooting for the villain. Which may be why I also like MATCHPOINT.

    I like one of the sacred cows you hate — REAR WINDOW. From a crime perspective, it's pretty laughable, but I like the tone and look of it. Hitchcock really capture the sweltering New York summer and the claustrophobic feel city apartments can have.

    If you have time, can you ask the panel who was the most interesting witness they've seen (on court TV, news, or in real life).

    Have a blast at B'Con and give Deb a hug from me!


  13. David Corbett


    Wow, I completely blanked on RIPLEY. Thanks. I'm not as fond of MATCHPOINT — it's basically a remake of CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, and I have a problem with plagiarizing oneself.

    The genre is full of bad guys you can root for, and you name two of the best, DOG DAY AFTERNOON and THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (okay, the husband isn't really a bad guy, but what he ends up doing is pretty horrific). Also: THE KILLING, ASPHALT JUNGLE, THE GODFATHER, BELLMAN & TRUE, SEXY BEAST, the list is endless. I think the appeal of the criminal is that we know the game is rigged, even if we spend our lives pretending otherwise. And so, when the lights go down and the film comes on, we don't mind rooting for the guy who refuses to play by those rules.

    I will definitely pass on your Q to Meg, and your hug to Deb. You'll be missed, Ms. O. And are.

  14. David Corbett

    When I was in HS, we used the word "hands" to describe breasts, since we always cupped our hands to represent them. That way we could even ask the nuns, in all innocence: "Sister, don't you think Mary Kay has nice hands?"

  15. Lynn in Texas

    In the words of the late great Steve Goodman:

    If you're goin' to East St. Louis
    Don't you drink too much
    Cut down that consumption
    You shakey legged such and such.

    Hope everyone has a great time at B'con.
    Bon Voyage! 😉

  16. David Corbett

    Lynn: Steve Goodman, national treasure.

    Broken hearts and dirty windows
    Make life difficult to see.
    That's why last night and this morning
    Always look the same to me.

    Thanks for reminding me.

  17. David Corbett

    Oh, and now I have to check out BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING. I'm not a huge Preminger fan — he tends to go over the top a bit much for my taste — but he did LAURA, which is great, and this sounds too intriguing not to see. Thanks!!

  18. KDJames

    I know I'm not much of a movie watcher, in general, but it's sort of disturbing to me how many of those I haven't seen. But I'm SURE they're all absolutely wonderful representations of their categories. (see me being all agreeable here?)

    B'con almost had a last minute attendee when The McLean teased on twitter about wearing a kilt to the event. Alas, not this year for me. Have a great time!

  19. David Corbett

    KD: You hang out with Eddie Muller — the Czar of Noir — you watch a lot of obscure movies.

    I'll be sure to make note of Russel's failure to kilt up. If he can tweet, he can tartan.

  20. Jake Nantz

    Corbett – In my family breasts were always "Tracks 'a Land" after the Python line, but your 'hands' bit reminded me of when I was in high school (and even more of a mean-spirited ass than I am now). We referred to the, um…unattractive…girls as 'swans.' That way if it got back to them it wouldn't hurt their feelings, because they didn't know we meant they stood atop the ugly tree and took a face-first "swan dive", hitting every branch on the way down….

    (you get the picture……hey, I already said I wasn't a nice person…..)

  21. Reine

    Um, Jake . . . um . . . yes, we did get it. We knew when we were being made fun of, and we figured you boys wanted us to know without being able to hold you accountable.

  22. Jake Nantz

    Oh Reine, you misunderstand. I know that NOW, but I was an idiot in high school, and honestly thought I was somehow being gallant (I'm not kidding, I really believed this). Like I said, I am fully aware what a shitty person I was in high school, and to a large degree still am. I'm not proud of it, but I have no misconceptions about who I am and who I've hurt, either.

  23. David Corbett


    I step away from my desk for just a moment to hit the gym and ride my bike, and when I get back I find that Jake has pitched Reine out of a tree.

    And she says she LOVES him!!

    We'll see what your mothers have to say about THAT!

    Jesus Mary Puddin' 'n' Pie.

  24. Reine

    Yes, well I didn't think you were going all mediaeval on us, but I am comforted in the knowledge that you weren't entertaining thoughts of drawing and quartering. Thank you.

  25. David Corbett

    Let's try this again:

    Glad you liked the panel. I'm assuming it was Jeremy, Wallace, Russel, Megan and Todd who made it work for you?

    Seriously, thanks for letting me know. I had a gas too. One of the best I've been on.

  26. Peter

    All of you. It was the 1927 New York Yankees of panels. Better, even, because it had no Mark Koenigs or Benny Benny Bengoughs dragging the stars down.

  27. David Corbett


    My understanding is that recordings of each othe panels and interviews is available through the Bouchercon website. I do believe the movie panel, SHADOWS RISING, was a paricularly good one — lively, funny, engagging, informative. And WITNESS TO AN INCIDENT, though more subdued, had some fascinating anecdotes from Clea Koff, who impressed me a great deal.


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