As always at any Bouchercon there are few panels dedicated to mysteries of the past. The entire concept of the convention has evolved over the years to sell new books and promote the authors who wrote them. That's to be expected, but it upsets me that so little space is saved for panels to talk of the authors of the past. If a book is out of print, it can't be sold at the convention. So why bother talking about it seems to be the attitude about the older books. Each year there tends to be a Holmes panel and one other writer whose work remains in print. Last year it was Christie. This year it was Rex Stout.
Back in the spring I made a valiant attempt to organize a ready-made panel that would discuss forgotten books and suggested it to the B-con committee to include this year. It was to be about reissuing forgotten books by neglected authors -- a melding of the past and the present and it would have included some very fascinating anecdotes about what it takes to get a long out of print book back into the hands of modern readers. Suffice it to say with only two bloggers and two writers mostly known for histories and biographical accounts of writers our panel did not make the cut. There was, however, a panel called "Bucket List - The Books You Have to Read Before You Die" moderated by Otto Penzler. More on that in a later post.
I attended the Rex Stout panel called "Wolfe at the Door"
even though I'm not the biggest Nero Wolfe fan so I could get a better understanding of what I seem to be missing each time I read one of those books. To date the Stout book I have enjoyed the most is Alphabet Hicks,
one of the few stand alone detective novels Stout wrote, and one that has fallen into the limbo of Out-of-Printdom. It's not considered one of his best books at all though I found it to be rather innovative in my review last year
Moderated by James Lincoln Warren the panel was made up of mystery writers Jane Cleland and Dave Zeltserman; Linda Landrigan, editor at Alfred Hitchock's Mystery Magazine;
and a substitute member whose name I never caught in the swift introductions. We were spared from Warren's usual time consuming oral interpretative skills, but had to listen to him dominate the panel with his vainglorious lecturing about his past award winning novella in the Black Orchid Novella Award
writing competition sponsored by the Wolfe Pack
, a group that celebrates all things Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I would rather listen to panel members talk and have a moderator ask the questions. Sometimes you get a panel hog who interrupts or talks forever, but when you get a moderator who takes over and talks indulgently about himself it gets dull very fast for me.
Most of the panel was devoted to discussing why they like Stout as a writer, why Archie and Nero Wolfe have become such iconic characters for mystery and crime fiction writers, especially American writers, and of course a usual list of the best Nero Wolfe mysteries. There was a brief discussion by the stand-in panel member (for the life of me I cannot remember his name) who gave some trivia I never knew of Stout's reaction to Edward Arnold as Wolfe (disliked the choice), Lionel Stander as Archie (hate that choice) and how he vowed never to allow any Nero Wolfe books to be adapted for the screen after the botched movie versions of Fer-de-Lance
(retitled Meet Nero Wolfe
) and The League of Frightened Men.
The most interesting part of the panel was when I learned about the Julius Katz stories by Dave Zeltserman. I have been won over by the Zeltserman as a true original among the contemporary writers when I read The Caretaker of Lorne Field
last year. His Katz stories came about when he wanted to enter the Black Orchid Award contest the mission of which is to revive the craft of writing mystery novellas, a form that Stout seemed to have perfected. He wrote forty of them and they are among the best in the corpus (as the Wolfe Pack like to call Stout's body of work). Zelterserman's homage to Stout's detective is Julius Katz, "Boston's most brilliant, eccentric and possibly laziest detective," who is assisted by an artificial intelligence named Archie that resides in his tie clip and is the narrator of the stories. I had heard of these before and Patrick of "At the Scene of the Crime" even reviewed the Shamus award winning novella
and another short story. To hear the characters described by the author himself along with some of his own personal insights -- he described the duo, for example, as having an almost father/son relationship-- made them all the more enticing. They are available in eBook format, but of course I am not part of that revolution. So I'm stuck hunting them down in the old EQMM magazines where they first appeared.
Still more on Bouchercon Cleveland is coming...