Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coming to America with R J Ellory – Part III “The Long Road Home”

Orion Dinner [Clockwise] with Larry and Lynn Block, Kate Mills, Linwood Barclay and Mrs Barclay, R J Ellory, Ed and Cathy Wright, Harlan Coben and Steve Hamilton.

Continued from - So after surviving a scary moment in downtown Baltimore Roger and I relaxed with some whisky.

One of the key features of the Bouchercon experience is meeting some of the American legends of the genre, such as Larry Block, Laura Lippman and her husband the great David Simon, Dennis Lehane, Thomas H Cook, George Pelecanos, Harlan Coben and I could go on and on. In fact the whole weekend for me was just one long party meeting colleagues friends and making new ones.

The American writers of course were in force, and what a friendly and approachable bunch they are. Many of them attended The Private Eye Writers of America [PWA] annual Shamus Awards Banquet. The prolific writing duo of Bob Randisi and Christine Mathews always throw a superb party, and this year was no exception. The venue was Baltimore’s Westminster Hall – the last resting place of Edgar A Poe. As the sole two Brits, Roger and I were treated like kings. It was also great to finally meet Charles Ardai, writer and publisher of the Hardcase Crime Series. The wonderful thing about these events is the sheer serendipity of things, as Charles and I ended up dining together, which was a delight as both of us have very demanding ‘day-jobs’ as Managing Directors of large business’s, but we both share a passion for crime and thrillers. And as we paid our respects to Edgar A. Poe at his graveside, I realised that it was a moment I will treasure as a crucial memory.

Sunday, Sunday

I have to hand it to Mark Billingham for being an exceptional toastmaster, as he was addressing upwards of 1,000 people at the opening and even more at the Anthony Awards brunch, and at each ceremony, his delivery was superb. Witty, funny and sidesplitting – Our local boy made all the Brits proud, as did the erudite John Harvey and Thalia Proctor fellow International, and Fan guests of honour. I was so pleased that booksellers and publishers Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press were honoured with lifetime achievement awards, especially as they truly support British Writers breaking into the tough US market. George Easter winning the Dan Sandstrom award brought a tear to my eye, as well as George’s – as it was a complete surprise and well deserved. OK, so Roger and I didn’t win our awards, but hey, we were just flattered being on the nominations list, besides we just had a ball at Bouchercon, which is not about awards but about friendship.

Leaving Bouchercon is always melancholic, after meeting and making friends and forgetting the world’s economic woes for a few days; but typically for me, it was still a somewhat exciting end, considering the genre I love.

Naturally Roger and I thanked Judy and Ruth [as well as Jon and Jennifer] several times during the weekend for their passion and amazing organisational ability in pulling off an amazing convention.

The last night in Baltimore was made special by a wonderful post-Bouchercon dinner on the waterfront with Rap Sheet editor Jeff and Jodie Peirce, Linda Richards, Peter Rozovsky, Sandra Ruttan and her partner Brian with Roger and I attended.

“Sir do you always travel with 80 crime novels in your luggage?”

Now as happy as I am that airport security is tight to protect travellers from the threats posed by psycho terrorist nutters; one problem is that anyone with brown skin is often given ‘special treatment’ which is always a nuisance for me as I always get picked for that special treatment. This time the problem originated at Baltimore Airport when R J Ellory and I checked in on the Monday after the Bouchercon weekend. I was massively overweight on my luggage and so had to remove a load of the books I purchased during Bouchercon, and put them in a spare holdall to use as carry-on luggage. While I was reorganising my books we were advised by the check-in clerk that as we were changing planes at Charlotte for London, we’d have to collect our luggage at Charlotte and re-check it in after security at that North Carolina airport for our transatlantic flight. This should not have posed any problem as we had a 2 hour stop-over in Charlotte for the connecting flight. However things went really South when we arrived in Charlotte. We went to the luggage carousel and waited. It took a dreadfully long time for the bags to start circling the carousel. But no sign of our bags, and then as we noticed there were only three bags going round and round and all passengers had left the area, we wondered off to the information desk. There, the official checked our boarding passes and tickets and told us that our bags had been checked in through to London. Glancing at his watch, the official frowned and said “you guys better run, you have 35 minutes to make your flight.” And so we did. We raced up the stairs to security for departures, cursing the check-in clerk at Baltimore. I was sweating profusely as my holdall weighed a ton due to all the books.

So after the usual security routine of X-rays, shoes and belts off etc; Roger got through but I was sent into what I thought was another X-Ray machine, but was a bomb-proof glass cubicle. Once inside the door was firmly locked behind me. I had been [thanks to my "popularity" with Airport Security] 'randomly' selected for 'special treatment'. Then three TSA officers arrived and informed me that they wanted to ask me a few questions and then opened up all my luggage. In fact they were really nice guys. I informed them of my predicament as the airport tannoy was barking “Passenger Karim for London, your flight is boarding and your gate is closing in ten minutes”. They told me to relax and said jovially if I could run as fast as I could talk I’d have no problems making my flight.

Then one of them asked "Mr Karim do you always travel with 80 crime novels in your luggage?" at which I pulled out the Bouchercon Brochure and explained that I am an editor, reviewer and collector of crime fiction and thriller novels, at which they asked for recommendations for themselves; so we had a lengthy chat about various books and they noted down the books I reeled off the top of my head - Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Linda Richards’ Death Was The Other Woman, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, Nick Stone’s Mr Clarinet, Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, Sean Chercover’s Big City, Bad Blood, John Connolly’s The Unquiet, Micheal Crichton’s Prey and many others. The TSA [Transport Security Administration] men scribbled furiously as I reeled off titles of books I loved. They just loved my enthusiasm, but in reality I was in panic as the clock predicted that I’d miss my flight. My anxiety at this point was beyond heightened as the airport tannoy continued “Passenger Karim, please make your way immediately to Departure Gate D11, your flight is ready for departure”.

They only released me when their notebooks were filled with my book recommendations. I quickly packed up my books and luggage and noticed I had mere minutes to make my flight. The security men told me to run fast, and gave me directions to my departure gate. I had to run like an Olympian. The sweat dripped off me like I was under a shower as I took giant strides forward. I really had to sprint as I had 3 minutes to get onto the plane. The tannoy kept yelling "Mr Karim please make your way to Gate D11 immediately your flight is closing..." As I ran like a madman, I was shouting to people to get out of the way as I swung my big holdall of books on my shoulder. The strap cut into me as the bag was so damned heavy. As I ran, I worried that an Asian-looking guy holding a big bag slung over his shoulder running, and yelling to people to move out of the way in a US airport, could look like......hmmmm......not cool. It was lucky I didn't get shot by a trigger happy TSA person. But then again I guess I didn’t look Brazilian.

I only made it to D11 just as the airbridge was about to be closed off.....I thought I'd have a heart attack, as the sweat was pumping off me. Taking my seat, Roger Ellory was concerned at my heavy breathing and sweat pumping off my hair and remarked that my love of books could have proved dangerous. I laughed it off, and told him it all added to the many adventures of my life.

This proved to be a fitting end to one of the greatest crime fiction conventions ever. If you’d like to see more photographs of the event, Roger Ellory’s wife Vicky has kindly placed a huge array of our snaps on his website.

Extracts of this complete report have appeared at The Rap Sheet, Deadly Pleasures Magazine and The CWA Monthly Magazine Red Herrings. As lengthy as this report is, I missed a load of people I chatted to, drank with, laughed with, and generally wiffled around with but hey, Bouchercon is all about having a great time, seeing friends and making new ones.

If you’ve managed to read it all, man you must have now lost the will to live, or perhaps you’re enthused to make it to Bouchercon 40 in Indianapolis this fall – details here.


  1. What an adventure Ali! I'm sure you always look forward to the international conventions more so that you'll have security stories to tell. ;)

  2. I'd be curious about whether any of those TSA guys bought the books you "recommended." You render service to crime fiction in so many ways.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”