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Malice Domestic
By G. Hall, May 2001

Arlington, Virginia was the setting for a gathering of 700 mystery authors and fans at Malice Domestic XIII. This conference is devoted to the traditional or cosy mysteries and draws a wide range of North American and British mystery writers. It is considered to be one of the friendliest of the many mystery conventions, and quite a few people attend year after year (this was my 11th time).

Over the years the definition of traditional mysteries has expanded way beyond the Agatha Christie Golden Age type to a much wider range. Today the main distinction between traditional and hard core stories, is that the violence and explicit sex occur mainly off-stage in traditional mysteries. In addition, the traditional variety usually come to a resolution. Nowadays, there are hundreds of traditional mystery authors so there is something for every taste, from humorous to very serious and from modern private investigators to ancient sleuths.

The Malice Domestic convention offers something for everyone. For the mystery reader it is a perfect escape from real life into the world of their favorite authors. For fledgling writers it offers the chance to meet established authors and agents who, in general, are quite approachable and helpful.

The conference includes author panels, book signings, a wonderful dealer book room and the awards banquet. The author panels provide a good opportunity to see an already familiar author in the flesh and learn more about her or him. In addition, they are a great way to discover new authors. Panels feature all kinds of topics from the technical issues of writing (e.g. what voice is chosen) to how authors research their books. More amusing issues include murder as therapy, i.e. when the author kills real people in her/his book and why one can never kill a cat in a mystery (dead people are acceptable, but never cats!).

One of the best panels each year is the New Kids on the Block. The five nominees for the Agatha Award for the Best First Mystery are introduced. For the audience, it is great fun to predict who the stars of tomorrow will be. Previous Agatha nominees include authors (now well-known) such as Nevada Barr, Elizabeth George, Janet Evanovich and Deborah Crombie.

The Agatha Awards banquet is a conference highlight. This is always a convivial gathering and participants look forward to hearing the guest of honor and learning who has won the various Agatha Awards, which are voted on by the attendees. Margaret Maron (author of the Sigrid Harald and Deborah Knott series) was guest of honor. Rita Mae Brown (of the Sneaky Pie mysteries) was toastmaster and entertained the audience with both political humor (given the proximity of Washington, DC) and stories of her life in the fox-hunting Virginia countryside.

This year's awards (given to books published in 2000) included:

Best Novel: Storm Track by Margaret Maron
Best First Novel:
Death on a Silver Tray by Rosemary Stevens
Best Short Story:
The Man in a Civil Suit (Malice Domestic 9) by Jan Burke
Best Non-Fiction:
100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century by Jim Huang

Next year Malice Domestic will again be held the first weekend in May in Arlington. The guest of honor is to be British author Edward Marston. Toastmaster duty will be shared by the married team, Annette and Martin Meyers. The Lifetime Achievement award will be given toTony Hillerman who will attend if his health permits.
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