Saturday, 11 April 2020 16:04

Last week’s death of nationally known theater impresario Zev Buffman was deeply felt in the theater community. Throughout his impressive career, Buffman single-handedly brought theater to dozens of venues around the country. He brought Broadway to the people.

But Buffman, who died of natural causes at age 89 on April 1, 2020, was also a supporter of mysteries, and was honored twice by the Mystery Writers of America.

In 2008, he was awarded an Edgar Award as producer of the play Panic, by playwright and Mystery Scene contributor Joseph Goodrich; it was produced at the International Mystery Writers’ Festival.

Set during 1962, Panic revolves around director Henry Lockwood, who has come to Paris for the premiere of his new film, Panic. But Lockwood, known as the 'Sultan of Suspense,' doesn’t get to enjoy the premiere or the praise he is expecting. Instead, he is accused of a crime that threatens to destroy his career and his marriage.

In 2010, Buffman was awarded an MWA Raven Award for his work with the International Mystery Writers’ Festival, which ran for several years in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Unlike other mystery fiction conferences, the International Mystery Writers’ Festival included authors, as well as TV writers and producers, and playwrights. The International Mystery Writers’ Festival was considered the place to launch new mystery plays.

“[Buffman] had more energy, enthusiasm, and playful glee at 80 than most people have when they are eight. He seemed tireless. Retirement wasn't a word in his vocabulary. He loved creative peoplewriters, actors, musicians, dancers, etc.and did whatever he could so they could do their best,” said Lee Goldberg, author, screenwriter, director, and co-owner of the imprint Brash Books.

“Zev was an incredible storyteller himself, a walking archive of Broadway and Hollywood lore. You could name just about any famous actor, director, producer, or writer and Zev not only had a personal encounter with them, but a wonderful story to tell about it. Having dinner with Zev was a performing arts event in itself. I cherished the dinners I had with him. I didn't want them to end. He could regale you for hours with funny, tragic, insightful, and moving stories of Hollywood and Broadway lore. I begged him to record the stories and put them on paper... I hope he did,” added Goldberg, who had two films produced at the mystery festival—the short film Remaindered, and its sequel, Bumsickle. Both were produced in Owensboro using local talent in front of, and behind, the camera.

Goldberg also wrote the essay for the Edgar book the year Buffman received the Raven.

Here is an excerpt::

On August 14, 1936, Owensboro, Kentucky, was the site of the last public hanging of a convicted felon in the United States. And Daviess County, of which Owensboro is the county seat, was named for a hard-charging law enforcement official...Col. Joseph Hamilt on Daviess, the U.S. attorney who unsuccessfully prosecuted Aaron Burr for treason.

Clearly, Owensboro has a taste for theatricality and crime...but it took Broadway producer Zev Buffman to see the potential for mystery writers and fans. Zev created the International Mystery Writers Festival in Owensboro, and in just three years, he’s made it a major force in the mystery field, introducing tens of thousands of people to exciting new mystery plays, screenplays and short-stories professionally performed on stage for the first time.

The festival has also drawn some of the biggest names in genre from every corner of the publishing and entertainment industries, including Mary Higgins Clark, CSI creator Anthony Zuiker, Gene Hackman, Sue Grafton, Angela Lansbury, Columbo creator William Link, and MWA Grandmaster Stuart Kaminsky, to name just a few.

But that’s not all. In the Festival’s first year, the new mystery plays that Zev staged swept all of the nominations for the Edgar Award in the playwriting category and, of course, took home the statuette. It was an unprecedented achievement, unmatched in MWA’s history.

How has Zev managed to draw all of this talent to Owensboro?

Not with prestige, not with money, and certainly not with glamour.

He did it with the sheer force of personality, his boundless energy, his enthusiasm for new talent, his legendary showmanship, and his love of the mystery genre. And BBQ.
Did I mention that Owensboro also happens to have some of the best BBQ joints in the country? That’s the real secret. Where else can you go and see Gene Hackman and Sue Grafton slathered in BBQ sauce and signing books?

Only Zev could have imagined that...and pulled it off.

I'd like to add a personal note. I had the fortune of meeting Zev Buffman when he brought his series of radio plays to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That was 2013, the year I was honored by MWA witha Raven Award. My husband introduced me and he knew immediately who I was. "A fellow Raven winner," he said. I was thrilled. He was living in South Florida at the time and said he followed my mystery fiction reviews in the Sun Sentinel.

So that is why I am also posting the photo of Zev and myself. The radio play he was producing starred Gary Sandy, who was Travis in the TV series WKRP in Cincinnati. And yes, I have a photo of that meeting, but that's another story.

Here is full obit that ran in the Florida Theater on Stage website. We have permission to post it.

Zev Buffman, Legendary Local & National Figure, Dead At 89
by Bill Hirschman

Nationally known theater impresario Zev Buffman, a key figure in the evolution of South Florida theater, died Wednesday at the age of 89 in Seattle, according to a news release from Ruth Eckerd Hall which he managed in Clearwater.

A charismatic man with an elfin visage and a slight accent from his origins in Israel, he was known for enthusiasm, showmanship and drive as he managed and significantly developed three South Florida venues as well as a dozen others across the country. He earned at least six Tony Award nominations for shows on Broadway across a half-century, helped develop the modern-day national touring system, and was a co-founder of the Miami Heat.

His resume as an old-style hands-on producer listed more than 100 national tours and 40 Broadway shows including the original U.S. production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Elizabeth Taylor’s fabled turns in The Little Foxes and Private Lives, the latter with Richard Burton and the former, which first bowed in Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse, providing her Broadway debut in 1981.

Seeking a Miami area venue to present a show he was producing in 1962, Pajama Tops, he was shown the then-dormant Coconut Grove Playhouse. He bought it, resurrected it, remodeled it and produced shows there for eight years. He brought in New York and Hollywood actors to star in roles they’d never get the chance to play elsewhere.

He did a similar job managing and reviving other venues such as the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans; the Chicago Theatre; the RiverPark Center of Performing Arts in Owensboro, Kentucky, the Royal Poinciana in Palm, Beach, and the Jackie Gleason Performing Arts Center in Miami Beach which he served as president from 1976-1990. He was often credited with invigorating the commercial areas around the venues.

With Louis Parker, he pushed for the creation of Parker Playhouse in 1967 as a showcase for his productions, one of the first arts presenting venues in Fort Lauderdale, and was its primary producer for 30 years. He toured his productions both through the Grove and the Parker for a few years.

He, the late publicist Charlie Cinnamon and several others also initiated the Coconut Grove Arts Festival around 1963. He cofounded the Miami Heat basketball team in 1987, campaigned for its arena and served as a general partner.

He was born in Tel Aviv on October 11, 1930. His love of movies like Gunga Din, which helped teach him English, prompted him after military service to migrate in 1951 to Hollywood where he worked as an actor in small parts. Within a decade, he was producing works and developing a string of theaters across the country.

After leaving the Grove Playhouse in 1971, he spent the next decade developing the Zev Buffman Broadway Series, which brought national tours across Florida, New Orleans, and Chicago. His work regularly won so many Carbonell Awards for theatrical excellence in South Florida that observers joked he should just back up a truck to the ceremony to pick up his awards.

His touring paradigm became a template for many tour companies. He sold the firm and other theaters in 1988 to Pace Theatrical Group, which has morphed over the years into Live Nation’s Broadway Across America.

Buffman moved in 2003 to Owensboro, a small college town in western Kentucky where an ailing sister lived. He agreed to manage a local theater complex but it needed “product.” He gathered Angela Lansbury and an equally well-known collection of friends to help create an International Mystery Writers Festival that would choose and produce mount full productions or readings of complete plays, one-acts and radio scripts. The first edition in 2007 sorted through 1,000 entries and mounted 12 productions.

Creating the festival won him a Raven Award in 2010 from the Mystery Writers of America and also a 2008 Edgar Award for producing the best play in the genre, Panic.

In 2011, he moved to the west coast and became president and CEO at Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, heading similar efforts to revitalize the two facilities.
He and his surviving wife Vilma retired to Seattle in 2018.

In a 2013 interview about an on-stage recreation of radio dramas that he wanted to tour, he was asked whether it seemed strange for an 82-year-old man to be running an entertainment complex on Florida’s west coast, helming what he hopes will be a national tour and changing the fate of empty theatres across the country by providing such relatively inexpensive shows for medium sized venues.

Photos: Top, Zev Buffman; center, Zev Buffman and Oline Cogdill

The Late Zev Buffman Mystery Connection
By Oline H Cogdill
Tuesday, 07 April 2020 15:42

Many authors donate the naming of a character in their novels for charity auctions. It is one of the most popular items at auctions at mystery conferences where the bidding can reach into the five figures.

I remember one Bouchercon in which a character name in a bestselling author’s novel went for $10,000. Another time, the bidding was down to two people, each offering more than $7,000. That generous author offered both a character name if each bidder contributed $7,000. (No, not naming the authors—let that remain a mystery!)

The money usually goes to literacy programs, so everyone wins.

But sometimes offering a character name may not work.

The last time Laurie King offered a character name at auction in one of her Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes novels was The Language of Bees, which came out in 2009.

“It can be really tricky to fit them into historical novels,” said King.

Until now.

King is running a fundraiser for Second Harvest, an organization that is holding drive-by food banks during the pandemic. The California organization serves hundreds of families and is stepping up its projects.

“I haven’t donated a character name in many years, but I’m doing one for them,” King said.

The character name will appear in King’s novel scheduled for the summer of 2021. This book will take place immediately after Riviera Gold, which comes out in June 2020. The next novel will be set in the summer of 1925, and the setting will be Transylvania—a setting alone conjures many ideas.

The character name could be anything, or any animal. King makes no promises, but she did say she would consult the winner along the way.

The bidding closes April 15.

The link is

For more information, visit King’s blog at

And for those waiting for Riviera Gold, it takes place on the Riviera during the summer of 1925 and the Jazz Age is in full swing. This is the landscape in which Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes arrive.

Laurie King Auctions Off a Character Name to Raise Money for Second Harvest
By Oline H. Cogdill
Saturday, 04 April 2020 14:06

As the world deals with this dreadful pandemic, most of us are doing what we should—staying home, venturing out only when necessary, and staying six feet away from others. Don’t forget, if going to a store, wear gloves and a mask.

We have new terms and acronyms for our lives—Shelter in Place (SIP) and Work from Home (WFH).

And let me pause here for a big shout-out and thank you to the heroes of 2020—health-care workers, first responders, caregivers, truck drivers, grocery store and pharmacy staffs, janitors, car repair people, veterinarians, and the others who are helping to keep the world going.

Now, back to the blog.

With no live theater, movie houses, or other entertainment available, many of us may be reading more than ever.

Reading, of course, is a solitary action that can be done anywhere, and the escapism it offers is huge.

For mystery fans, reading is just part of the daily fabric.

While mysteries are always in style, the genre is even more suited for these trying times when isolation is your daily job.

No hopping on a plane for travel, no stays at hotels, no going to a restaurant for a sit-down meal. But we can do all that vicariously through books.

The mystery genre has always embraced isolation—or being an outsider—through it’s the characters who often set themselves apart from society.

Sometimes it’s the lone wolf such as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch—both detectives, one private, one cop, who have separated themselves from the rest of society, who operate on their own instincts and whose close friends are few.

Certainly, Ian Rankin’s now-retired Edinburgh police detective John Rebus has never quite fit in.

Charles Todd’s Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge continues to hide the fact that his time as a soldier during World War I left him shell-shocked. During that time, what we now know is PTSD was considered an act of cowardice—fortunately, we now know that this not true.

Rutledge would have much in common with Nick Petrie’s action-packed series about former Marine Peter Ash. Petrie’s novels give a perceptive look at a man dealing with the aftermath of serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Laura Lippman’s Baltimore private detective Tess Monaghan revels in her antisocial nature.

V.I. Warshawski, the heroine of Sara Paretsky’s long-running series, is as much a private detective as she is a social justice warrior.

Kathleen Kent’s novels about Dallas narcotics detective Betty Rhyzyk explores how a cop deals with her desperate need for the support of her patient, devoted girlfriend and that of her police partner as she recovers from a near-death experience. But her default is to push away those she most needs.

Prickly, socially inept film editor Marissa Dahl just doesn’t know how to deal with others. Never mind her habit of making inappropriate comments, no matter who she is talking to. Marissa also makes Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture an exciting locked-room mystery.

Sometimes that sense of isolation comes from other situations.

Take Linda Castillo’s series about Police Chief Kate Burkholder of Painters Mill, Ohio, whose jurisdiction includes the local Amish community. Raised Amish, Kate left the community, but always must acknowledge that a part of her will “always be Amish.” While she maintains much respect for the Amish, she also is aware of the problems that can fester among the people.

Adam Abramowitz’s series about a bicycle messenger is isolated in the genre just because that job may seem a most unlikely sleuth. But his character Zesty Meyers’ background also makes him an outsider—his mother was a revolutionary bank robber who went missing for decades, his father ran Boston’s best underground poker games and was a political fixer. And his brother, Zero, runs a moving and storage company that hires ex-convicts.

Rebecca James’ The Woman in the Mirror starts with a heroine who is isolated by several situations. In 1947, Alice Miller arrives at Winterbourne Hall, a mysterious manor located on the coast of Cornwall, to care for the twin children of moody widower Jonathan de Grey. This idyllic sounding location and job soon gives way to secrets that haunt the family.

Jess Montgomery’s beautifully plotted novels center on strong women facing impossible odds in the stark Appalachian Ohio coal-mining country during 1925. Montgomery’s novels, her debut The Widows (2019) with the equally perceptive The Hollows (2020), have the feeling of an old-fashioned Western.

Joanna Schaffhausen’s three terrific novels revolve around Ellery Hathaway, forever haunted by being the only survivor of a serial killer who kidnapped and tortured her when she was 14 years old before being rescued by FBI profiler Reed Markham. Ellery changed her name and became a police detective, but those emotional scars have never gone away.

Rachel Howzell Hall’s series about LAPD homicide cop Elouise “Lou” Norton explores a woman always on the outside. That sense of aloneness also permeates her standalone They All Fall Down that pays homage to Agatha Christie but with a new approach and diverse characters.

Emotional isolation and a remote setting are at the heart of Owen Laukkanen’s new series about Former Marine Jess Winslow, a Marine veteran with acute PTSD, Mason Burke, a newly released convict and a mixed-breed dog named Lucy. All three are looking for refuge and redemption.

After a seven-year hiatus, Julia Spencer-Fleming’s return to her popular characters Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband, Russ Van Alstyne, police chief of Millers Kill, New York, is most welcome. Hid From Our Eyes illustrates how each is an important part of their community yet also isolated.

That’s just a few of the detectives and sleuths for whom isolation and being an outsider is part of their DNA.

Mysteries also let us travel to different worlds and cultures, making the world come to us.

Naomi Hirahara’s “Iced in Paradise” showed us the life of a multicultural family who live on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. Hirahara’s usual series is about a Japanese-American gardener, Mas Arai, a survivor of the atomic bomb but American-born and now living in Los Angeles.

We can also travel to Iceland with Arnaldur Indriðason, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, or Ragnar Jonasson; Paris with Cara Black; London with a variety of authors; Venice with Christopher Bollen; Ireland with Tana French or Olivia Kiernan; Vancouver with Sheena Kamal; Australia with Christian White or Jane Harper.

Again, that’s just a few of the places we can visit while we shelter in place.

Happy reading and, everyone, stay healthy.

Mysteries Now More than Ever
By Oline H. Cogdill