Each state in this country can boast its share of mystery writers who give the readers not only involving stories but also personal looks at myriad regions.
The genre is better for these stories that take us from the streets of New York City to small Idaho towns.
Last year, San Francisco was the site of Bouchercon and that gave me a chance to talk about the wonderful mysteries set there.
This year, Bouchercon is in St. Louis so that naturally leads to a discussion about the authors that Missouri has produced. I also have a personal connection as Missouri is my home state. I grew up in a small town in an area of Missouri called The Bootheel. I also graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia as did my husband. We found each other at Mizzou but we two journalism majors met in theater. Long story, but a good one.
So to get everyone in the mood for Bouchercon, we’ll start to look at those mysteries with a Missouri connection. Whether or not you are attending Bouchercon, this will give you insight into the Show Me State.
Some of the best known mystery writers either who either are from Missouri, live there or set there novels there include Sophie Littlefield, Robert Randisi, Elaine Viets, John Lutz, Joel Goodman, Michael A. Kahn, Michael Baron, Eileen Dreyer, Laurell K. Hamilton, Rett MacPherson, Jean Hager, Lise McClendon, Larry Karp, Janis Harrison, Dakota Banks, Shirley Kennett. I am sure I have missed a few, so please, add your favorites to the comments list.
Here’s a glimpse at a couple of St. Louis-based novels.
Michael Kahn is best known for his novels about St. Louis attorney Rachel Gold, the latest of which is Trophy Widow (2002). After nearly decade, Kahn, a St. Louis attorney himself, has written another Rachel Gold novel that may be published in 2012. More about that from Brian at this post.
But Kahn also wrote the novel The Mourning Sexton (2005) under the pen name Michael Baron. This was my personal favorite from Kahn/Baron.
In The Mourning Sexton, David Hirsch, a once powerful St. Louis attorney who spent seven years in prison for embezzlement, tries to make amends by immersing himself in his Jewish faith. Every day, Hirsch, the mourning sexton, is among the first to arrive at the small, storefront synagogue in St. Louis. He has made his participation in services mandatory; his duties are to make sure there will be at least 10 men there, the minimum required for the daily prayers.
The Mourning Sexton is a heartfelt character study of a man on the rebound who has to fight temptation every day to reclaim his soul.
TRUE CRIME STILL TRUE
Screenwriter and author Andrew Klavan isn’t normally associated with St. Louis but his 1995 novel True Crime is set in St. Louis. I remember being engrossed in this story about journalist Steve Everett, a foul wretch of a man who ruins just about everything in his life. But in one shining moment, Steve tries to do the right thing – save an innocent man wrongly convicted and do that in the 11th hour before the man’s execution.
A reporter for the fictional St. Louis News, Steve is despised by his colleagues. He lost his last job because he had sex in the supply room with the daughter of the newspaper's owner. He may lose his current job because he is sleeping with his boss' wife.
No one believes Everett's "hunch" that a young man on Missouri’s Death Row is innocent of killing a convenience store clerk. Everett’s editor calls his idea "A desperate attempt to cover the shabbiness of ... personal behavior with a show of professional skill."
Granted, the crusading reporter saving a wrongly convicted man has been done too many times but Klavan had me totally involved with True Crime. The film version starring Clint Eastwood was all right but never captured the novel’s intensity.
Klavan’s view of St. Louis was spot on, including his use of the huge Amoco sign that became kind of a talisman for Everett.