MWA-New England and Sisters in Crime kept up the good work with the tenth annual Crimebake conference this past weekend. It was my sixth time attending, but 17 of us who made all 10 were recognized on Saturday morning.
As usual, I liked the forensic presentations best. We heard one on art theft by Anthony Amore, the head of security for the Gardner Museum in Boston. According to him, the movie/TV depictions of art thieves as brilliant, meticulous masterminds is nonsense. Art thieves are idiots who act as much on impulse as any convenience store robber who sees a drawer full of cash and can’t contain himself. They see a painting worth 25 million and the poor security around it–museum security is inherently poor, because good security is incompatible with the museum’s mission–and they grab and run. If they get away, they discover that they can’t fence the painting for any amount of money.
The corollary is that the mad billionaire collector is also a myth.
Anthony Amore, Gardner Museum
In 1990 the Gardner was hit by thieves who stole 13 paintings worth roughly half a billion
dollars. It’s not just the biggest art theft ever. It’s the biggest single property crime in history. Period. At first glance it looks like a masterful job, but it depended on luck. If the guards had followed protocols, the thieves would have been left standing on the sidewalk looking stupid. They haven’t been caught, and Amore couldn’t tell us details, but it seems that negotiations are underway for the return of the paintings.
Then Douglas Starr talked about the state of forensic sciences. DNA is the first completely objective science to be applied to criminal investigation, and it has revealed the extent to which other scientific methods are riddled with human error and subjective judgments. Arson investigation in particular has until recently been based on folklore, and it seems that many people have done decades in prison for fires that were accidental. In 2004 Texas executed Todd Willingham on extremely suspect evidence.
A Friday night panel discussed the importance for authors of social networking. There was dissent, but the consensus was that blogging is so 2008 (which also tells you how fast things move). Some of the panelists even dismissed Twitter. All agreed that Facebooking is essential, and that content is king. Give the readers inside information and solicit their input, because “Buy my book” just leaves a bad taste.
One last bit of good news: the Dedham Hilton finally got the message and provided writer-sized coffee mugs instead of the teeny cups of previous years.
Barry Eisler, Guest of Honor
ADDENDUM OF PARTICULARS
It’s a very large cast of characters, but the co-chairs were Margaret McLean of MWA, New England Chapter, and Sheila Connolly of Sisters in Crime, New England.
Nancy Pickard, Guest of Honor
Guests of honor were Barry Eisler and Nancy Pickard.
In 2006 I heard about the conference’s short story contest named in honor of the late Al Blanchard and entered with hours to spare. I was informed that my story had scored high on the judges’ scoring lists, and I decided on a whim to attend. I keep going back because the people are uniformly pleasant and interesting, and the conference is exceptionally well organized. The quality of the panels and presentations is consistently high. Registration is limited to 250, which seems close to the optimum size for an event like this. The 2011 conference sold out in two months, if I remember correctly.
I have always taken Amtrak, because the Route 128 station is only five minutes away by car. The distance is walkable, but would be suicidal for pedestrians. Some people fly, I suppose to Logan in Boston. The cab ride is over $100. The Dedham Hilton is very pleasant. The conference rate has been a very reasonable $85 per night, and everything is spacious except the bar, which does not seem to have been designed with crime writers in mind. 🙂
Albert Tucher is the author of thirty-five published short stories and five unpublished novels about prostitute Diana Andrews. One story, called Bismarck Rules, appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories 2010, edited by Lee Child. When Diana isn’t looking, he sometimes writes a standalone story. He works as a cataloger at the Newark Public Library and drinks too much coffee.
Visit Al at http://alberttucher.writersresidence.com/