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JOHN O'SULLIVAN ON MAGNA CUM MURDER 

Read an elaboration of the O'Sullivan memoir of Muncie by Charles Benoit

From The Corner blog on National Review Online

Monday, October 29, 2007

Friends in Low Places [John O'Sullivan]

Yesterday I arrived in Muncie, Indiana to attend the "Magna Cum Murder" conference of crime, detective, mystery, and thriller writers. My first impression is that writers of murder and mayhem all seem to be extraordinarily pleasant people, both good natured and hospitable.

I mentioned this to Ruth Dudley Edwards, author of Murdering Americans — a thriller set against the background of a politically correct U.S. university. Her heroine is a right-wing, anti-feminist, cigar-smoking, bi-sexual, British don who goes by the name of "Jack."

Quite a lot of university administrators end up dead in this one.

"Yes, we work out all our enmities and neuroses on the printed page, so we can afford to be nice to each other," Ruth tells me. "It's exactly the opposite at the Romantic Writers' convention. They're all a lot of backstabbing bitches."

A second impression is that many attendees, both writers and readers, are fans of National Review. They come up and tell me so. I have to divert any credit from me, WFB, or Rich to Linda Bridges who over the years kept the flame of low literature alight at the magazine.

10/29 11:14 AM

Monday, October 29, 2007

Simply Criminal Not To [John O'Sullivan]

I should have added that in our trip to the Backstage bar, we participants in Magna cum Murder raised our martini glasses shakily and drank to the health of Kathryn Kennison, the impresario and criminal mastermind behind the festival of crime. (I should tell Rich, Jonah, Derb, K-Lo et al to accept any invitation they receive from Kathryn—not that a refusal will have the slightest effect of what they end up doing.) As the words of the toast echoed through the great hall, a thousand arms brought a thousand tankards crashing down onto the long trestle tables on which the remains of one hundred roasted oxen had been picked clean. And a thousand stout warrior voices rang through the air in celebratory salute: "To Lady Kathryn, by the All the Mysteries of Styles and by All the Secrets of the Locked Room." Sorry, wrong genre.

10/29 03:41 PM

Monday, October 29, 2007

Murder from the Right [John O'Sullivan]

Though I mentioned above the affection for NR expressed by several attendees at Magna cum Murder, it was as more a literary than a political affection. There is a wide variety of political views among connoisseurs of pillage, rape and murder. But that variety is what separates the genre from the literary "mainstream" where a knee-jerk Bush-hatred is de rigueur.

That emerged on the panel on political correctness—which was the reason a non-thriller writer like me (to put it mildly) had been invited. Ruth Dudley Edwards, Charlotte Hays, and Bill Fitzhugh were the other panelists. Bill was the "liberal" member of the panel and he did a good job of arguing that political correctness was a kind of compassionate courtesy designed to compensate for past injustices inflicted on minorities.

But political correctness, seriously pursued, would make the crime novel impossible. Half the characters in a modern thriller talk in a highly politically incorrect way because they are not upstanding members of respectable society. Bill's own very funny comic thrillers would not survive a Puritan onslaught. And in Lindsey Davis's crime thrillers set in ancient Rome most the characters take slavery and gladiatorial combat for granted as normal aspects of everyday life.

Ms. Lindsey explained in her lunchtime interview that she solves any moral problem here by having her hero detective, Marcus Didius Falco, raising Seneca-like objections to these institutions. If you think that makes the novels sound solemn, you couldn't be more wrong. They are sharp and witty—a wonderful way of being entertained while learning ancient history without noticing it.

10/29 12:45 PM

Monday, October 29, 2007

Going Backstage [John O'Sullivan]

On Saturday evening Ruth Dudley Edwards, Bill Fitzhugh, Charles Benoit, and I  walked through the mean streets of Muncie, ending up in the “Backstage” bar, a friendly joint where a single is a double and a double is an express train to nirvana, where we drank gimlets and swapped P. G. Wodehouse quotations. It felt good. And as the evening wore on, it felt gooder.

10/29 12:56 PM


PS from Ruth: 

Further to the reminiscences of John and Charles, that Stage Door evening ended for John, Bill, Judy Bobalik and me in the Pizza Hut beside our (unlicensed) hotel, since it was the only place for miles where we could get an alcoholic drink, i.e. weak beer. The restaurant was deserted, but we bought pizza, drank beer and conscientiously coloured the pictures the waitress brought us with the crayons she provided.

Oddly, Judy seemed to find this experience improbable, so John, Bill and I signed our efforts and gave them to her on the off-chance she might be able to use them to raise a dollar or two for the mystery cause in some auction. I can't say much for the quality of either the food or the beer, but the
crayons were excellent.

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