Crime fiction fans flocked to St. Louis this weekend for the annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, an event that drew nearly 1,600 attendees to the city under the arch. Under the direction of current chair and Crimespree magazine co-founder Jon Jordan, with added support from co-chair McKenna Jordan, the owner of Houston’s famed Murder by the Book, the conference fired like a well-oiled gun. Many of Bouchercon 2011’s new traditions were in honor of the late David Thompson—husband of McKenna Jordan, founder of Murder by the Book and Busted Flush Press, and an indomitable spirit in the mystery community—including honoring two American and International Guests of Honor and throwing a bowling tournament that pitted authors against each other and raised money for the St. Louis library.

Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse series is the basis for HBO’s True Blood, and Robert Crais, whose novels featuring L.A. PI Elvis Cole and more recently Cole’s friend Joe Pike are genre stalwarts, shared the American Guest of Honor role. Val McDermid, a perennial critical and fan favorite for her Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series as well as her stand-alone work, and Colin Cotterill—who recently began a new series featuring Jimm Juree, an ex-crime reporter in Thailand in addition to his popular 1970s Laos-set novels with Dr. Siri—were feted as the International Guests. Sara Paretsky, whose V.I. Warshawski paved the way for American female PIs in crime fiction, received the Lifetime Achievement award. Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, co-editors and co-publishers of Mystery Scene magazine, were honored as the conferences Fan Guests for their numerous contributions to the genre.

Opening ceremonies last Thursday were presided over by Toastmaster—and St. Louis local—Ridley Pearson. Two more “local legends” were also honored for their important contributions to the genre: the prolific (he’s written over 500 novels, many under pseudonyms) Robert Randisi and John Lutz of Single White Female fame (an adaptation of his novel, SWF Seeks Same).

From Thursday morning through Sunday morning, fans congregated in two floors of hotel meeting rooms to hear authors discuss topics as wildly diverse as the enduring nature of Alfred Hitchcock or Agatha Christie and whether or not true evil exists in the real world, let alone the world of crime fiction. Regardless of if you were a fan of the traditional mystery or preferred darker “Tartan Noir,” co-panel chairs Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik made sure the genre’s wide range was representded. A lively panel featuring the American and International Guests of Honor drew a substantial crowd and lots of laughs, particularly when Charlaine Harris gave the audience some insight into the development of her bestselling supernatural series: “I wanted Sookie to have a disability and a wooden leg didn’t do it.” Those fans wanting a more hands-on experience could take a shot—literally—with the firing range simulator set up in one of the rooms, complete with CO2 tanks for effect, while others took advantage of the sights and toured St. Louis’s famed Arch or the City Museum, and loaded up on books in the Book Room, particularly from local dealers such as Left Bank Books and Big Sleep Books.

Saturday night’s auction, organized by Auction Committee Chair Jeremy Lynch and co-hosted by authors Laura Lippman and Mark Billingham, also benefitted St. Louis, raising just under $29,000 for the local library, enough money to ensure completion of the children’s library, which will bear a plaque to commemorate Anthony Boucher. In one of the evening’s most lucrative showdowns, co-auctioneer Lippman—bidding for a fan—won the chance to have a character named after her in Charlaine Harris’s last ever Sookie Stackhouse novel. With a bid of $7,250, Lippman barely edged out another contender but Harris graciously agreed to auction off another name and the rival bidder paid $5,000 for a second name.

As is the tradition at Bouchercon, a conference steeped in awards ceremonies, Thursday’s festivities included the presentation of both the Macavity and Barry Awards. Voted on by the members of Mystery Readers International, the Macavity Awards went to Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead (Best Mystery Novel), Bruce DeSilva’s Rogue Island (Best First Mystery Novel), John Curran’s Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks (Best Mystery Nonfiction), Dana Cameron’s “Swing Shift” (Best Mystery Short Story, from Crimes By Moonlight), and Kelli Stanley’s City of Dragons (Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award). Authors who would eventually take home two statues (or plaques) by the end of the weekend would have to wait until Sunday’s Anthony Awards Brunch to repeat their victories, since the none of the Barry winners coincided with the Macavity list. Steve Hamilton’s Edgar-winning The Lock Artist won Best Novel, while Paul Doiron’s The Poacher’s Son earned Best First Novel. Reginald Hill’s stand-alone tale of suspense, The Woodcutter, won Best British Crime Novel, and South African Deon Meyer picked up Best Thriller for his Thirteen Hours. International Guest of Honor McDermid’s latest Tony Hill installment, Fever of the Bone, won Best Paperback Original and Loren D. Estelman’s “The List,” published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, won Best Short Story. The David Thompson Special Services Award, created last year after Thompson’s unexpected death, was also presented to Ali Karim, one of the crime fiction community’s most dedicated and ardent contributors with his work as Assistant Editor at Shots eZine, as well as regular pieces in Crimespree, The Rap Sheet, and Deadly Pleasures.

The Shamus Awards, presented by the Private Eye Writers of America during an off-site ceremony, added to the celebratory atmosphere, especially when writers were spotted later with their awards at the hotel bar. Lifetime Achievement winner Paretsky also picked up the Hammer Award for Best P.I. Series Character for her Chicago-based attorney-turned-private eye V.I. Warshawski, while Ed Gorman picked up the Shamus version of the Lifetime Achievement Award, known as The Eye for his prolific work in the P.I. genre. Lori Armstrong’s No Mercy won Best P.I. Novel, with Christopher G. Moore’s Asia Hand winning Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel and Michael Ayoob’s In Search of Mercy winning Best First P.I. Novel. Gar Anthony Haywood’s “The Lamb Was Sure To Go,” from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine won Best P.I. Short Story.

The weekend wrapped up with the closing ceremonies and the Anthony Awards brunch. Named in honor of the convention’s founder Anthony Boucher, the awards are voted on by Bouchercon attendees. To shake things up, the order of the winners was drawn at random, making for a more entertaining show. Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich’s reference site “Stop, You’re Killing Me” won for Best Website/Blog for the second year in a row, while Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead earned the author her third career Anthony Award--her second consecutive win for Best Novel--and her second prize at the convention. Hilary Davidson took home Best First Novel for The Damage Done and Duane Swierczynski won Best Paperback Original for Expiration Date. Like Penny, Dana Cameron and John Curran also picked up their second awards of the convention with Cameron winning Best Short Story for “Swing Shift” and Curran winning Best Critical/Nonfiction for Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks. In the category’s inaugural year, Jason Starr collected Best Graphic Novel for The Chill, an honor he shared during his speech with illustrator Mick Bertilorenzi.

Bouchercon heads to Cleveland in 2012. Better start making plans now: missing the opening ceremonies in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would be a crime. (