Mystery Conference Update – Bouchercon 2014

What is Bouchercon? For both authors and readers, it’s the meeting place to rub shoulders with the famous, near famous, and soon to be famous—all mystery writers. It’s the grand lalapalooza mystery conference held every year in different cities across the US and Canada.

Held this year at the Hyatt Regency in Long Beach, I’ve just come back full of fresh energy, ideas, impressions, and new ambitions of my own. I spent the first day at a special session organized by Sisters in Crime devoted to forensics.

Jan Burke, author of the Irene Kelly mystery series set in Long Beach, was the host and organizer of this informative day. She is a heroine of mine for spearheading the Crime Lab Project  which aims to raise awareness of public forensic science needs and challenges. You know, don’t you, that CSI and shows like it aren’t real? They make scientists and cops laugh.

I quote from the Crime Lab Project’s website: “In 2003, a group of writers and producers became concerned about the widening gap between public perceptions of forensic science and crime labs, and the reality of understaffed, under-equipped labs housed in inadequate facilities and trying to cope with ever-increasing workloads and backlogs.” Please learn more about the Crime Lab Project.

Back to Bouchercon 2014.  Did you also know, Californians, that Cal State University Los Angeles has a well-known forensics program? The day led off with Professor Donald Johnson from the CSULA program showing the meticulous care given to evaluating crime scenes and collecting evidence. He was followed by Professor Katherine Roberts discussing the collection of trace evidence, evaluating what can be learned from blood, semen, hair, and fingerprints.

So you think you could lead a homicide investigation just from watching TV and movies. Ha! We were led into a mock crime scene: two bodies, blood, a gun and spent rounds. Not so easy. None of us guessed the all-important clue and we were really, really looking!

Veteran LA Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Elizabeth Smith was followed by Cat Warren, a cadaver dog handler. What we thought we knew about tracking, trailing, arson, and cadaver dogs was dispelled quickly. No one breed is best. More importantly it depends on the dog’s willingness to work, his endurance, and most of all the relationship with the handler.

The day finished with the Arson Investigation Unit of the Long Beach Fire Department. Did you know arson is the fastest growing crime in the U.S.? The motives are not always financial gain. Spite and revenge are big ones. So is concealment of a crime, the excitement of vandalism and fire, as well as the plain old curiosity of kids.

Bouchercon is available to everyone. You don’t need to be an author or writer with a story to tell. Plenty of people sign up because the information is just plain interesting.

Bouchercon 2015 will be held in Raleigh, North Caroline.  Hope to see you there.

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