20 September 2022

Eighteen Hundred Miles of Forced Comparisons

     As I described in my last post, my traveling companion and I drove to Minneapolis for Bouchercon. Rolling mile after mile across America’s abdomen, a mind can drift. 

   We stopped for the night in Kansas City. While there, we visited the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. A blockbuster museum, the place tells the trajectory of a humble man of ordinary beginnings who rose in the desperate circumstances of World War I to become a leader. The museum describes his grit, his core integrity, even in the company of shady characters, and his triumphs when his opponents underestimated him. It’s not hard to leave there thinking that if Harry Truman hadn’t become president, he’d have the makings of a great mystery detective.

We can take a stab at guessing who might have written Truman-based mysteries.

    Just down the road from the Truman Library stands barbecue history. There are a variety of culinary camps surrounding barbeque. One traces a line through central Texas. Another school has its heart in Kansas City. Although the foodie reviews identified several hot new places, we visited the classic, Arthur Bryant’s.  The restaurant is the foundation of Kansas City barbeque. Over a thickly sliced brisket sandwich, we think of the place as The Murder in the Rue Morgue of Midwest barbeque.

    Driving northward, we called on Winterset, Iowa. Winterset is in the heart of Madison County, home of the covered bridges that served as the setting for the 1992 novel and the 1995 film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. Winterset is also home to the John Wayne Birthplace Museum. Romance, drama, gunfights, and action—the town served to get us in the proper frame of mind for elements of mystery novels.

    Just south of Minneapolis, we passed through Northfield. Serendipitously, September 7th, the day we arrived, was the 146th anniversary of the failed bank robbery by the James-Younger gang. In 1876 the raiders hit town intending to rob the First National Bank. Courageous townsfolk armed themselves and repelled the bandits. The town recognizes the street fight with “The Defeat of Jesse James Days.” As we hit town, the residents were busy blocking off streets in preparation for a celebration of regular people fighting back against the criminal element. The drive through Northfield foreshadowed the conference. 

From Thursday through Sunday, the real thing, Bouchercon 2022. We immersed ourselves in mystery and suspense. We made some new friends and got re-acquainted with old ones. After our COVID-enforced absence, we reconnected with folks we hadn’t seen in years. We listened to some stars of our craft, Craig Johnson, S. A. Cosby, and Kent Krueger, among others. Likely, we heard from others who soon will be. I appeared Friday on a panel on short story writing. Thanks to Barb Goffman, Amber Royer, Ted Fitzgerald, Mary Dutta, and Raquel Reyes for making it memorable.

    No conference is complete without making some small discoveries. I've got a couple of books. I didn't know anything about them, but the first few pages demanded I bring them home. I have notes reminding me of a couple more written by authors who blew me away as panelists. 

    Museums can do that too. I’m a big fan of pocket museums. Leaving Minneapolis, we ventured south to Austin, Minnesota, and visited the Spam Museum. Because, why not. The museum celebrates the creation, production, distribution, and quirky passion for Spam. The name probably is a portmanteau for “spiced ham,” although no one exactly knows for sure. The entire museum is a giant advertising vehicle for a canned meat product. But, it worked. We carried home a collection of TBR books and a can of jalapeno Spam in our trunk.

  The city of Omaha offers Boys Town, founded by Father Flanagan and immortalized in a movie starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. The visitor’s center features, among other things, the world’s largest ball of canceled stamps. It sits in the center of a room and draws you to it.

    An Irish priest, a collection of delinquent juveniles, and a rare object on display in the middle of an unguarded room. Who couldn't work with a set-up like that?

    Until next time.   


  1. I'm eagerly awaiting your obviously upcoming story about the potato man and spam. It was great to see you in Minneapolis. I hope to see you again at Malice Domestic next spring.

  2. When our task force operated out of a 5th floor office of a downtown bank building in Kansas City, MO, we'd send a runner with our lunch orders to Bryant's. They returned with individual orders wrapped in butcher's paper containing two slices of bread, enough meat to make two sandwiches, if you could find extra bread, BBQ sauce and pickles. Good stuff.

  3. A good friend of mine has artwork in the Spam Museum. And I would (almost) kill for a brisket BBQ from Bryant's.

  4. When I read your line about who might have written a Truman-based mystery, I cudgeled my brain, thinking hey wait, I read a couple of novels by… umm, what was her name? So obviously, I'm either an idiot or I was so hooked on your writing I didn't glance two inches to my left.

    You have way too much fun on your conference trips. I'm envious.

    BTW, Virginia/Carolinas claim a unique strain of barbecue. They noticed my look of shock when they plopped a scoop of cole slaw atop my barbecue sandwich and quickly recognized I wasn't from 'round there. I learned to ask for slaw on the side, but the default was a slaw and 'queue sammie.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>