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Saturday 17 December 2016

Magna Cum Murder 2016

by Brendan Durkes

From October 28-30, crime fiction fans from across the United States and Britain converged on downtown Indianapolis, Indiana to celebrate the 22nd annual Magna Cum Murder Crime Writing Festival. Held at the Columbia Club, a prestigious, century-old social club and hotel at the center of the city, guests spent the weekend attending panels, purchasing books and chatting with their favorite authors in a uniquely intimate convention setting.

This year's Guest of Honor was Maureen Jennings, (see photograph far left)  most famous for her Murdoch mystery series, starring a police detective solving murders in Victorian Toronto. During Saturday's lunch, she was interviewed by mystery novelist and journalist Ruth Dudley Edwards (seen on the right of the photograph on the  left)  for a humorous discussion of her work, and on Friday evening, fans attended a screening of  Shipwrecked, a film adaption of hernovella addressing Detective Murdoch's origins.

The International Guest of Honor was Natasha Cooper, author of the lighthearted Willow King crime series and the more serious Trish Maguire series, starring a titular London barrister who also takes time solving murders as an amateur sleuth.  On Saturday evening, she gave a moving presentation covering her career and growth both as a writer and a woman, detailing how she moved from being someone who wrote stories about "nice women who did the right thing at great cost to themselves" to instead producing darker, more grounded works while still acknowledging the importance of gentler touches, stating that "crime fiction needs warming up with good food...or a joke."

Aside from their individual presentations, both Guests of Honor appeared in a number of panels throughout the weekend.  And what panels they were!  The weekend featured a packed schedule with themes ranging from more technical or even philosophical subjects like "Where Are We? The Importance of Setting: Place and Time" and "No Such Thing As A Happy Ending? Justice and Injustice in Mystery Fiction" to more humorous genre fair such as "I'm Not Strange, I'm Quirky- Writing Idiosyncratic Characters"or "Coffee, Cats and Cosies- Curling Up With a Comfort Read?"

The festival has been growing in leaps and bounds since it first partnered with the Bristol-based convention, CrimeFest, four years ago.  Since that time, Kathryn Kennison,  (see in the photograph far left) Magna cum Murder founder, and  CrimeFest organizers, including Donna Moore who was also in attendance at Magna this year, (see photograph below right) have managed to raise an already noteworthy conference to new heights.

While the organizer's management of the event's panels and locale have surely had an impact on the conference's growth, perhaps Magna's biggest draw is its intimate atmosphere where both writers and readers mingle throughout the weekend. 

 While some mystery conferences cordon writers off from the public except during their panel appearances, Magna cum Murder organizers understand that writers are readers too, so they're encouraged to mix with their fans throughout the weekend, between panels and even during meals.

I've attended Magna cum Murder for the past eight years and have never seen anything else quite like it.  From the setting, which could have been plucked from a cozy mystery, to the unique exchange between writers and the guests, it's always a fun, fascinating weekend and just gets better each year. I can't wait to attend next year and hope to see you there.

Photographs courtesy of Iden Ford

Brendan Durkes a 2011 graduate (in Economics) from Ball State University, has been invaluable to the success of Magna cum Murder since he began volunteering almost seven years ago. He is currently an operations administrator at Angie's List in Indianapolis.  

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