“Frogs, Castles and Crime Writers” (by Jim Weikart)

Longtime treasurer of the International Association of Crime Writers, Jim Weikart is as knowledgable as anyone about that organization’s history and function. In this post, he gives us a personal perspective on the organization and what it’s meant to his own writing. A novelist whose books feature a tax accountant (as Jim is himself!) as sleuth, Jim’s short stories have appeared not only in EQMM but in our sister publication, AHMM, and elsewhere. His most recent story, “The Frog,” is featured in our current issue (May/June 2020). After reading the story and this post, perhaps you’ll be inspired to join IACW—a good resource for readers and writers alike.—Janet Hutchings

IACW Prague Congress, October 2000. Jim Weikart is third from left in the second row. Photo courtesy of Jim Weikart.

On a cold, fog-misted night in October of 2000 I found myself with my friend Kristen Bachler—publisher of the Nevada Comstock Chronical—on the Charles Bridge in Prague.  The fog, the cold, the near-midnight hour deterred citizens and tourists alike, and we were alone.  And Prague became magical as time collapsed into the fifteenth century.

Image courtesy of Jim Weikart.

This journey started with the International Association of Crime Writers (IACW, aka Asociacón Internacional de Escritores Policíacos or AIEP) congress in Prague that year—thanks to host Czech mystery writer Jan Cimicky and his colleagues.  The congress was held at a reasonable side-street hotel—a hotel that American expat and mystery writer Robert Eversz described as a good Communist-era experience. As another president, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, was being overthrown by street demonstrations in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, we elected American writer Jeremiah Healey the new president of the international IACW. We talked, drank, and visited Prague, a group of mystery-writing co-conspirators.  One night, Eversz led us to a celebratory dinner at the Knights Timplau, a restaurant that goes deep into the earth. So deep you better eat quick before the claustrophobia gets to you. When the congress ended, Kristen and I moved to the Three Ostriches Hotel—another Eversz recommendation—on the river’s castle side. It was from there that we got to the Charles Bridge alone and in the fifteenth century.

Sure, it was a fleeting moment. Remember in the book “Time and Again” when the main character Simon Morley sees the lights of New York’s Natural History Museum from the iconic Dakota apartment building? That tells him he’s moved back in time, because the intervening buildings are missing.  I didn’t have that sure physical tell, but I knew with as much certainty that  I was in the fifteenth century.

Prague’s time covers everything: magical pasts with castles, Kafka’s dead cockroachlike bug, a recent brush with a cold Communist state, an emergence into the modern world with the romanticized Velvet Revolution. How could I not attempt a character, a detective, from all these worlds? Meet Andre Havel—no relation to former Czech President Vaclav Havel—who transitioned from Communist cop to current homicide detective. Growing up during the Communist years, he went along to get along. Lucky for him, he kept his job after the Velvet Revolution toppled the Commies. He balances the cold logic and illogic of murder up against the magic of Prague. Andre is featured in my story “The Frog,” in the EQMM current issue (Does a detective turn into a prince if you kiss him?), and earlier in “The Samsa File,” AHMM, September 2013.

The IACW annual meetings moved on: Vienna, Barcelona, Daum (Germany), Amsterdam, Berlin, Reykjavik, Varna (Bulgaria), Bucharest, Oxford, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Frontenac (France), Frankfurt, Hillesheim (Germany), other places.  Formed in Havana in the eighties, IACW attempted to help crime writers bridge borders in a time of suppression. As the internet prospered, the first reason for being faded and it gradually has become an organization debating a purpose in the internet age. My own view is that an organization of international crime writers debating the purpose of their organization is reason enough. In this age of the decaying value of the written word, difficulties in finding publication in other languages,  the continued lack of recognition of women writers, and the closing of borders, there must be value in such an organization.

Oh, and there’s the other value of these meetings: one might end up on an ancient bridge on a cold, misty night, alone.  I promise you I will go back to the Charles Bridge where, like Simon Morley, I will truly find myself immersed deep in the past. I expect to encounter an aged Lancelot hopelessly questing for the Holy Grail after the death of Arthur and the loss of Guinevere. I also expect to find Detective Andre Havel trying to bring his logical perspective to pushing Lancelot off his horse and back into the past. I’ll keep you posted. Or let me know and I’ll meet you there.

The IACW website is crimewritersna.org.  North American writers, editors,  and journalists in crime writing are welcome to join.

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