The quick answer: because it’s almost the perfect setting for a mystery.
A trade show is a cross between a three-ring circus and Christmas Eve at K-mart. Okay, so actually it’s an event where a large group of vendors of a particular product category get together to display their product lines to retail buyers, the trade press, and other dealers. They’re usually huge affairs, held in large convention centers or merchandise marts, often over a long weekend. These are important events for the exhibiting vendors because those retail buyers don’t go shopping very often, so when they do they tend to buy product in enormous quantitites.
Many product manufacturers make the bulk of their sales at a show or soon after. There are only a few of them a year in any given industry and they may be the only opportunity the vendor has to impress buyers. Exhibitors drag out every trick in their arsenal to be sure that buyers will come by their booth and be impressed by their products. They’ll erect elaborate and eye-catching booths, display their products with as much panache as possible, serve fabulous food and drink, give away lots of trinkets bearing their logo, have contests for bigger prizes, set up huge video displays, and even sponsor live shows. Just about any gimmick you can think of to attract attention has been done.
The very first time I attended a trade show, I was struck by how so many of elements were in place for a terrific mystery story. The stakes are high for most of the attendees, since their business success or failure can ride on it, adrenalin runs high, the time is short, and the interaction with others heavy and charged.
In the exhibitors, you have a group of people who know each other, who may be friends, competitors, bitter rivals, and sometimes even lovers. They have a lot invested in the outcome of the show both financially and emotionally. They’re usually away from home, which can mean changes in their normal behavior patterns.
The show itself confines the events of the story to a single place and a short time period, since most shows are held in a single large exhibition hall over a long weekend, or sometimes a week. If you set a murder mystery at a trade show, you have built-in suspense because the time is so limited. If you don’t find the killer before the end of the show, the odds aren’t very good you’ll solve it later.
And the stories I’ve heard! Amazing things go on trade shows and not all of them are directly related to commerce. I hope to use this one in a book some day, but at one show I attended, I was told a story about the president of one company actually hiding beneath a cloth-decked table at a rival’s booth in order to eavesdrop on the deals the rival was offering their customers! On the other hand, if I put that in a book some people might complain it was too far-fetched.
None of the people, companies or events in my first trade show mystery, A GIFT FOR MURDER, are real. But they’re built from my experiences in that environment. It was a great ride writing the first one. I hope readers will find it equally fun.
Karen McCullough writes mystery, fantasy and romantic suspense. Her first in a new series of mysteries set at trade shows, A GIFT FOR MURDER, will release in January, 2011, from Five Star/Gale Group. Recent releases include a Gothic romance novella, HEART OF THE NIGHT, from Red Rose Publishing and a re-release of romantic suspense A QUESTION OF FIRE for the Kindle. She invites you to visit her website (soon-to-be-revamped) at http://www.kmccullough.com/ and her site for the trade show mysteries, http://www.marketcentermysteries.com/