Remembering Three Giants of Crime Fiction

From time to time I reflect on the number of famous, not so famous, and fantastic writers I’ve been privileged to meet over the years. Some I met when they promoted their first book, and have either dropped from publishing sight, or become bestsellers, or the between–the midlist author who continues to be published and sell, just not well enough to be included on the NY Times list. Years have passed since I last worked at A&E, and with time, many authors have also passed away.

Evan Hunter,  better known as Ed McBain, is a giant in the crime fiction field. His 87th Precinct novels spanned decades and brought him much fame. He is considered the originator and king of the American police procedural, a style many have adapted, but none done as well as the master. His novel Blackboard Jungle, under Evan Hunter brought his first acclaim, and was made into a successful movie. In the film world, he is best known as the screenwriter of Alfred Hitchcock’s terrifying film, The Birds. I have Mr. Hunter to blame for my dislike of seeing birds perched on wires, and I believe at one point I told him so. I think he was pleased. By the time I was responsible for smoothly running his yearly signing, he was considered an icon. I didn’t need to go through a publicist with Mr. Hunter to book him.  He was very close friends with the owner,  and  was easy to  contact. His signing was a time for the two men to get together in the owner’s back library with drinks and conversation, with me scurrying in and out with piles of books.  Hundreds of copies would be signed, the book club at the store had mail orders from all over the country for his work. He was a dapper, rather slight man, with a friendly smile and a slightly politically incorrect manner around members of the opposite sex, when in the store. But then, so did the owner, it was sort of a boy’s club for a couple of hours. A debonair man, with a hint of rouge, about him, he was always professional, kind, and ready to do his best in helping me get his books in and out of the store for sales. My contact with him wasn’t as personal as with some other authors, his standing within the crime fiction community, and his friendship with my boss, tended to make me a bit less, gregarious which I’m sure he appreciated, lol.  My memories of him remain as a soft-spoken, strong presence and know he is greatly missed by the reading public.

For a great obituary by Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review–click here

Another very fast friend with the owner, in fact he helped create the physical store, bookcases etc, Donald Westlake was a bit more approachable, He was  looser,  jocular, always friendly, easy to deal with, fun to talk to. Mr. Westlake was an incredibly prolific writer, and had many pens names which later were narrowed to his own and Rickard Stark. He wrote of a hapless burgler  John Dortmunder, under his own name, and of a dead serious criminal only known by his surname, Parker, under Richard Stark. He was the Mystery Writers Of America’s Grand Master in 1993, nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for the Drifters, and had several of his own books turned into films.

My personal time with Mr. Westlake was usually abbreviated, he too would hang out with the owner, what sticks out in my mind is his enjoyment of life and its quirks and oddities. He was much beloved within the writer’s community and all were shocked when he suddenly passed away.  For a wonderful look at the man and his life:

 I couldn’t believe I was going to meet the famous Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser novels that spawned the TV show starring Robert Urich. I had read almost all of Spenser, enjoying them all, and regarded Parker as the individual that revived the hard-boiled PI genre. Boston, was just as much a character in the series as Hawk or Susan were, his amoral sidekick, and long time girlfriend. The books were clean, fast  prose, crisp and wonderfully written. He was another larger than life author who stayed in the back library while he signed, enjoying the privacy either with the owner, or just myself and the other elf that carried the hundreds of books to and fro. I was in awe, and nervous when I asked him to inscribe a book to me, which I often did when an author I respected or knew or just plain liked came in. He was a big man, in stature and heart, I believe, and was quietly amused at my timidity regarding himself. His signature no longer looked like writing. After decades of this activity, the scrawl looked like a bunch of lines wrapped in a circle, meant to be a P. I can’t remember what he wrote,  but I know I was happy just to have it and told him so. He had a strong natural masculine aura. I felt he resembled his own character, Spenser probably a lot more than he ever admitted. When he passed away, I was shocked, much more than when McBain or Westlake died. I believed someone as robust as Parker would never die, I suppose. He went at the writing desk, doing what he loved best. If one must go, and unfortunately, we all must, I guess this is probably one of the best ways. Parker’s work will live on in new fans for generations to come.

Another wonderful obit:

 Or this one–has some quotes from fellow authors





2 thoughts on “Remembering Three Giants of Crime Fiction”

  1. Great article, Diane, thanks! I didn’t know Westlake had any pen names, now I’ll look for those books. And, by the way, your life has certainly been very interesting, and your stories are very entertaining and well-told!

  2. Thanks Nancy, you’re kind, lol. I struggled for days with this one article, I have no idea why, and when it was finally finished, thought it was just awful! But, hopefully, it’s just me who is off. LOL.
    I do have better recollections and stories of other authors, but these three had passed away relatively recently, and I wanted to pay homage.

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