Friday, December 15, 2017

Richard Moore on Bill Crider and his Truman Smith novels and crime-fiction fandom

On Bill Crider:
Richard Moore, James Reasoner, Bill Crider
I first got to know Bill Crider in an Amateur Press Association (APA) for mystery fans called Elementary My Dear APA or DAPA-EM. Long before the internet and blogs, groups of fans would do individual “zines” and mail their pages to the Official Editor who would bind them together and send them back out to the members. We were limited to 35 members and the mailings were every other month. As every member would usually comment on each zine, it became 35 individual conversations with weeks of lagtime. We were in DAPA-EM for more than three decades and Bill and I are still in a western APA, Owlhoot.

Decades of mailings become incredibly bulky. Bill has sent all of his to Texas A&M and as a running record of mystery fandom, they certainly have value. Bill began as a fan—when we met, he had one Nick Carter novel credit before finding his voice in mystery, western, horror and other fiction. And Bill does have a distinctive voice—all the great writers do.

It was at conventions that we met in person and over three and a half decades at Bouchercons and regional mystery conventions as well as a few science fiction cons such as ArmadilloCon in Austin. we’d attend panels, roam the dealer’s rooms, stand in line to get favorites to sign books, explore the cities and meet at night to share stories. Bill has one of the great book and paperback collections. I remember standing with him in line at a Bourchercon to get Evan Hunter to sign a few books. He groaned when he saw I had Hunter’s elusive first novel The Evil Sleep (Falcon Books 1952). It was one of the few he didn’t have (he later found a copy).

Bill loved the old paperback original writers such as Harry Whittington, Marv Albert, Peter Rabe. Bill and I always attended the occasional convention appearances of old pulp writers and editors such as Stephen Marlowe (Milton Lesser), Howard Browne, William Campbell Gault and Dwight V. Swain. If I have favorite memories from the dozens of conventions where we gathered they would be the trips to Austin, Texas where Bill and Judy would lead us to some great Tex-Mex food, and then going booking with Crider and Joe Lansdale.

I don’t know about this heaven thing but if I could draw one up it would include a convention with a stocked dealer’s room and a roomy suite with all the old departed gang present: including Barry Gardner, Graeme Flanagan, Bob Briney, Noreen Shaw, Hal Rice, Stan Burns, and with dear Ellen Nehr bellowing at me in a tone worthy of a Wodehouse aunt.

On his Truman Smith novels:

Bill Crider in an afterword to one of his Truman Smith novels wrote: “When I was a child, I thought Galveston was one of the most romantic places in Texas. Many years later, I still do.” That nostalgic atmosphere and love of place runs throughout the series, which was launched in 1991 with Dead on the Island. In that time the glory that was Galveston had faded from the days when it was a wide-open town with gambling, brothels, and nightclubs attracting major acts.
A crusading DA in the late 1950s led a crackdown that closed the dens of iniquity and dumped all the slot machines into the bay. After long decay, some renovations are underway in the historic district during the time in which these novels are set. Today the old Hotel Galvez, built in 1911, has been modernized into a showplace and they still have the Dickens festival in December with various Tiny Tims and Scrooges parading along the Strand.
Truman Smith was a star running back for his Galveston high school and his friend Dino was a linebacker on the same team. Truman ended up at the University of Texas and in his sophomore year blossomed into a major threat. Dino went to Texas Tech was a defensive star.  When the two teams met, a blindside tackle by Dino ended Truman’s football career.
Truman ends up as a private investigator in Dallas but is drawn back to the island to search for his sister who has disappeared.  Despite all his exhaustive work trying to locate her or learn her fate, he fails.   His old friend Dino provides an old house to live in and he scratches out a living taking house painting jobs.  In the opening novel, Dino asks him to locate a different missing girl.  Very reluctantly, Truman takes the case.  
Through the course of this novel (and others in the series), he has to dig through a lot of family histories and Galveston’s past.  In rereading the series, I was reminded of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels where so many stories involve hidden family secrets.  
Perhaps influenced by Bill's life-long love of private eye novels, Truman Smith is a more robust figure than Sheriff Rhodes, Carl Burns or other Crider mystery heroes. Although still hampered by his balky knee, Truman can hold his own in a barroom brawl and he has a pistol and will shoot someone if he has to. I like the cast of secondary characters such as Miss Sally, the ancient old lady who sips Mogen David wine and knows all the gossip past and present in Galveston. I just plain love this series and all five novels are available in Kindle editions.

Text copyright 2017 by Richard Moore. For more considerations of Bill and his work, please see Patti Abbott's blog...


Anonymous said...

Just terrific - thanks for posting Todd.

Todd Mason said...

A bittersweet pleasure, but very glad to do it. All thanks go to Richard.

George said...

A very moving tribute to Bill Crider!

Jeff Meyerson said...

Nice one. Richard is modest about his own contributions to these get-togethers - ask anyone who has heard about his Uncle Buren, Aunt Minnie (the murderer) or Mr. Darko - but he really gets Bill the person (and writer).

Todd Mason said...

Indeed, George.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great picture of you two with James

Anonymous said...

I can only recall meeting Bill Crider once--at a Bouchercon--but wish I'd got to know him better. In person he was a pleasant person. "Comfortable" strikes me as the appropriate word. He was courteous and relaxed. We also corresponded, and read each other's books. I'm sure it didn't hurt, but he seemed to like mine, and reviewed them on occasion, in a sensitive and positive manner.
His own books reflected his nature: courteous, thoughtful,intelligent. He seemed to be rather like Tony Hillerman. His heroes were rather like him. His killers, like Tony Hillerman's, were more broken and warped individuals rather than human monsters.
He was always an ornament and an asset to our community. As long as he is with us he will continue to be a shining light.
--Dick Lupoff

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, guys!

Todd Mason said...

Jeff Meryerson's comment finally rescued from the Spam folder...why it landed there, I don't know.