(Left) Ed Gorman with his wife, Carol.
Edward Joseph Gorman Jr.’s résumé is both extensive and downright impressive. He started his career scratching out advertising copy, later labored in public relations and penned political speeches. But in his mid-40s, he witnessed the publication of the first of what would eventually be his many novels, a book called Rough Cut, which introduced a Midwestern private eye named Jack Dwyer. He went on to release five more Dwyer books, as well as series featuring Sam McCain (Riders on the Storm), a small-town investigating attorney in 1950s Iowa, and political consultant-troubleshooter Dev Conrad (Elimination). Gorman always considered himself a genre writer, but he didn’t stick to one genre, instead concocting Westerns (some of which featured “aging bounty hunter” Leo Guild), and other fiction in the fields of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.
Author James Reasoner observes, “Ed was one of those guys who could write just about anything. His mystery novels and standalone thrillers were all top-notch. He could do excellent ‘house-name’ books, although he preferred working on his own stuff, and who can blame him for that. But for my money, his best novels are his Westerns. Intricately plotted, tinged with melancholy, full of painfully sharp observations about the human condition. … We might as well just go ahead and say that Ed Gorman was the best author of Western noir of all time.”
With fellow writer Martin H. Greenberg, Gorman edited a variety of short-story anthologies, including several dedicated to “cat crimes,” and during the opening decade of the 21st century he assembled collections of what were deemed The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories. Together with author Robert J. Randisi, Gorman created Mystery Scene magazine in 1985, and for many years contributed a regular “Gormania” column to that periodical. From 2008 to 2009 he served as president of the Private Eye Writers of America. Along the way he received the Shamus Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Spur Award, and The Eye, the PWA’s lifetime achievement award.
I can’t say for sure whether it’s a complete account of his literary production (Gorman himself wasn’t sure how many novels he’d penned—somewhere between 70 and 100), but the online resource Stop, You’re Killing Me! offers this listing of his book credits. The Thrilling Detective Web Site’s record of his work features Gorman’s numerous short stories. Meanwhile, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) says three of his yarns were adapted to film.
Like so many of the people eulogizing Gorman today, I never had the chance to meet that author, editor, anthologist, and supporter of so many other hopeful wordsmiths. My association with him came primarily through The Rap Sheet, which he was kind enough to applaud both in print and in private e-mail messages to me. In the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine he said ofthis blog: “Part pure journalism, part critique, and part just plain fun, The Rap Sheet is a tribute to the intelligence and wit of a single person. Pierce gives opinionating a good name.” He was equally supportive of my paperback-art site, Killer Covers, writing at one point: “I want to thank you sincerely for all your eminently readable and fascinating scholarship visited on both forgotten writers and cover artists. Honest to God, Jeff, when you finally put this material in a book it will become a staple for generations to come. I ain’t just woofin’, either.”
It always felt good to have such an authority on the crime-fiction genre looking over my shoulder, even when I wasn’t always aware of it, gently encouraging my explorations of the field and its numerous contributors. Sometimes his praise made me laugh, as when he commented on the abundance of my blog posts: “I honestly don’t know how you do it unless you’re secretly Larry Block’s character who never sleeps.” Other times he was capable of raising a blush upon my cheeks, as when—in response to a piece I composed about Los Angeles critic Tom Nolan and his work on last year’s compilation of Ross Macdonald’s early novels—he commented: “This is [a] major piece on Ross Macdonald with the man who wrote the definitive book on his life and his work. I hope this appears in the front of your someday Collected Pieces, which will certainly win the Edgar.”
Gorman’s generosity extended beyond the occasional thumbs-up, however. In 2009, he kindly promoted my modest contributions to the reading public’s understanding of crime fiction by interviewing me for his “Gormania” column. In 2013, I tried to return the favor by interviewing him at considerably greater length, part of our exchange appearing in my Kirkus Reviews column, the remainder finding a home in The Rap Sheet. Not long after that, I e-mailed him, asking which of his many novels he thought were the best. About a week later, a package arrived on my doorstep, filled with Ed Gorman books, all personally inscribed, among them a hardcover copy of The Autumn Dead (1987), and paperback editions of Blood Moon (1994), The Midnight Room (2009), and Death Ground (1988, which he described as being “my favorite of my Westerns”).
Among today’s landslide of online tributes to Gorman, I most like Bill Crider’s obit, which reads like the work of an unabashed fan.
He leaves behind a great literary legacy. I hardly know which titles to recommend to you. Just about anything has sharp writing, empathetic characters, and a deep compassion for flawed people. Sometimes, as in the western werewolf novel, Wolf Moon, he pulls off something you’d think nobody could. His series of Sam McCain mysteries is a wonderful portrayal of an era of the recent American past. If you’ve never read one of his books [before] this week, honor his memory by giving one a try. Just about anything you pick up will reward you.So this is the first weekend in a changed world, the first weekend A.E. (After Ed), the first weekend I live with his gentle, encouraging voice silenced. Despite the fact that I have myriad newer novels to read and review, I have just cracked open my copy of The Autumn Dead. Reading it again seems like a small way of paying Gorman back for all he’s done for crime fiction, and for me. But, humble man that he was, I know he would enjoy the gesture.
READ MORE: “Ed Gorman, 1941-2016,” by Todd Mason (Sweet Freedom); “Ed Gorman Passes,” by Jon Jordan (Crimespree Magazine); “R.I.P., Ed Gorman,” by Sandra Seamans (My Little Corner); “Ed Gorman,” by Patricia Abbott (Pattinase); “R.I.P., Ed Gorman,” by Jake Hinkson (The Night Editor); “A Giant in the Field Has Left Us: Ed Gorman (1941-2016),” by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File); “Riders on the Storm: Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain Novels,” by Tom Nolan (Mystery Scene); “Prolific Ed Gorman Continues Writing While Battling Cancer,” by Dale Jones (The Gazette).