Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mystery Fiction’s Record Keeper

I first knew him as the silent co-editor of The New Black Mask, the mid-1980s revival of the famous American Black Mask pulp magazine that flourished during the 1920s and ’30s. I say silent because when my story “There’s No Such Thing As Private Eyes” was published in NBM #4, all my correspondence was carried on with his editing partner, Richard Layman.

Later, as I began collecting first editions of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler novels, Bruce Taylor--then owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore--pointed me to the bibles for collectors of Hammett and Chandler: the descriptive bibliographies edited by this man.

As I delved deeper into the world of hard-boiled fiction, I discovered more volumes on writers such as Chandler and Ross MacDonald edited by him, including the fascinating Chandler Before Marlowe.

And then, in my late 30s, when I finally read the novel the Modern Library determined to be the second best in the English language--The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald--I found his preface and notes accompanying the authorized text. I went on to read a great more of and about Fitzgerald, discovering that this man had written one of the standard biographies of Fitzgerald, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, and had edited the Cambridge Edition of The Love of the Last Tycoon, undoing many of the good-intentioned but misguided changes of Edmund Wilson and restoring the text to a form that better approximated Fitzgerald’s intentions.

The man I’m talking about is Matthew J. Bruccoli, who he died at his home in Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday of glioma, a tumor of the brain stem. He was 76. Bruccoli (pronounced BROOK-uhly) will be remembered for many things. To quote the New York Times obit:
In addition to his voluminous work on Fitzgerald and Hemingway, he wrote biographies of John O’Hara, James Gould Cozzens and Ross Macdonald, compiled descriptive bibliographies of several authors and edited the letters and notebooks of many others, including Vladimir Nabokov, whose literature courses he took at Cornell.
But the mystery fiction world--and in particular the hard-boiled mystery fiction world--has lost a great friend and scholar.

READ MORE:The Great Bruccoli,” by Rachel Donadio (Paper Cuts/The New York Times).

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