Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Noting Those We’ve Lost

While our world suffers through the worsening novel coronavirus pandemic, and the United States alone accounts for almost 60,000 deaths thus far, other people are dying from causes unrelated to this viral scourge. That includes at least five people—see below—who had an influence on crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

• Various sources report that Maj Sjöwall, the Swedish author who, with partner Per Wahlöö (1926-1975), composed 10 renowned novels starring Stockholm police detective Martin Beck, died earlier today at age 84. It’s said that her demise followed a prolonged illness. Of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, the periodical Barron’s notes:
The duo also penned the series decades before the likes of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson made the genre of “Nordic Noir” into a worldwide hit.

“They broke with the previous trends in crime fiction,” Henning Mankell wrote in an introduction to the 2006 English edition of
Roseanna. His own Inspector Kurt Wallander series would owe much to Beck three decades later.

Sjowall was “the giant on whose shoulders the titans of modern Scandi crime fiction stand,” Britain’s
Daily Telegraph wrote in 2015, in a story headlined “The couple who invented Nordic Noir.”

Both committed Marxists, they went beyond crime fiction, breaking new ground by carrying out a forensic examination of the failings of Swedish society. The modern themes they tackled included paedophilia, serial killers, the sex industry and suicide.

“Through the eyes of Martin Beck and his colleagues, they held a mirror up to Swedish society at a time when the ideals
of the welfare state were beginning to buckle under the realities of everyday life,” Scottish crime writer Val McDermid wrote in the introduction to the 2006 edition of
The Man Who Went Up In Smoke.
Rap Sheet correspondent Ali Karim points me toward video of an interview Lee Child conducted with Sjöwall at CrimeFest in 2015. And it’s worth revisiting a profile The Observer did of Sjöwall back in 2009, which recounted how she and Wahlöö came to write the Beck novels, beginning with 1965’s Roseanna. (Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

• English actress Jill Gascoine perished today, too. As Deadline says, Gascoine “played the role of Detective Inspector Forbes for 56 episodes of The Gentle Touch in the early 1980s; it was the first Brit TV drama to center on a female police officer. She reprised the part for [the] spin-off series C.A.T.S. Eyes in 1985-87. Her TV work also saw roles in shows including Z-Cars, General Hospital, Home to Roost, and, after relocating to Los Angeles, the American series Northern Exposure and Touched By an Angel. On the movie side, she appeared in King of the Wind opposite Richard Harris and Glenda Jackson, and the comedy BASEketball.” Gascoine—who had suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last decade—was 83, and had been married to fellow British performer Alfred Molina since 1986. More on Gascoine’s passing is here.

• I am far from the first to mention the demise, on April 24, of Sheila Quigley, the author best known for having penned eight mystery novels set around a fictional estate in the northeast England town of Houghton-le-Spring (Run for Home, Killing Me Softly, etc.). She was 72 years old, explains ChronicleLive, a UK news site, which adds that Quigley was “taken to hospital with complications arising from a toe infection but her shocked family were told her condition had deteriorated rapidly. She was tested three times for COVID-19 but it was ruled out as the cause of her death.” Fellow fictionist Martin Edwards calls Quigley “such a vibrant personality that it is hard to believe she is no longer with us. Sheila’s life story was remarkable,” he explains in his blog. “A straight-talking former factory worker, she secured a £300K deal for her first two books when she was in her 50s, a brilliant achievement that understandably gained national attention.” ChronicleLive says Quigley was once “voted one of Britain’s most popular crime authors of all time,” and “her fictional lead detective, the no-nonsense DI Lorraine Hunt, was voted No.10 in [book retailer W.H. Smith’s] top fictional detectives poll.”

• Also taken recently was Karen Harper, the 75-year-old Ohio-born writer behind dozens of historical novels and mysteries, including nine whodunits set during the time of Elizabeth Tudor (both before and after she was Britain’s queen). In addition, Harper produced half a dozen yarns starring forensic psychologist Claire Markwood (Dark Storm, 2019) and various standalones, the most recent of which—The Queen’s Secret—was just released this month by Morrow. “Karen Harper,” observes Janet Rudolph of Mystery Fanfare, “won the Mary Higgins Clark Award [for her 2005 novel, Dark Angel]. According to author Connie Campbell Berry, Karen died recently of cancer.”

• Finally, we must acknowledge the passing of Ennis Willie, who, says Georgia’s Augusta Chronicle, “wrote 21 hardboiled crime novels between 1961 and 1965, [but] seemed to vanish after that, leading fans to speculate widely about who he really was.” According to the Facebook page Vintage Paperback & Book Covers, Ennis simply “burned out,” after the furious pace of his writing years, “started a printing business and dropped from sight. As he has said, ‘I wanted to be rich and famous, and then I got to be rich and famous … Then I decided I just wanted to be rich.” The Chronicle explains that Willie’s best-recalled protagonist was Sand, “an ex-gangster who always got the better of his adversaries, usually with a bullet.” Sand featured in such works as Sand’s War (1963), Warped Ambitions (1964), The Case of the Loaded Garter Holster (1964), and Code of Vengeance (1965), plus standalones on the order of Vice Town (1962). Willie was 80 years old at the time he breathed his last on April 22.

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