Monday, January 11, 2021

The Last of Lutz

I’m sorry to have to report this morning that St. Louis, Missouri, crime, mystery, and suspense writer John Lutz—known especially for his Alo Nudger and Fred Carver private-eye series—has died at age 81. According to Wikipedia, he passed away on January 9.

John Thomas Lutz was born in Dallas, Texas, on September 11, 1939. As Francis M. Nevins explained in Cornucopia of Crime: Memories and Summations (2010), Lutz was 4 years old when he moved with his tavern-owning father and their family to St. Louis. He graduated from high school in 1957, became a movie theater usher, and married fellow theater employee Barbara Jean Bradley at age 19. He subsequently labored as a forklift operator and a warehouseman, and signed on for night shifts as a civilian switchboard operator at the St. Louis Police Department. Lutz also became an insatiable reader, poring through novels by Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Roald Dahl, and others, all the while gaining confidence that he could take up a writer’s career himself. After collecting many rejection slips, in 1966 he sold his first story, “Thieves’ Honor,” to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Hundreds of short stories spilled from Lutz’s imagination in the decades since, along with dozens of novels, among them SWF Seeks Same (1990), which was adapted into the 1992 Bridget Fonda/Jennifer Jason Leigh film, Single White Female. If I’m not mistaken, his most recent novel was The Havana Game (2019), the second of his books starring clandestine operative Thomas Laker. (It was preceded by 2018's Honorable Traitors.) He also composed more than half a dozen books about Frank Quinn, an ex-homicide detective with the New York City Police Department, who’s become a freelance criminal profiler specializing in the apprehension of serial killers.

I first discovered Lutz’s fiction when I read Tropical Heat (1986), the initial entry in his 10-book Carver series. Over the years, I have enjoyed other Carver tales, plus a few Nudgers and several of his standalones, including The Eye, the 1984 serial-killer yarn he penned in tandem with Bill Pronzini. Lutz was a past president of the Mystery Writers of America as well as the Private Eye Writers of America. His prolificacy and storytelling skills were well recognized. Along with Edgar and Shamus awards, in 1995 Lutz and Robert B. Parker were both given lifetime achievement awards by the Private Eye Writers of America. And in 2001, Lutz received the Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

In his blog, Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine editor George Easter recalls Lutz as “a quiet, but distinguished presence at several Bouchercons.” Judging by my own single, unexpected encounter with Lutz and his wife, remembered here (scroll down to locate the item), I can do naught but agree. John Lutz was a fine writer and, it seems, a fine man. He deserved many more years among us.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

FOLLOW-UP: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a bit more on the circumstances surrounding Lutz’s demise. It reports: “John Lutz, dean of St. Louis crime writers as author of more than 50 books, died Saturday (Jan. 9, 2021) after living for years with Lewy body dementia and a recent diagnosis of COVID-19. He was 81. Mr. Lutz died in a nursing facility in Chesterfield [a St. Louis suburb], said his wife, Barbara. Although his last coronavirus test was negative, he spiked a fever the day he died, she said.”

READ MORE:Sarasota Resident John Lutz, Author of Single White Female, Dies at 81,” by Jay Handelman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune).


John said...

Sad news. A very good -- and prolific -- writer. I always looked forward to reading one of his stories.

clerk2 said...

Some of his books are so good you can re-read them and savor them again. His short stories are very clever. And I will always treasure the stories with Nudger and Fred Carver.

My condolences to his friends and family.