Monday, February 28, 2022

A Busy Life, a Tranquil Passing

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have learned that Canadian novelist J. Robert Janes, the much-admired author of World War II-era mysteries starring Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr of France’s Sûreté and Detektiv Inspektor Hermann Kohler of the Nazi Gestapo, died this morning at his home in southern Ontario. He was 86 years old.

His wife, Gracia, kindly sent me an e-mail message explaining that her husband of 65 years had “passed away … peacefully after a 2-year struggle with [congenital heart failure] and cancer.”

I first encountered the work of Joseph Robert “Bob” Janes, a Toronto-born former field geologist and petroleum engineer, in the late 1990s or early aughts. It was at a time when Philip Kerr, whose Bernie Gunther novels I’d so relished, had backed away from that series (only temporarily, as it turned out), and I was looking for more crime fiction set in Europe during the tumultuous early 1940s. I believe I began with his fourth St Cyr/Kohler book, Salamander (1994), but then moved on to Janes’ more recent entries in the series, Madrigal (1999), Beekeeper (2001), and Flykiller (2002).

A full decade went by before Janes’ 13th St Cyr/Kohler novel, Bellringer, saw print. I was so excited by the author’s return to work on that series, I tracked him down through his publisher for an online interview. The results appeared partly in Kirkus Reviews and partly in The Rap Sheet. This led to a periodic correspondence that culminated in our first and (sadly) only face-to-face meeting, at the 2014 Bouchercon convention in Long Beach, California.

After not hearing from Janes for some while, I wrote him a year ago to check on his status. He reported that he’d been confined to a wheelchair and had “totally retired” from penning fiction, though he remained an avid reader, “and that kind of keeps me going.” Given all I knew, Gracia’s report of her husband’s demise—three months shy of his 87th birthday, on May 23—didn’t surprise me, but I was touched by her mention that Janes had “very much appreciated your [Rap Sheet] write up last year, and kept it with him even in the hospital.”

I consider myself blessed to have met and exchanged missives with this quiet, kind, and generous author I so admired, and am glad also that I still have three or four of Bob Janes’ novels I haven’t yet cracked open. I’d been hoping for more, of course, but the fact that such an abundance—including 16 St Cyr/Kohler yarns—already exists is testament to the welcoming breadth of modern crime fiction. I hope that many new readers will discover Janes’ work in the future with the same joy and enthusiasm I have long experienced.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

You made a huge impact on him. Clearly. I am so sorry for your loss. Cancer is such an evil beast.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wonderful books.

TracyK said...

I agree. I remember your articles on this author and his books. I read several of the books in the series and and admired his work. I still have some on my TBR. Thanks for letting us know.

Steele Curry said...

Your support of Bob's writings meant a lot to him. For many years, Bob was a close and dear friend of mine. I had signed copies of all of his fiction plus the manuscript of Timeweaver which he sent to me. These are now with the University of Calgary's special book collections as part of my recently donated mystery collection. I will miss Bob hugely.

Terry Zobeck said...

I met Bob Janes about 20 years ago at a Bouchercon. I greatly admired his books. We exchanged several emails over the years and met up at several subsequent Bouchercons. The last time was 2017 in Toronto where I enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch with Bob and Steele Curry. I've long had an interest in World War II and Bob's fictional account of a Paris policeman working alongside a German policeman in occupied France were wonderfully accurate and evocative. I'll miss Bob.