I allowed myself to entertain the schoolboy fantasy that some day Evan and I would become friends, and he’d dedicate a book to me.
Evan Hunter (left) with Ed McBain (right) in New York, October 6, 2000. Author photograph by Robert Clark for Candyland (2001).
In the marketplace, Ed McBain largely eclipsed Evan Hunter. I don’t know how much this may have irked Evan. He took the work under his own name more seriously, but he took the Ed McBain books seriously enough, and indeed wrote 20 of them and not a single Evan Hunter novel in the ten years between Lizzie (1984) and Criminal Conversation (1994). He never tired of writing them. (Or I of reading them; I can’t think of another series that lasted so many years, ran to so many volumes, and maintained such a consistently high level of quality.)
Still, Evan delighted in telling how he’d met Dina, the woman who would become his third wife, in a bookstore. When she learned his name, she enthused over his books. Strangers When We Meet, The Chisholms, Streets of Gold, Last Summer, Buddwing... She’d read them all, remembered all their details, and was a devoted fan.
But, he loved to point out, she knew him only as Evan Hunter. She’d never heard of Ed McBain!
Candyland seems to me Evan’s most remarkable book, and his most personal one. He billed it as a collaboration between Evan Hunter and Ed McBain, and if that strikes you as gimmicky, well, it’s nevertheless a legitimate description. Half the book tells the grim and desperate story of a compulsive sex addict who winds up accused of murder. That’s the Hunter half. The McBain portion consists of the 87th Precinct’s investigation of the case.
I’d say this was a book Evan had to write, and he may have needed to bring the twin personae of Hunter and McBain to bear on it. While he strove for discretion in his personal life, enough anecdotes circulated to make it clear that the problem of Candyland’s protagonist was shared by its author.
I’ll tell just one story, because it’s one nobody else is likely to know. I heard it from a media escort, who was discreet enough to mention no names; something else she’d said in another context allowed me to decode the story, to her considerable dismay.
But it’s too good to miss. She was escorting Evan in Denver, taking him to bookstores and interviews, and after a couple of hours he suggested that the day might best conclude with an intimate dinner at his hotel. “And I don’t want you to think that I hit on escorts,” he assured her. “I’m on the road once or twice a year, and I swear this is the first time I ever...”
She let it go, and turned him down gently. And told me how hard it had been to keep from saying, “Yeah, right. Then how come three nights ago you fed that line word for word to my stepmother in Cleveland?”
That Evan was able to address the topic of sex addiction in Candyland, and that he did so as directly and effectively as he did, suggests that he’d already addressed and dealt with it in life. The Serbian woman who knew Evan Hunter but not Ed McBain probably had something to do with that. Marriage to Dragica Dimitrijevic (whom I have known as Dina) changed him. He seemed much happier.
The change manifested itself publicly in one curious way. From the time they found each other, Evan dedicated every book he wrote to Dina. In at least one dedication, he went so far as to apologize for the repetition, saying that he knew this was getting boring, but nevertheless....
I don’t know that anyone else cared, or even noticed, but the change had an ironic impact upon me. Back in my days at Scott Meredith, when I read each of his novels as soon as it appeared, I always noted the dedication. Evan was always a very prolific writer, and each dedication was to a different individual or couple. It was remarkable, it seemed to me, not only that he could write so many books, but that he never seemed to run out of people to whom they could be dedicated.
And I allowed myself to entertain the schoolboy fantasy that some day Evan and I would become friends, and he’d dedicate a book to me.
Then I forgot about all of this, and time passed, and Evan and I became acquaintances, and over a few more years that ripened into friendship. I remembered my youthful fancy and realized that it might actually come to pass. The man was as productive as ever, and we were friends now, so it was not unreasonable to suppose that my turn as dedicatee might sooner or later arrive.
By then, of course, I’d largely grown out of caring about that sort of thing. I’d had a couple of books dedicated to me, and I was not unappreciative of that sort of thing, but I’d dedicated enough books of my own for the bloom to be off that particular rose. Still, given the unwitting role the man had played in my own personal mythology, well, to have Evan dedicate a book to me would represent some sort of triumph.