A celebration of one of mysterydom’s favorite writers.
Bill Crider is a man with three cats, many books, even more friends, and few regrets.
The widely published 76-year-old author informed his blog followers recently that he had been given a few months—or even weeks—to live. Prostate cancer had spread. Facing a finite number of days, at home in hospice care and surrounded by his books and his family—daughter Angela and son Allen—Crider was too ill to get out for his weekly Sunday School class. Characteristically, the prolific writer was still thinking about books, fellow writers, and readers.
“My only regret is that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block's fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins' latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand, which is a collection of two novellas, ‘A Bullet for Satisfaction,’ an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and ‘The Last Stand,’ the last thing that Spillane completed,” he wrote in his blog.
For many years, Crider also reviewed short stories for Mystery Scene magazine. “Bill is so knowledgeable about the genre and so witty in his appraisals. We were very lucky to have him as a contributor. He has many friends at the magazine,” said Mystery Scene editor Kate Stine.
Characteristically generous with his reviews and fellowship, Crider has high praise for fellow members of organizations like the Mystery Writers of America, and the smaller Western Fictioneers.
“There are so many novelists who inspired me the list would take all day ... there are literary novels I have loved, mystery, adventure, science fiction—there’s an endless list,” he said in a December 6 interview. “I’m dazzled by all of them.”
Young Billy Crider had no inkling that he would grow up to be an author. His Mexia, Texas boyhood dream (and that of many of his peers) was to to find gold on the diamond as a major league ball player.
“I turned out to be half blind, totally uncoordinated, skinny and slow—none of which are highly sought qualities in a baseball player,” Crider recalled with a smile. Instead he got an undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and then a master’s at the University of North Texas, and a PhD from UT-Austin. All the degrees were in English. (“There’s a pattern there,” he admits with his trademark dry wit.)
Crider taught first at Corsicana High School while his wife Judy finished her college, then at Howard Payne University and finally, 19 years at Alvin Community College, where he was chair of the English department and chair of arts and humanities.
Doing poetry in a writers’ group at Howard Payne, the idea of fiction came up.
“A man at the group didn’t write, but he told me that he thought that he thought he and I could write a novel. He wanted us to write a Nick Carter spy novel,” he recalled. That collaboration, The Coyote Connection, was the first novel he sold. He started his first Sheriff Dan Rhodes novel, with an eye to making it a short story. “It got to be over 50 pages, and I thought, ‘That’s not short!’” Crider recalled.
Editor Ruth Cavin from Walker Books came to an MWA meeting in Houston, asked to see it, and published Too Late to Die in 1986. It won an Anthony Award for Best First Novel.
A string of successes—many of them collaborations—followed. Between those written in his name, a pen name, and house names he really has no firm numbers. More than 100, probably. That kind of literary longevity simply comes from doing what works and long repetition, Crider said. His advice for would-be writers?
“The only advice I know is the same old advice: read, read, read, write, write, write,” he said.
Still mourning his wife Judy after her death from cancer in 2014, Crider found himself writing another chapter, in the form of an unexpected find in a drainage ditch across from his house. Returning to his Alvin, Texas home after a jog in 2016, he saw a tiny kitten wrapped in a dirty old towel. He picked the gray-striped tabby up and brought her in. “What else could I do? Besides, everybody needs a cat. We were quite happy together,” he said.
And then, a plot twist.
“The next day I looked out the window and there were two more cats,” he remembered.
“I hoped they were squirrels, is what I hoped.” Chagrined but not daunted, Crider was worried about what would happen if he didn’t take them all in. So from three superfluous kittens, a new family sprang up with Bill Crider as the pater familias. He dubbed them Keanu, Gilligan, and Li’l Ginger Tom.
Frustrating as only kittens can be, the tiny trio were hard to wrangle. “They were all over everything and into everything, running around and tearing things up,” Crider remembered. Collectively, they were the Very Bad Kitties, or VBKs, for short.
The biggest surprise, however, was how the furry trio dominated Crider’s Facebook page. They soon eclipsed his other posts from Today’s Vintage Ad, PaperBack, and Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine.
“I put up pictures of things and I’d get six or seven likes, or maybe 20 likes. I put up the first picture of the VBKs, and had something like 1,500 likes the first day,” he recalled.
People adored the three photogenic, naughty-but-nice orphans. Draped over his knees. Synchronized lounging on cat platforms. Poised in boxes. Napping on window sills. (Napping everywhere.) Posters would make up captions, and guess at what the kitties were “saying” as Crider snapped their candid shots.
“You can certainly follow the growth of those cats—I should have given them their own Facebook page,” he said. Around the one year mark, the mature cats grew up and settled down. Although they didn’t fit conveniently in his lap any more, the photo ops continued. Crider said he’s had a few folks say the VBKs inspired them to adopt a cat. The more of that the better, he said.
“I’m a cat fan, and if a cat’s an orphan and he needs adopted, I say go ahead. I grew up with dogs, and I would recommend that, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat or dog or a wombat—pets are just wonderful companions,” he said.
“It’s definitely changed my life.”
With her father’s illness, daughter Angela Crider Neary has undertaken securing a future for the VBKs. She credits the three felines for helping her dad find new meaning after her mother died in 2014. “I think he probably never would have gotten over that. They’ve helped him and kept him company. I think it was a good thing. A lot of people say my mom sent them to him. She would have loved them, herself,” she said. “He’s very lucky to have had them, and they’re very lucky to have had him.”
A WRITING LEGACY
The apple hasn’t fallen far from the literary tree. Neary said her father’s pride in her writing was never more visible than when the attorney and author sold a story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which numbers her father among its distinguished contributors.
There’s been an outpouring of appreciation for Crider since word of his grim prognosis spread, Neary said. “Everybody hates to lose him, especially me. It’s nice to see how much respect and admiration there is for him out there,” she said.
Among Crider’s many long-time industry friends, novelist and screenwriter Lee Goldberg said Crider is one of the most knowledgeable writers he knows.
“He informs his opinions with so much knowledge and actual experience, he’s really unique. The man has written western novels, crime novels, horror—that’s not easy. For all I know, he’s written science fiction and romance.”
The two worked together on several projects. He loved Crider’s Outrage at Blanco and Texas Vigilante, and a Lee Goldberg screen adaptation came close to full funding before an investor fell out. He’d still like to see it made into a film. When Goldberg launched Brash Books, Crider was one of his first calls for recommendations
“Eighty percent of our titles are re-releases of great novels fallen out of print. Who better to advise me than Bill Crider?
“He has schooled me in mystery fiction and Western fiction for quite some time.”
On the way to Bouchercon in New Orleans in 2016, Goldberg decided to drop in and see his old friend at his home near Houston. “It’s more of a balance between a home and a book depository,” Goldberg said. “You feel his love of books right away.”
And then there’s Crider’s universal likability.
“I would call it a ‘mission impossible’ to find anyone to say a harsh word about Bill Crider. Even somebody who disagrees with him will begin by saying they love and admire him,” Goldberg said.
The courage with which Bill Crider supported his wife through her battle with cancer—and with which he faces his own approaching death—exemplifies grace under the severest of all pressures, his long-time friend said.
“He is giving us a great lesson,” Goldberg said.
As he closes life’s book, Bill Crider’s regrets are very few, mostly literary in nature.
“It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I'll never read. But I've had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it. Much love to you all,” he blogged.
Asked for parting wisdom, he shared life advice he seems to have lived by.
“Take it as it comes,” he said. “Take it as it comes.”
Jacqueline Carmichael is an American-Canadian writer based on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
I’ve been binging a lot lately on British mystery series that are just now being made available to U.S. audiences.
These series are distributed by Acorn with DVD and Blu-ray sets available from select retailers and catalogs, and direct from Acorn at (888) 870-8047 or AcornOnline.com. Each offering has extra features, interviews, etc.
Here’s a few that I highly recommend. And, with the holidays coming up, these make great presents.
THE FALL: The Fall is without a doubt one of the best psychological thrillers around. The plots are intense and the characterizations delve deep into the myriad motives of the characters.
Set in Belfast, The Fall revolves around Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, played by Gillian Anderson (yes, of X-Files fame), and serial killer Paul Spector, played by Jamie Dornan (yep, that Fifty Shades of Grey guy).
Gibson knows that Spector is a serial killer, but has not been able to bring him to justice. Plus, who would believe that a serial killer could be a grief counselor and family man as Spector is. Gibson has been accumulating evidence against Spector, but is thwarted by her superiors and his defense team, who accuse her of an inappropriate relationship with him.
MIDSOMER MURDERS, JOHN BARNABY’S FIRST CASES: Who doesn’t love the highly entertaining Midsomer Murders? This collection offers all you need to know about the cozy villages of Midsomer County, and includes Series 14, the first complete series starring Neil Dudgeon as DCI John Barnaby, and Series 15, the last season with Jason Hughes as DS Ben Jones.
Through the years, many guest stars have appeared in Midsomer Murders, including Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey), Edward Fox (Gandhi), James Callis (Battlestar Galactica), Sinéad Cusack (Marcella), Martine McCutcheon (Love Actually, EastEnders), Kate Ashfield (Shaun of the Dead), Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey), and Harriet Walter (The Crown).
MARCELLA, Series 1: This new crime series follows Detective Sergeant Marcella Backland (Anna Friel), who leaves her job on the police force for her family, only to have her husband leave her. Returning to the murder squad of the London Metropolitan Police, she begins investigating one of her old cases—a serial murderer known as the Grove Park Killer seems to have resurfaced. Marcella finds it difficult to juggle her work and fragile state of mind because of her divorce.
GEORGE GENTLY: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION: This collection will be available December 12, just in time for the holidays. Based on the novels of Alan Hunter, George Gently captures the mid-1960s and the changing times. Tony nominee Martin Shaw stars as Inspector George Gently, an incorruptible cop transplanted from London to Northumberland. He’s assisted by Detective Inspector John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) and Detective Sergeant Rachel Coles (Lisa McGrillis), who help George navigate the ‘60s.
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS: Just forget about that new version out with Kenneth Branagh. While I prefer the 1974 version, this 2010 made-for-television movie is pretty good. That’s because David Suchet knows how Hercule Poirot should be played. The all-star cast include Toby Jones (Tru), Eileen Atkins (Doc Martin), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), David Morrrissey (The Walking Dead), Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty), and Barbara Hershey (Hannah and Her Sisters).