10/28/2005 
LIVING THE LITERARY LIFE 
Fairfield County Times, by Patricia D'Ascoli 
After eight days of unrelenting rain in early October, the
sun made its long awaited appear-ance on Saturday, October
15-a day that has been described as "the birth date of
great men." Of course, Evan Hunter, the individual who
frequently used this phrase in his own writing, was one of
those great men born on October 15. On the day in 2005 he
would have turned 79, however, he was instead being fondly
remembered in a memorial service held in his honor at the
New York Society of Ethical Culture in Manhattan. Hunter, a
resident of Connecticut, died on July 6, 2005 as a result of
laryn-geal cancer.

On that beautiful, sunny afternoon of October 15, when
perhaps the skies brightened instinctively in his honor,
almost 300 people gathered together to pay tribute to the
life and legacy of one of America's most prolific authors;
a writer successful in so many ways, yet most notably as
the creator of the long-running 87th Precinct Series
written under the name of Ed McBain. And even in the last
year of his life, after fighting a five-year battle with
cancer, the author con-tinued to write and managed to
publish three books.

"Fiddlers," the 55th and final book of the 87th Precinct
Series was published posthumously in September. In May,
under his own name "Let's Talk: A Story of Cancer and
Love," Hunter's poignant memoir about his battle with can-
cer and the woman who helped him recover, was released. And
in January, "Alice in Jeopardy," what was to be the first
in a new McBain series about women in jeopardy, was pub-
lished. Not bad for someone who had recently endured the
heartbreaking loss of his larynx.

But Evan Hunter was nothing less than the consummate
professional; a writer who faithfully worked at his craft
for more than fifty years, ultimately creating over 100
works that included literary novels, crime fiction, short
stories, children's books and screenplays. His level of
commitment to his art is evident in "Let's Talk" where the
author notes that even at a stage in his career when he was
obviously well established, he was concerned with the
problem that having a voice prosthesis posed - he would be
unable to conduct a reading and Q&A with his readers
following release of a new novel.

Hunter's involvement with his readers, many of whom were
self-proclaimed diehard McBain fans, was merely one facet
of the author's accessibility and engagement in his world
of words. Those who paid tribute to the bestselling author
painted a vivid picture of a man who could speak as well as
he could write; one who was known for his rapier wit,
forthrightness and ability to "nail what he wanted to say,"
in the words of fellow mystery writer, Elmore Leonard.

In spinning a half century's worth of crime fiction,
McBain made a name for himself as the master of the police
proce-dural; a genre he perfected in his 87th Precinct
Series, which made its debut with "Cop Hater" in 1956.
These were crime novels that featured a team of real life,
down to earth, on the job cops whose work took them into
the dark side of human-ity in a city that closely resembled
Hunter's own New York City. This was a scenario that came
to be more and more familiar as society's fascination with
the genre grew over the years, ultimately spawning numerous
television dramas of the "McBain type."

Ed McBain, recipient of the Mystery Writers of America
Grand Master Award, was also the first American to be
awarded the prestigious British Crime Writers Association's
Diamond Dagger. In addition to the 87th Precinct Series,
McBain wrote many other novels, including a series featur-
ing attorney Matthew Hope. The novels he wrote under the
name of Evan Hunter (which incidentally was not his birth
name, that being Salvatore Lombino, a name he legally dis-
continued using in 1952) were of a different class
altogether. Hunter, the author of the more serious
"literary" endeavors, which included "The Blackboard
Jungle" and "Strangers When We Meet," was ultimately not as
well recognized as his crime writing alter ego, McBain.

No matter which name he used, however, it is clear that
the author was, without a doubt, one of the most
influential writ-ers of the late 20th century. In the words
of Stephen King, Evan Hunter was "the writer to
successfully merge realism with genre fiction, and by doing
so, he may actually have cre-ated the kind of popular
fiction that drove the bestseller lists and lit up the
American imagination in the years 1960-2000."

Evan Hunter's memorial service was elegant and moving and
yet oddly, it might even be called entertaining, filled as
it was with the strains of beautiful music performed by
pianist, Kathleen Landis and cellist, Fred Sherry as well
as the Fidelio String Quartet. Clearly, Hunter was a lover
of classi-cal music. And so, as images of Hunter over the
years were projected onto a large screen, the melodious
strains of Debussy, Bach and Brahms filled the auditorium
on that autumn afternoon.

The many who paid tribute to the prolific writer acknowl-
edged not only Hunter's literary prowess, but perhaps more
importantly, the characteristics that made him a genuinely
likeable and completely approachable guy; one who never
took his successes for granted or let them distance him in
any way from those who were such a vital component in the
mak-ing of the writer's well deserved reputation - his
readers.

It was only fitting then, that his widow and love of his
life Dina, along with good friend Jane Powell and publisher
Otto Penzler concluded the memorial service by reading e-
mails sent from Hunter's fans who had been entertained time
and again by reading a Hunter or a McBain novel. His works
have been enjoyed all over the world, signifying in their
universal appeal to audiences of diverse cultures that an
excellent story with an intriguing and suspenseful plot,
colorful characters, fast paced dialogue, and a sprinkling
of wry humor is satis-fying in any language.

Through the many works he leaves behind for a whole new
generation of fans to enjoy, Evan Hunter/Ed McBain has
achieved that elusive and highly coveted slice of
immortality afforded a truly great author, whose words will
continue to captivate us well into the future.

 

 
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