On February 12, 2018, Bill Crider, someone who wore nearly every hat in the mystery field—author, critic, columnist, reviewer—died in Alvin, Texas, after an eighteen-month battle with cancer.
I’ve known Bill since 1990, when I bought the first book in his Truman Smith series (a book that went on to be nominated for the Shamus Award for best first P.I. novel) for the mystery line at Walker Books. When you consider Bill’s incredible output—a half-dozen different mystery series (comprising more than forty books), plus at least sixteen standalones in genres outside the mystery, from horror to western to adventure, and five children’s books—what stands out like a beacon is his modesty about it all. In a world in which self-promotion has become not only the norm but a necessity, I don’t think I ever heard Bill, a multiple Anthony Award winner, offer an unsolicited word about his own work. He knew about everyone else’s work, though; he was a superfan, with one of the largest collections of mystery and crime fiction that’s ever come to my attention. That’s what made him a perfect fit for our Blog Bytes department, which attempts to bring focus to the crowded universe of crime-fiction blogs and websites: Even before he took over that column from Ed Gorman in 2007, Bill was in the habit of scouring websites and blogs for every bit of information he could find about mystery books and authors, old and new. He knew the genre from every angle, having written his doctoral dissertation on the hardboiled detective novel (which launched his career as a college professor) and later trying his hand successfully at every subgenre of the mystery, from his Sheriff Dan Rhodes whodunits to his Truman Smith P.I. novels to spy fiction to suspense.
Bill Crider’s work has been so interwoven with my own career in mystery fiction that it will take time to process his absence. But it is the stalwart friendship Bill and his wife Judy (who died in 2014) provided over more than a quarter century that I will miss most—far more than his excellent columns and books and stories, though, like his many other fans, I will miss those too, especially the distinctive, laid-back humor so evident in most of his fiction.
One of my fondest memories of Bill and Judy Crider is from the early 1990s, when I attended a writer’s conference in Houston, not far from their home in Alvin, Texas. We had a free afternoon and they used it to show me around Houston, taking me to Murder by the Book, Houston’s premier mystery bookshop, where I met author Dean James for the first time, and to the Central Spy Shop, an entire store filled with surveillance devices, bulletproof vests, and every kind of James Bond-type gadget you can imagine. (I just Googled the store and it’s still in business.) After that we saw each other nearly every year at Bouchercon, meeting for meals, sightseeing in cities such as St. Louis, where, with Judy still well, we walked for miles and went up the Gateway Arch, and finally, in 2017, in Toronto, where Bill (attending with his daughter Angela, who is also a contributor to EQMM) spoke at the convention’s EQMM celebration.
Bill and Judy, and then Bill alone, have always been such an important part of what made the mystery community my community that I wonder what it’s going to be like without them. But of course, I am not alone. They will be missed and remembered with fondness and affection by countless friends, acquaintances, and fans. And as I told Bill only a few weeks ago, I think not only his memory but his writing will endure. That it will be read by ardent fans of the next generation, people who have the same kind of interest he had in searching out the voices that helped to define other times and places in the history of the genre we love.—Janet Hutchings