Monday, January 7, 2019

Brian Garfield: R.I.P.

Sad news. Brian Garfield: R.I.P. Garfield was 79. 
Jim Doherty wrote the following memorial:

Award-winning crime novelist Brian Garfield passed away on 29 December, in Pasadena, California. That rare combination of high productivity and excellence, his fiction was wide-ranging in its themes, settings, and plots.

He began in the western genre with novels like Trail Drive (Avalon, 1962) and Vultures in the Sun (Macmillan, 1963), and a seven novel series about a frontier lawman named Jeremy Six that he wrote under the pseudonym “Brian Wynne.” During this time, he served a term as the president of the Western Writers of America.

He never really left westerns behind and, even when he did switch to crime, his contemporary crime fiction tended to have a western flavor. His first series character in the mystery genre, for example, Arizona State Trooper Sam Watchman, was a Navajo who pursued bad guys across the broad expanses of the Southwest. Introduced in Relentless (World, 1972), in which he hunts a gang of cop-killing bank robbers into the snowbound wilderness of northern Arizona, Watchman returned for one encore in The Threepersons Hunt (Evans, 1974), a whodunit set on an Apache reservation. Relentless was made into a top-flight TV-movie, first broadcast in 1977, with Will Sampson as Watchman, the first time an Indian lead character in a Hollywood production was played by an Indian actor. Sampson was cast in the role at Garfield’s suggestion.

His best-known crime novel, Death Wish (McKay, 1972), was adapted into a film starring Charles Bronson, perhaps the most popular of all of Bronson’s movies. Superficially faithful to the novel, the film version was considerably more sympathetic to the protagonist’s vigilante actions. Displeased that the film took this approach, Garfield wrote a sequel, Death Sentence (Evans, 1975), in which he made his anti-vigilante opinions more clear. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t adapted into any of the many film sequels that also starred Bronson.

Aside from Death Wish, Garfield will probably be best-remembered for Hopscotch (Evans, 1975), a Cold War espionage thriller in which a cashiered CIA agent tries to recapture the excitement of his spy career by writing a book exposing the worst aspects of US intelligence operations, sending the manuscript to his publisher in installments, and challenging his old employers to try to stop him while he leads them on a merry chase all over the world. Hopscotch won Garfield an Edgar for Best Mystery Novel. Five years later, his script (on which he collaborated with Bryan Forbes) for a film adaptation released by Avco Embassy was a finalist for an Edgar in the Screenplay category.

Garfield also wrote a lot of short fiction in both the western and mystery genres, and, as with his novels, often seemed to combine the two. His Edgar-nominated “Jode’s Last Hunt” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Jan. 1977), for example, told the story of a legendary small-town sheriff, whose adventures as a kick-ass lawman have been fictionalized in movies and TV shows (not unlike the real-life Buford Pusser), enjoying his one last chance at high-publicity glory. “Scrimshaw” (EQMM, Dec.1979), a tight little horror tale, earned him another Edgar nomination, And eleven pieces of short spy fiction featuring top-flight US operative Charlie Dark, set in the same universe as Hopscotch, were collected in Checkpoint Charlie (Mysterious, 1981). In 1983, he was elected President of the Mystery Writers of America, the only author to serve as president of both the WWA and the MWA.

Through the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Garfield tended to devote himself to “big” projects, returning to the western with epic novels like Wild Times (Simon & Schuster, 1978), about a frontiersman turned showman inspired by, if not precisely based on, Buffalo Bill Cody; and Manifest Destiny (Grand Central, 1989), a novel fictionalizing the frontier adventures of young Theodore Roosevelt. The Paladin (Simon and Schuster, 1989), was a World II-set espionage thriller about a teen-aged schoolboy who becomes Winston Churchill’s top undercover operative.

In later years, Garfield devoted himself to non-fiction. The Thousand Mile War (Aurum, 2004), a history of World War II in the Aleutians and the mainland of Alaska, was a finalist for a Pulitzer. The Meinertzhagen Mystery (Potomac, 2008) was a biography of a flamboyant British secret agent, who was a trusted associate of such diverse figures as Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, David Ben Gurion, and Elspeth Huxley, but who may, through it all, have been a colossal fraud.

A respected pro, Garfield was a friendly and self-effacing person, regarded as a true gentleman by his friends and acquaintances. He’ll be missed, but he leaves a large body of work by which he will be remembered.

1 comment:

Richard Moore said...

Excellent summation, Jim, of the career of an important writer of crime stories as well as westerns. He gave me so many hours of pleasure.