Bill and Judy
Photos by Arthur Charles Scott except the one with Loren Estleman
It's no secret that Bill Crider is fighting a life-threatening disease right now. I join his legion of fans and friends who are upset, saddened, and damned mad that such a terrible fate has befallen one of the world's finest men. Bill is not only a fine man but a talented and reliable writer.
I first became aware of Bill in 1979 when I joined Dapa-Em, the mystery apa (amateur press alliance). A year later we met in person at the Washington, D.C., Bouchercon. He didn't have any books out yet--we thought, though in fact he had dozens--but he had encyclopedic knowledge of the mystery genre and was no slouch at Westerns, science fiction, and horror. The members of Dapa-Em had room parties at every convention and Bill was always there with the lovely Judy at his side. He was low key but not a wallflower, and when he spoke he always had something interesting, enlightening, or witty to say. We always stocked Dr Pepper knowing it was his beverage of choice.
Bill was a prolific author, as many know, and his signature work is the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series. You can tell a lot about Bill from reading those books. Like, his love of old paperbacks and his sorrow ay seeing Main Street America dry up and blow away. He never preached, but he made his point in his usual easy-going way.
Bill also wrote Horror under the name Jack MacLane and scores of series Westerns, men's adventure novels, and collaborations, like the Willard Scott books. He wrote so many books under house names that even he can't remember them all.
But my favorite series, which he did under his own name, are the Boss Napier mysteries. Oh sure, a lot of people call them the Carl Burns books, but they are wrong. Alas, there were only four books in the series, which was ostensibly about a college professor in a small Texas town who gets involved with murders, but for my money the star of the show was Robert "Boss" Napier, Pecan City's irrepressible lawman. Boss has an eye for the ladies and vies for the attentions of a pretty teacher at Burns' school. Unlike most cops in amateur sleuth books, Boss wasn't a loud-mouthed blockhead. He just wasn't as quick to spot the killer as Burns. I'm sure he would have, given enough time.
I was flattered as all get out when I saw the first Boss Napier book, and Bill was good enough to tuckerize me in several other of his works. I suggested he write a Rhodes book that brings in Boss as a guest lawman, and Bill allowed as how he might do something along those lines, but it seems like a long shot now, dagnabbit!
(l-r) me, Steve Stilwell, and Bill at an apres B'con gathering at Art Scott's house outside of San Francisco. Way outside, perhaps Cupertino. Bill is perusing the newly-released Paperback Price Guide.
(l-r) Loren Estleman, Loren's wife, me, Leslie Slaasted (va-va-voom!) and Bill. Taken at the Monterey Bouchercon in 1997, where I was the Fan GoH. Bill introduced me at the banquet.
One thing about Bill, he was Mr. Reliable. He never missed a mailing of Dapa-Em, never failed to have a letter in Mystery & Detective Monthly, never failed to contribute to Patti Abbot's Friday's Forgotten Books on her blog, and never missed a deadline for OWLHOOT, a Western apa I ramrod. I'm sure there are others. Bill was an iron man. Maybe it was his dedication to running every day, or maybe that's just the way he was raised.
Bill loves music. When I mentioned gaps in my collection of oldies songs he immediately sent me cassettes of albums by such luminaries as The Skyliners and The Platters. He even sent me a tape of a song he recorded, an old Elvis hit. He wrote on the info card that it was by Billy Bob and the (can't remember dang it). He sang in a barbershop quartet in Alvin, performed in an oldies rock group with some fellow faculty members as The Fabulous G-Strings, and once helped The Kingston Trio warm up backstage before one of their performances. That final little nugget wasn't known by me until I'd known Bill for a good 25 years. Bill plays his cards close to the vest.
Also at Art Scott's house, Bill checking out a rare paperback. I walked in just as Art took the photo.
Did Bill really have fixations on alligators and Paris Hilton? No, not really. These were running jokes that he enjoyed. The gator one started in Dapa-Em when he mentioned in one of his zines that he liked books and movies about alligators in the sewers. That got the snowball rolling downhill. I got into the spirit of it in a big way. For years I sent greeting cards with alligators on them and other gator items. The best was probably a real gator skull. Or maybe it's the alligator earrings I sent to Judy. When she e-mailed me her thanks I suggested that the next day she greet him at the door wearing the earrings--and nothing else. Bill's response: "I can't wait."
I guess I've droned on enough, but even though there are more Bill Crider stories I can't relate them all. I guess I'm in denial, too. Bill will back at the old stand, doing his blog, writing his books, and charming people with his great aw-shucks presence again. I can't countenance anything else.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE !
I found the tape Bill made. It was by Billy Boy and the BBs and contains Don't Be Cruel and Blue Suede Shoes. This will be made available eventually.