REMEMBERING ED WRIGHT
I must thank legal thriller writer Ken Isaacson for inviting me as a guest blogger. I first met Ken at Crimefest 2008, and moderated an eclectic panel with him as a key author. This was the first Crimefest event, managed by Adrian Myles and Myles Alfrey, and their team of enthusiastic volunteers. Crimefest has its roots in Left Coast Crime 2006, which was held in Bristol, England. So I wondered about a topic, and as Ken had come over from the U.S. to the UK, I pondered upon the linkage between the U.S. and UK ends of the crime, mystery, and thriller genre. With the very sad news of the recent passing of U.S. crime-writer Edward Wright, a man who had become a friend of mine as well as his lovely wife, Cathy. So I found a topic that may be of interest: illustrating how fate plays a major role in our lives and the links between the genre, as viewed from opposite sides of the Atlantic.
Edward Wright, though an American, he was better known on our side of the Atlantic, so I’d like to give some context to his life and his work and urge you to seek out his writing. In his native America, he was more of a cult author, a hidden gem for those in the know. While in Great Britain he was better known as the writer of the John Ray Horn historical thrillers.
But first, here’s an extract from May’s L.A. Times obituary:
Edward Wright, a journalist turned novelist who wrote an award-winning series of mysteries set in post-World War II Los Angeles, has died. He was 75.
A former editor at the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, Wright died Friday at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles from complications of lymphoma, said his wife of 22 years, Cathy Wright. Wright spent three decades in daily journalism, including nearly 20 years at The Times, before switching careers in the early 1990s to try his hand at fiction.
Of his five novels, three revolved around the character of John Ray Horn, a former B-movie western actor and ex-felon whose entanglements turn him into a sleuth. The first in the series, Clea’s Moon (2003), involves a friend’s murdered son, his missing stepdaughter and a child pornography ring.
“That was a glorious, wonderful thing to happen to him,” Cathy Wright, a psychotherapist, said Tuesday. “He got a two-book deal and an agent. His story is about how you can push through your dream.”
The path to publication is often a hard journey for a writer, and the importance of organisations such as the Mystery Writers of America and the Crime Writers Association (CWA) cannot be underestimated. The CWA's Debut Dagger Competition, though administered in Great Britain, is open to entrants from anywhere in the globe. The Debut Dagger is an opportunity for unpublished writers to be appraised by industry professionals. Many published writers have found the path to publication via the CWA’s Debut Dagger Award, including my friend, the man from Arkansas, Edward Wright.
Before the Millennium, the major British Crime-fiction Convention was Dead-on-Deansgate, hosted by the Bookstore chain Waterstones in Manchester, and in partnership with The Crime Writers Association. It was the precursor to the Theakstons’ Harrogate Crime-writing Festival. It was at Dead-on-Deansgate, and later at Harrogate as well as Crimefest that the CWA would announce selections of the Dagger Award Shortlists, and later in the year the awards would be announced in a televised ceremony in the autumn.
I recall the 2001 Dead-on-Deansgate event with clarity, for it was held mere weeks following 9/11. The turn of events resulted in the majority of Americans registered to attend the Manchester event cancelling – apart from two brave men, namely George Pelecanos and an unpublished writer named Edward Wright, who had entered the CWA Debut Dagger competition and was one of the shortlisted writers for that award.
Sometimes bravery is rewarded, for after the Saturday dinner, a surprised Edward Wright found himself accepting the CWA Debut Dagger for his work in progress Clea’s Moon, and I had a camera, so Edward was delighted when I told him I had photographed him accepting the Dagger from CWA Chair Russell James. A transatlantic friendship developed between, Edward, Cathy Wright. and I over the years, as I became a big follower of his work. His debut Clea’s Moon resulted in his first publishing deal – in the UK with Orion Publishing, and then later it helped him secure a deal in his native country.
In 2004, we had dinner, and I recorded this interview with Ed for Shots Magazine.
Recently, my dear friend and editor at The Rap Sheet Jeff Pierce published a detailed feature. I find some of the most interesting writers are those whose own lives have entailed adventure, and Wright was one of that number; as Jeff discovered –
JKP: In all your years as a journalist, what’s the weirdest experience you had, or the oddest story you had to tackle?
EW: I think the experience that has stuck with me the longest was the time I spent in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. I went there not as a reporter but as an editor who wanted to get to know that part of the world better. I was actually on a swing that included Egypt and Israel as well, but Beirut left the strongest impression. The civil war was three years old, with another 12 years to run, and most of it was focused on off-and-on fighting between the Muslims of West Beirut and the Christians of the East.
Before the war, Beirut had been known as the Paris of the Middle East. But the first year of the war had done horrendous damage to the city. Much of the downtown was in ruins, with the big hotels and high-rises pocked by artillery shells and abandoned. The city was split between east and west along what they called the Green Line, and for blocks on both sides of the Green Line, everything was mostly rubble. I could hear small-arms fire every night.
A few years later things would turn much darker--an invasion by Israel, kidnappings of Americans by terrorists, and the suicide bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks that killed hundreds. But while I was there, the fighting was in a lull. I was able to hire a car and driver, get around, talk to people, see things.
One incident sobered me up, though. My driver was taking me over to East Beirut along the only access road that wasn’t closed at the time, an elevated highway. As we crossed from west to east, passing gutted high-rise buildings, I looked down at the wasteland called the Green Line and reached for my camera. “Slow down,” I told the driver. “I want to get a picture.” “Cannot slow down,” he said. “Why not?” “Snipers,” he replied, gesturing toward the buildings we were passing, with their hundreds of vacant windows. “Great,” I said quickly. “Step on it.” Who needs photos?
Read more here as this feature is a fascinating and comprehensive glimpse into the life and work of a remarkable writer, and an even more remarkable human being. It is of little surprise that following the CWA Debut Dagger Award, his subsequent work has been awarded many other awards, including The Deadly Pleasures Barry Award, the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, and The PWA Shamus Award.
So, I hope this article has prompted you to learn a little about the man from Arkansas, who went West, served his country with military duty overseas, then went to college, worked as a journalist – though it would be the British Crime Writers Association that first discovered his talent as a crime writer.
If you’d like to learn more about Ed's award-winning writing, click here. For those of you struggling to find your words into print, consider the part fate plays, for Ed only discovered the CWA Debut Dagger Competition while on vacation in Ireland. His wife, Cathy, said that for Ed winning this award “was a glorious, wonderful thing to happen to him, for he got a two-book deal and an agent. His story is about how you can push through your dream.”
And finally a thank you to Ken Isaacson for inviting me to write for MWA-NY – and I hope to see some of you this fall at Bouchercon Raleigh, where I intend to drink plenty of gin, and talk crime, mystery, and thrillers for the entire weekend.
Ali Karim is the assistant editor of Shots eZine and writes and reviews for many U.S. magazines and ezines. He was awarded the 2011 David Thompson Memorial Award for Special Services to the Crime and Thriller Genre and in 2013 awarded the Don Sandstrom Lifetime Achievement Award for services to crime and mystery fandom. He contributed to Dissecting Hannibal Lecter, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of British Crime Fiction, and ITW's 100 Thriller Novels. Karim is also an associate member of the Crime Writers Association and a judge for the CWA Gold Dagger Award; an associate member of International Thriller Writers Inc. (ITW) and a former literary judge for both best debut novel and best thriller; and an associate member of the Private Eye Writers of America, and one of the judges of Deadly Pleasures Magazine’s Barry Awards. Karim is a board member of Bouchercon and co-chair of programming for Bouchercon 2015.
All photos © Ali Karim