Evan was a role model for me years before I ever heard the term. That he eventually became a good friend was a source of enormous satisfaction to me. Sometimes the intimacy of friendship can keep the fiction from working, but that certainly didn’t happen here. I have never stopped being his fan.
I wrote a pair of columns for Mystery Scene about my memories of Evan, so I’ll confine myself here to his work. He’s probably best known for his work as Ed McBain, esp. the 87th Precinct novels; over half a century and no end of books, the quality never slipped and you never felt he was phoning it in. If anything, I’d argue that the books got better as he went along, becoming longer, richer, and more layered.
The books he wrote as Evan Hunter are not generic crime novels, although many have crime as an element. Evan’s own favorite was Buddwing; I read it when it came out and didn’t care for it. (I think I probably ought to have another look at it.) Last Summer is a wicked little gem of a novel, with not a superfluous word in it; there’s a sequel, Come Winter, and that’s good as well. Streets of Gold, narrated by a blind jazz pianist from East Harlem, is a great picture of the music world and of growing up Italian. Candyland, a tour de force in which Evan Hunter and Ed McBain share a byline, makes a gripping and haunting story out of sexual addiction.
Evan’s final illness was nasty, a siege of laryngeal cancer that took his voice before it took his life. He wrote up until the very end. His memoir of his illness, Let’s Talk—published in the UK but not here, and don’t ask me why—is his way of making lemonade out of that particular sour citrus. And months before his death he completed Alice in Jeopardy, only to begin work on Becca in Jeopardy; it was his intention to work his way clear through the alphabet. The man was a writer with every atom of his being, and you’re in good hands whatever book of his you pick.