RARA-AVIS: Cons & ex-cons

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 30 Apr 2000

E. Richard Johnson is an interesting case of a writer who started in prison, achieved considerable success, was released, and then went back to crime and prison. His first novel (SILVER STREET, I believe) may have won the Edgar for best first. Certainly, he wrote several very muscular novels that were critically acclaimed, one was made into a film, and he had top publisher, editors, agents and a big advance when he finally achieved parole. I remember my shock when checking the UPI newswire ticker I saw he had been rearrested, caught deadbang by the police. I know he went back to prison and after a long, silent period he began writing again. I don't know if he is still in prison, still writing, or even still alive. Does anyone out there?

I also remember Al Nausbaum, who was a regular at MWA functions and the early conventions who made his living as a robber and pretended to be a writer as a cover (I think he had a tape recording of the sound of a typewriter as a part of that). He was a reader and became a big fan of Dan J. Marlowe (THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH). While I am unsure of the order (it has been many years since I heard him tell the story), he contacted Marlowe, went to prison for bank robbery, learned to write, was released, and became a regular in the mystery magazines with dozens of stories. Again, I am fuzzy on the details but I believe the FBI contacted Marlowe when they were checking back on all of Al's phone calls while he was on the lam. In any case, that strange start led to a friendship between the two and Marlowe encouraged the now-jailed Al Nausbaum in his ambition to become a writer. Which he did, as many issues of Alfred Hitchcock and Mike Shayne from the late 1960s and 1970s will attest.

Years later, when Marlowe became seriously ill, I recall hearing Al helped his old mentor a lot and a few collaborations were published about that time.
 Al died three or four years ago but aside from regaling people with the story in person, I know he published an account of the whole thing. The MWA anthology one year was devoted to true crime and that may have been where it saw print. It would make a great made for TV movie.

One comment on John D. MacDonald: looking over the comments by others of the last few days, I am struck by how many different titles people have named as their favorites. Ten at least. I have one of my own: THE KEY TO THE SUITE, which was a novel about a business convention and corporate in-fighting and only towards the end does a murder occur. Yes he had his flaws and his main characters were often heros, which is out of fashion these days, but he was one hell of a story teller.

Richard Moore

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