RARA-AVIS: Charles Williams

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 30 Aug 2002

I just finished an essay on Charles Williams by Ed Gorman in MURDER OFF THE RACK. Since Williams's RIVER GIRL is the only Gold Medal I own besides Rabe's THE BOX, I thought the essay was worth mentioning as Gold Medal month slips away.

The essay is a disappointingly mediocre collection of 15 impressions of Williams. It doesn't say a whole lot about his writing or his life.

He was born in Texas in 1909, married Lasca Foster in 1939, had one daughter, and committed suicide in 1975. He tried to get his first book published with Simon and Schuster in the late 40's but the plot was deemed too commercial for hardcover. After circulating around various publishers, the book was published in 1951 as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback entitled HILL GIRL.

Over the years he churned out a bunch in this manner, but by 1958 the demand for suspense mysteries shifted towards series writing, which Williams refused to do. An effort was made to break him loose from the paperback world, and SCORPION REEF came out as a Macmillan hardcopy in 1955. I've got a Viking Press 1963 hardcopy of DEAD CALM sitting on the shelf waiting on me, and inside the cover it mentions simultaneous publishing in Canada by Macmillan.

His wife died in the early 70's and he bought some land in the Pacific northwest and lived in a trailer up there by him- self. With help from Nona Tyson, a friend who was also Steven Spielberg's assistant, Williams published his last book, MAN ON A LEASH, in 1973. A couple years later his agent Don Congdon opened a letter from Williams that was a suicide note. Williams was dead. I believe he drowned himself.

Details of Williams life seem hard to come by. I would appreciate any pointers to where I could go to find out more about his life. To my knowledge, no biography of him has been written.

His writing? All I've read is RIVER GIRL, and it was spec- tacular. It's well-written and the characters are skillfully drawn. The plot somewhat parallels Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, with a man and a woman trying to cover up the husband's murder. The tension and suspense and desperation roll off the pages. You can smell the sweat. RIVER GIRL is a fine piece of noir writing.


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