Raoul Whitfield (Rest in Pieces)

Fictionalized by Walter Satterthwait

It says something about their status and the respect people still have for their work that anyone who bother to write a fictionalized account of the life of an author who’s been dead for sixty or so yearsa

Granted, RAOUL WHITFIELD (1986-1945) isn’t as highly regarded–or even as well known–as Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but if he never quite reached those heights, he certainly came awful damn close, one of the most popular and lauded graduates of Cap Shaw’s legendary school of hard-boiled detective fiction.

The problem was that Whitfield’s life was a mess, a complicated tangle of soaring heights and plunging depths, a cacophony of symphonic bliss and bum notes. It was a life that author Walter Satterthwait thought would make for a ripping yarn, and it did.

In the summer of 1933, Whitfield, arguably one of the country’s most successful mystery writers, married Emily Davies Vanderbilt Thayer (yes, one of the heirs–through a previous marriage–to the Vanderbilt fortune). After the honeymoon, they moved to the American southwest, where they built a huge spread, the Dead horse Ranch, out in New Mexico, and lived high off the hog , hosting elaborate shindigs that drew guests from all over the world. In February 1935, however, Emily filed for divorce. The divorce was never finalized, though–by the twenty-fourth of May of that year, she  was dead. She was found in her bed, clutching a Colt .45 revolver.

But was it a plant? Despite the verdict of suicide, many of the locals believed–and still believe–that it was murder, and some speculated that Whitfield, by then living in California and watching his money run out, might have been involved. He was, after all, Emily’s sole heir. In his 2006 novel, Dead Horse, Satterthwait creates the fictional new Mexico Sheriff Tom Delgado (a hero worthy of Whitfield’s best fiction), who isn’t satisfied with the coroner’s report, and decides to dig a little deeper.

When it came out on 2006, the book caused more than a few ripples among hardcore crime fans, for its frank assessment and heavily researched portrayal of Whitfield and his colourful life as a flying ace, a very successful writer, a charming bon vivant, a philanderer, a cad, and a drinking buddy of Dashiell Hammett, who may–although it’s not mentioned in the book–have been sleeping with Whitfield’s first wife.

Like I said, complicated.

It’s clear the book was a labour of love for Satterthwait, a pulp fanatic and the writer of several acclaimed detectives novels himself, including the Joshua Croft and the Phil Beaumont & Jane Tanner series.


  • “In spare but effective prose, Satterthwait depicts the Whitfields’ flamboyant life together and Raoul’s later life alone while raising some interesting conjectures about what was in all probability an unpunished crime.”
    — Publishers Weekly
  • “Satterthwait s extensive research only serves to strengthen the plausibility of his depiction of the doomed marriage and ill-matched couple, and the terse, finely honed prose is a fitting tribute to a mystery writer of uncommon stylistic gifts.”
    — Walter Albert (Mystery*File)
  • “Fine writing, tricky plotting, great characters, meticulous research: those are the things you expect in a Satterthwait novel, and Walter delivers in spades. You don’t want to miss this one. Check it out.”
    — Bill Crider



  • Rest in Pieces
    The Fictionalized Lives of Private Eye Writers & Other Folks
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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