Dennis Lynds (1924-2005)

The Mystery Community Pays Its Respects…

(August 21, 2005)

I just heard that Dennis Lynds has passed away.

Man, I loved that guy. I was just going to drop him a line to check out what I did to his little state-of-the-union address he so kindly offered to this site, and to thank him for inviting me to write the intro for an upcoming collection of his. That project, of course, fell through.

The only consolation is that, somewhere in hard-boiled heaven, the Big Man is being grilled by Dennis, and He won’t be let off easy. That’s the thing about Dennis–some people may have not liked his politics, but he never–ever–offered easy, pat solutions; he just knew which questions to ask.

Oh, he would shrug it off — “I just ask questions,” he once told me, but damn, they were good questions. They were frequently hard, unpleasant tough questions, and could make people on all sides of the divide squirm, but they were questions that needed asking, and were only rarely asked anywhere, much less in crime fiction. Dennis never offered up answers, but his writing sure demanded them.

Yeah, Dennis could–and did–tell a good story, be it the Three Investigators or Dan Fortune or any of the other great characters he wrote about, but it was the hunger for answers and some sort of justice, and his ability to flesh out ideas and take the most extreme and often objectionable positions and humanize them, that gave his best work real weight, and forced us to question not just them, but ourselves. It’s what kept me reading.

The thing was, Dennis actually cared about people.

And he wasn’t afraid to let it show. Talk about a man out of time.

And in a world where our lives are being chipped away at, one by one, the pieces sacrificed in the name of God and Profit, we’ve all lost something by Dennis’ passing. He was one of the greats.

Shit… I’ll miss him.

Kevin Burton Smith

I got to talk to Dennis in Toronto last year, and it was great.  He talked about Ross MacDonald as though he’d just spoken to him before getting on the plane.  (And I mean that like he missed Ken Millar, not that his mind was going.)  It was an interesting conversation, and a bit overwhelming to suddenly have only 2 degrees of seperation from the Big 3.

Jim Winter

I just heard that our own Dennis Lynds has passed away. Apparently, though he never mentioned it on this list, he’d been ill for some time.

He was a fine man and a fine writer.

From what I’ve heard, Gayle Lynds is requesting no cards or e-mails, at least for the moment. I think she’d appreciate keeping Mr. Lynds, and his loved ones, in your thoughts and prayers.

I was looking forward to seeing him at Bouchercon, and to hearing his comments on this list about a Mike Shayne I’d just finished.

I’ll probably have more to say about this, but right now I’m still absorbing the shock.

Jim Doherty (Rara-Avis)

Back in May 2002, after discovering his new website, I e-mailed Mr. Lynds to express my appreciation for the Dan Fortune stories, especially my favorite, “A Reason to Die.” God bless the Internet: He wrote me back promptly, thanking me for my “very nice letter,” and noted “Reason” was one of his own favorites. “Oddly, I was rereading parts of it earlier this very day, and enjoying a lot of what I did in that one myself,” he told me. Mr. Lynds then suggested he might try another Fortune novel or two, “if I can find a publisher these days.”

His response to me was friendly and insightful. I felt that here was a guy who lived the humanity his stories espoused. I occasionally questioned some of the social assumptions Mr. Lynds offered via his tales, but his writing was flawless and compassionate. In a day when social commentary is so often loaded with politicized buckshot and below-the-belt personalization, Mr. Lynds was a gentleman who understood the human face behind the tragedies of modern life. And he was a nice guy — that’s almost as rare today.

Martin Ross

I am saddened to read about the passing of Dennis Lynds. I vividly remember both his specifc voice and his hard questions.

Claus Kerhoff

Ed Lynskey and I had the opportunity of interviewing Dennis Lynds for Mystery*File 47, and let me tell you what a pleasure it was. What a charming, gracious person he was to work with — and very much opinionated, too, in the best sense of the term. He didn’t quite say so, but he seemed pleased that his work is undergoing an upsurge in popularity. I only wish that he could have lived longer to continue to enjoy this somewhat belated recognition — and of course there are the books and stories he had in the works that we probably won’t be able to read now. I never met him in person — we were in touch only by email and through his postings on rara-avis earlier this year — but I’m very much affected by his unexpected death and saddened that he’s no longer with us.

Steve Lewis

Dennis Lynds – a true master of mystery and part of the literary crime circle which gathered for monthly lunches in Santa Barbara, California – died recently at 81. I never got to one of those lunches, but Lynds’ wonderful books – many of them written as Michael Collins – nourished me in all sorts of ways. His long-running series about Dan Fortune, the one-armed detective who used his brain and his heart to make himself a match for any villain or inequity, won him an Edgar for his first, “Act of Fear” in 1967, and continued in fine form through 2000’s “Fortune’s World.” Altogether, he published 80 novels and hundreds of short stories – one of which, “The Kidnapping of Xiang Fei,”  was a high point of an anthology edited by Michael Connelly, “Murder In Vegas,” published this past March.

Another famous Santa Barbara mystery writer–Ross Macdonald–once called  Lynds, “a novelist of power and quality…. His work hums with life and feeling… one of the major imaginative creations in the crime field.”

So long, Dennis. And thanks for all the brain food…

Dick Adler

I didn’t know him for more than a year and a half, and then only through e-mails, but in that short time he became a quick friend with more compassion and intelligence you could sometimes expect from many a lifelong buddy.

JT Lindroos

Dennis was a class act–from the very beginning to the very end.

Terrill Lee Lankford

Dennis Lynds, RIP

One of the longstanding leading lights of the mystery world has passed away at the age of 81:

Santa Barbara resident Dennis Lynds, the prolific and best-selling author of mystery novels who wrote under the pen name Michael Collins and other pseudonyms, died Friday, according to a close family friend. He was 81.

Mr. Lynds died in San Francisco, where he had gone to visit a daughter who was hospitalized after being hit by a truck, said Kathleen Sharp, a Santa Barbara writer who had known Mr. Lynds since the late 1980s.

The cause of death was not known, but Mr. Lynds had been in poor health for a while.

“He was really, really generous. He helped so many writers in both fiction and nonfiction,” said Ms. Sharp. “He would read your manuscript, suggest changes … then he’d send you away with an admonition, ‘Just keep writing.’ “

Before he became the bestselling writer of the Dan Fortune novels (under the pseudonym Michael Collins) he worked as a chemist with Pfizer & co. and later moved on to edit technical journals.

One of his very last pieces of writing — a State of the Union address written by Dan Fortune — appears in the current issue of Thrilling Detective.

Deepest condolences to the family, but especially to his wife Gayle, who must have a tremedendous amount on her plate right now.

Sarah Weinman (from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)

Farewell to Dennis Lynds, one of the truly great private eyes writers.

Ed Gorman (from Ed Gorman & Friends)

As a writer and human being both, Dennis was a man of class — an overworked phrase but completely apt in his case.  He had, among other attributes, as clear an understanding of the craft of fiction writing as any professional I’ve ever known.  Marcia and I are proud to have known him and to have called him a friend.  Our deepest sympathies go out to Gayle and their family.

Bill Pronzini (from Ed Gorman & Friends)

Dennis and Gayle are two of the nicest, sweetest people in the writing community, and this is just tragic.

A very sad day.

Jeff Mariotte (from Ed Gorman & Friends)

Sad to hear.  I loved those Three Investigators novels when I was a kid.

Greg Cox (from Ed Gorman & Friends)

The word started going around this afternoon that Dennis Lynds has passed away. This is terrible news, and very unexpected, at least by me. Dennis was a guest on the Rara-Avis list a few months ago and seemed as eloquent and enthusiastic as ever.

One of the nice things about being a writer is that you sometimes get to meet your heroes, or at least correspond with them. The first book I ever read by Dennis Lynds was probably The Shadow Strikes, published by Belmont Books under the Maxwell Grant house-name in the mid-Sixties. Of course, at the time I had no idea that in this case Maxwell Grant was really a writer named Dennis Lynds. All I knew was that I had listened to reruns of the Shadow radio show and loved it, and now here was a book about the character. (I was only dimly aware of pulps then and had little if any knowledge of the Shadow’s history.) I thought the book was great and picked up all the other Shadow novels that Belmont published over the next few years. All of them, I learned later, were really by Dennis Lynds.

Later I read some of his Three Investigators novels, written under the name William Arden, and I read all the Man From U.N.C.L.E. novellas published in the digest magazine under the name Robert Hart Davis, and again, I loved them without knowing that some of them were by Dennis Lynds. I didn’t really know who he was until the late Seventies, when I started buying the Dan Fortune novels that he wrote as Michael Collins, as well as reading his short stories in various mystery digests. My friend Tom Johnson knew Dennis because Tom had a nearly complete collection of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and Dennis wrote the Mike Shayne novellas as Brett Halliday for about seven years during the Sixties. Tom corresponded with Dennis and put me in touch with him, and as a fledgling writer in the early Eighties, I found myself trading letters with an author whose work I had read extensively and always enjoyed. Dennis was an Old Pro, even then, and he consistently gave me some of the best writing advice I ever got.

We drifted out of touch over the years, as often happens, but I continued to read and enjoy Dennis’s books. One afternoon some years ago, the phone rang and on the other end was Gayle Lynds, Dennis’s wife, who at that time was about to launch her very successful career as an author of suspense thrillers. I don’t remember now why Gayle called, but I know we had a pleasant conversation and I even talked briefly with Dennis, the only time we spoke. I’m glad we had that chance, and I’m glad we got to trade a few emails while he was on Rara-Avis. He was a great writer and a fine man, and he will definitely be missed.

James Reasoner (from Ed Gorman & Friends)

Mystery Novelist Dennis Lynds Dies at 81
The Associated Press
Sunday, August 21, 2005
By Alex Veiga

LOS ANGELES — Dennis Lynds, whose tautly written mysteries featuring the one-armed Dan Fortune were praised for reflecting contemporary political and social issues, has died. He was 81.

Lynds, who wrote under the name Michael Collins, among others, died Friday at a San Francisco hospital from septic shock caused by bowel necrosis and multiorgan failure, Mark Powning, an investigator with the medical examiner’s office, said Saturday.

Lynds collapsed Thursday in the parking lot of the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center while trying to visit his eldest daughter, who had been hospitalized there, said Kathleen Sharp, a family friend.

He died the next day at San Francisco General Hospital, Powning said.

Sharp said the author, who lived in Santa Barbara, had been ill for some time and had undergone several surgeries for a stomach condition.

In a career spanning more than four decades, Lynds wrote more than 80 novels and short stories, according to his Web site.

The first Dan Fortune novel, “Act of Fear,” was published in 1967 and won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel. The last novel in the series, “Fortune’s World,” was published in 2000.

The Fortune novels were praised for their writing and for their willingness to reflect on contemporary political and social controversies.

“I write mysteries to say something, not just for entertainment,” Lynds told the Santa Barbara News-Press in 1982.

Lynds was born in New York and moved to Santa Barbara in 1965.

The Santa Barbara News-Press (Dennis’ local paper)

The Celebration of Dennis Lynds

The Celebration of Dennis Lynds will be held Sat, Aug. 27, from 10:30 a.m to 2:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara. Please wear your cowboy hats and boots if so moved. And feel free to bring food and drink to share.

The family has requested that any donations should be sent to either:

The Dennis Lynds Special Collections at UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9010. (Checks should be made to UC Regents, indicating it’s for UCSB’s Davidson Library, Lynds collection.)

Or to the Democratic Socialists of America, 180 Varick St., 12th Floor, New York, NY 10014. Dennis, who was honored with a Purple Heart and other medals during World War II, was a card-carrying member.

As passed on by Gayle Lynds to the MWA

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