Sometimes, fame can bring with it a real loss of privacy. Especially in today’s world of instant communication and social media, it’s very hard for someone who’s ‘in the news’ to have any real secrets or much of a private life.
But some crime writers have managed to do a very good job of keeping their own secrets. If you think about it, that makes sense, since crime writers create mysteries. And it’s interesting to think about some of the mysteries that have surrounded some crime novelists.
One of the most famous such mysteries surrounds Agatha Christie. In December,1926, Christie disappeared for 11 days. She left her home on 3 December, and, despite a massive search, was not discovered until 14 December, when she was found at the Swan Hotel, Harrogate. There’ve been many theories about what happened to her, and where she was during her absence. Christie herself never revealed the truth, and we may never know exactly what happened. Was it a publicity hoax? A bout with deep depression? Amnesia? Something else? It’s hard to say. But it’s fascinating to speculate about it.
In 2009, the novel Cut and Run, by Alix Bosco, was published. It was highly regarded; and, in fact, won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in 2010. The only problem was, no-one knew who Alix Bosco was. No-one even knew whether Bosco was male or female. The question of Bosco’s identity left a lot of crime fiction fans curious, but Bosco kept that information private. It wasn’t until after that award was presented that we learned who Alix Bosco really is. Auckland writer Greg McGee admitted that he is the pen behind the Alix Bosco name. Under his own name, McGee’s written several scripts and plays, and wanted to keep his crime fiction persona separate. He decided to come forward when his second crime novel, Slaughter Falls, made the short list for the second Ngaio March Award. It’s an interesting story of a very successful use of a pseudonym.
Along similar lines, in 2008, Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Calling was published in Toronto. It was very well-received, and had both critical and commercial success. But no-one knew who Inger Ash Wolfe was. The only clue was that Wolfe was ‘a well-known and well-regarded North American writer.’ There was plenty of speculation as to Wolfe’s identity; guesses included Margaret Atwood and Linda Spalding, among others. In the end, Michael Redhill admitted that he’s Inger Ash Wolfe. As he put it:
‘My goal was to do something separate, and that necessitated it being secret.’
For Redhill, it wasn’t a publicity stunt, but a matter of wanting a different ‘self’ for his crime series that led him to keep his real identity secret. And it wasn’t until the 2012 publication of A Door in the River that he admitted the truth publicly.
I know, not crime fiction, but these two stories also made me think of Italian author Elena Ferrante. As you’ll no doubt know, there’s plenty of speculation about her identity, too. It’ll be interesting to see whether we ever discover who she is.
There’s also the interesting story of Carl Constantine Kosak, better known by his pseudonym, K.C. Constantine. He’s the author of the Mario Balzic Rockport mysteries, which take place in Western Pennsylvania. Fiercely protective of his privacy, Kosak even included a proviso in all of his contracts that forbade publishers from revealing his identity. He didn’t do book tours, signings or other appearances. From 1974, when The Blank Page was published, until 2011, Kosak remained very much a mystery. He explains his choices by saying that he was concerned for his family’s privacy and safety. He didn’t want to be stalked, or to have anyone in his family stalked. That never happened, and, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Kosak said,
‘‘Nobody tracked me down. I decided it was ridiculous to keep up this charade.’’
And so he revealed himself at the 2011 Festival of Mystery in Oakmont (a suburb of Pittsburgh).
Fans of Lilian Jackson Braun will know that she was an even more private person than her creation, journalist James ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran. There are certain things we know about her, but even her true date of birth wasn’t known until 2005 (her first Cat Who… book was published in 1966). She doesn’t seem to have been deliberately coy; rather, she seems to have genuinely valued her privacy so much that very little about her life was made public.
And that’s the way it is with some crime writers. Their lives are at least as mysterious as their plots are. Which secretive mystery authors intrigue you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Lovin’ Spoonful.