About Dennis Lynds
The Man, the WriterA raconteur and Renaissance man, Dennis Lynds changed the mystery form and along the way created iconic private detectives who won the hearts of readers and the awards of critics. He was a tall, lanky man with a nose the size of Gibraltar and a generous nature that made him a soft touch for friends, panhandlers, and his children. He published some 40 novels under various pseudonyms, won awards such as the Edgar — the mystery world’s highest honor — and received accolades from legendary authors and legendary newspapers.
The New York Times named several of Lynds’s novels to its Best Mysteries of the Year lists. Remarkably, two of them written under different pseudonyms appeared on the same list – Silent Scream by Michael Collins and Circle of Fire by Mark Sadler.Amused, Lynds said that none of the Times editors realized he was both Collins and Sadler. “I don’t think they ever figured it out,” he explained. And he never bothered to tell them.
Seldom does an author change the course of a genre once; rarely twice. Lynds is credited with being the writer who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, propelled the detective novel into the Modern Age. His most famous pen name was Michael Collins. With that name, he created the opinionated Dan Fortune, the star of one of America’s longest-running private detective series. The first book, Act of Fear, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel. “Many critics believe Dan Fortune to be the culmination of a maturing process that transformed the private eye from the naturalistic Spade (Dashiell Hammett) through the romantic Marlowe (Raymond Chandler) and the psychological Archer (Ross Macdonald) to the sociological Fortune,” according to Private Eyes: 101 Knights by Robert Baker and Michael Nietzel.At heart, Lynds was a rebel. Two decades later, he rattled mystery critics and changed the field again, this time by introducing literary techniques into the genre, beginning in the late 1980s with Red Rosa, Castrato, and Chasing Eights, and continuing well into the 1990s with The Irishman’s Horse, Cassandra in Red, and The Cadillac Cowboy. Other authors followed, proving the flexibility and durability of the suspense world. “No one could accuse [Lynds] of reworking the same turf in his novels. … His last several books have pushed the private-eye form into some fascinating new shapes,” according to The Wall Street Journal in 2000. The Los Angeles Times commented, “It takes style to bring that off. Bravery, too, of course.” Lynds also published mainstream novels, short stories, and poetry. Five of his literary short stories were honored in Best American Short Stories.
During World War II, he was a rifleman and carried books of poetry in his knapsack as he fought across France. He was a strong swimmer, so when he and fellow infantrymen were surrounded by Nazis, he plunged into an icy river, leading them in a swim to escape. He earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
After the war, he graduated with a degree in chemistry from Hofstra University and a masters degree in journalism from Syracuse University. A lifelong New Yorker, in the mid 1960s he finally left the East Coast’s bitter winters to settle in the warm sunshine of Southern California.He was married three times, to Doris Flood, then Sheila McErlean, and finally to Gayle Hallenbeck Stone. With Sheila, he had two daughters, Katie and Deirdre Lynds. With Gayle, he acquired two step-children, Paul and Julia Stone. He loved and doted on all four, handing out $20 bills after only a few minutes of coaxing. His last wife, novelist Gayle Lynds, survived him. She became an award-winning international espionage novelist. They had been together for almost a quarter of a century, and he was nearly that much older than she. “He took care of me when I was young. And I took care of him when he was old. We loved each other.”
Dennis Lynds died at age 81 in 2005. Jack Adrian wrote in The Financial Times, “Unusually for a mystery writer — as a breed, they tend to favor things as they are, rather than as they might be — the American author Dennis Lynds, politically, came from left of center. This did not mean he preached bloody revolution. He wrote to entertain.” Entertainment was something Lynds never forgot, that and to be generous to his friends.
Obituaries celebrating his work appeared around the globe. In a typical understatement, he commented near the end of his life, “I had a good run.” His career had lasted more than fifty years.
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