by Francis M. Nevins

   Since last July she had been in medical facilities near her home on the Jersey shore. Even after a tracheotomy she could never get back to breathing normally. She couldn’t speak and had to be tube-fed for months. Then she improved and was moved from the ICU to a rehab center but at best she could say only a few words.


   I spoke with her on Thanksgiving and her birthday and Christmas. I went to the east coast at the beginning of January and was to have seen her on the 6th but she had a major relapse on the night of New Year’s Day and almost died. Then she improved again and I arranged to visit her three days later, on the 9th. She had another relapse on the evening of the 8th and from then on she was out of it.

   She died three days later. What hideous timing: I never got to say goodbye to her.

   She was the first love of my life. I met her when JFK was in the White House and was separated from her for almost thirty years — my fault, I fear — and during that endless hiatus before we got together again (a story too complex to be told here) she became the model for the doomed Lucy in my first novel.

   Paging through Publish and Perish the other day, I was shaken by how many passages written more than 35 years ago capture how I thought and felt about her. Perhaps the last line says it best. “He knew that she would come to life as a sudden stab of loss within him, whenever he saw the gleam of starlight on dark water.”


   Death never rains but it pours. She died on Saturday, January 12. A few days later, on the morning of Thursday the 17th, I lost one of her favorite authors and one of my closest friends in the mystery-writing community.

   Ed Hoch’s death was the sort we wish for ourselves and those we care about, instant, without pain. He got up and went to take a shower and his wife heard a thump from the bathroom and he was already gone, apparently a massive heart attack.

   He would have been 78 next month. His ambition was to write 1000 short stories but he died something like 50 short of that goal.

   I first met him in the late Sixties, a year or two after he had left his advertising job to write full time. Over the decades we corresponded endlessly, appeared on panels together, did things for each other. I edited two collections of his short stories, recommended him for Guest of Honor at the Pulpcon the year after I had that slot (he should of course have been asked long before I was), gave him my extra copy of Fred Dannay’s all but impossible to find autobiographical novel The Golden Summer (1953, as by Daniel Nathan).

   The morning after each year’s MWA dinner, I’d have breakfast with Ed and Pat at the Essex House on Central Park South, where they habitually stayed on their frequent visits to town, and we would talk the morning away. All the things he did for me would fill a book even if one didn’t mention the countless hours of reading pleasure his stories gave me.

Edward D. Hoch

   He was such a kind man, so generously giving of himself to so many others, so modest and tolerant and thoughtful. It was typical of him that when an interviewer wanted to describe him as a devout Catholic, Ed said it would be presumptuous to apply that adjective to himself and that he preferred “observant,” a word generally associated with the Jewish tradition.

   If there was anyone remotely like him in the genre, it was Anthony Boucher. Both men loved and were immensely knowledgeable about mystery fiction, both wrote far more short stories than they did novels, both edited superb anthologies of short fiction in their genre, both combined deep religious feeling with total openness of mind and heart and deep respect and appreciation for those of another faith or none.

   Ed was the polar opposite of a stereotypical Type A personality. He never seemed harried or rushed, never lost his temper, always had time for others’ concerns and yet never fell behind schedule with his own work.

   His ability to devise mystery plots was astonishing. Where did they come from? Wide and constant reading — almost anything he came across in a novel or story or nonfiction book might become a springboard for him—coupled with a mind like no other.

   About twenty years ago we attended a cocktail party at a New York publisher’s office whose roof garden offered a fine view of the then new Marriott Marquis hotel with its glass-walled elevator traveling nonstop up and down the side of the building from top floor to street and back again. “What if someone was seen entering that elevator,” I asked Ed idly, “and wasn’t there when it stopped at the other end?”

   Almost anyone could come up with a wild premise like that. Ed made it work, made one of his neatest impossible crime stories out of it, and thanked me by naming one of its minor characters Nevins.

   He’s gone now. The genre he loved and to which he contributed so much will never again see anyone like him. But maybe in a sense he’s still with us. There’s a Jewish saying that you haven’t really died until the death of the last person with fond living memories of you.

   In that sense Ed Hoch will live for generations as his finest stories will.