Obituaries are one of my favorite things to read as you get the satisfaction of reading about a person's entire life, their accomplishments, their struggles, their loved ones and their words. Gregory Mcdonald's I particularly enjoyed as he penned Fletch, the novel that inspired one of my favorite movies. The guy seemed like a cool guy, which is not surprising. R.I.P.
Gregory Mcdonald, an Edgar Award-winning crime writer whose acidly funny novels starring the subversive sleuth I. M. Fletcher, breezily known as Fletch, have sold millions of copies and inspired two Hollywood films, died on Sunday at his home in Pulaski, Tenn. He was 71.
The cause was prostate cancer, said his wife, Cheryle Mcdonald.
A former reporter and editor for The Boston Globe, Mr. Mcdonald was considered a master of the comic-mystery genre. The Fletch novels, nine in all, were praised by critics for their sharp, sardonic dialogue and mordant social commentary. (The journalists, politicians, Ivy League types and drug dealers who populate Fletch’s world are all equally reprehensible.) The series began in 1974 with “Fletch,” published by Bobbs-Merrill.
Irwin Maurice Fletcher was young, cocky and smart but no white knight. A Southern California newspaperman turned beach bum, he flouted authority wherever he found it. He was a slob (at least early on), whose sartorial taste ran to T-shirts and jeans. He was a cad, a deadbeat (unpaid alimony), an opportunist and a sometime accumulator of vast ill-gotten wealth. He was, in short, the perfect hero for the countercultural ’70s, and the public ate him up.
The Fletch novels have sold tens of millions of copies, Mr. Mcdonald’s manager, David List, said Thursday. Two — “Fletch” and “Confess, Fletch” (Avon, 1976) — won Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. Among Mr. Mcdonald’s other awards, as The Globe reported on Thursday, was his personal favorite, “Best Foreign Author — Not Yet Dead,” from the Moscow Literary Review in 1992.
Fletch made his way on-screen in 1985, in a film of that name starring Chevy Chase. He returned, again played by Mr. Chase, in “Fletch Lives” (1989). Another novel, “Fletch Won” (Warner, 1985), is being adapted into a feature film, Mr. List said.
Despite his acclaim, Mr. Mcdonald shunned the limelight. On airplanes, trapped next to seatmates who asked what he did, he would reply that he was in the insurance business. That pre-empted further interrogation.
Gregory Burke Christopher Mcdonald was born on Feb. 15, 1937, in Shrewsbury, Mass. His father was a newsman with CBS Radio. The younger Mr. Mcdonald earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1958.
An accomplished sailor, Mr. Mcdonald supported himself at Harvard, and for several years afterward, by running what he euphemistically called an “international yacht troubleshooting business.” His clients were tycoons who bought yachts but could not sail them. Lost, stuck, becalmed or otherwise in need of rescue, they sent for Mr. Mcdonald, who sailed the boats home.
Starting in the mid-1960s, Mr. Mcdonald spent seven years on the staff of The Globe, where he wrote about culture. He moved to Tennessee in the mid-1980s, and after settling in Pulaski, the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, he was active in anti-Klan work.
Mr. Mcdonald’s first novel, “Running Scared” (Obolensky), appeared in 1964. It told the story of a college student who stands coolly by as his roommate commits suicide. The book, whose subject matter distressed many critics, was filmed in 1972, starring Robert Powell and Barry Morse. Another non-Fletch novel, “The Brave,” (Barricade Books, 1991), about a young man who takes part in a snuff film to help his destitute family, was filmed in 1997 with Johnny Depp.
Besides his wife, the former Cheryle Higgins, whom he married in 2001, Mr. Mcdonald is survived by a sister, two sons, three stepsons and grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.
His other books include four novels starring Francis Xavier Flynn, a music-loving Boston cop introduced in “Confess, Fletch”; and a collection of his writing for The Globe, first published in 1985 and to be reissued in November by Seven Stories Press as “Souvenirs of a Blown World.”
A novel of which Mr. Mcdonald was especially fond was “Safekeeping” (1985), about the misadventures in New York of an English duke’s 8-year-old son. Praised by critics, it had been rejected by a spate of publishers before being acquired by Penzler Books for an advance of exactly $10. After the agent’s commission, Mr. Mcdonald got $9.
Though he wrote more than two dozen books, he remained best known for the Fletch novels. He found this a mixed blessing, and after “Fletch, Too” (Warner, 1986), he vowed there would be no more. He did not kill off his hero, but instead issued a very precise threat.
As Mr. Mcdonald said in an interview in 2002, “I’ve told my family and so forth that if, after I kick the bucket, somebody takes over writing Fletches and Flynns under my name or in conjunction with my name or as a franchise, I will come back from the grave and twist their heads off.”