My friend, the publisher Rupert Heath of Dean Street Press, has died. We had worked together on projects on projects for nearly a decade now. Some background:
Back in September 2014 I was a bit down in the dumps. My Passing Tramp blog had been up for nearly three full years, since November 2011, and my book Masters of the Humdrums Mystery, which attempted to get discussions of crime fiction beyond the increasingly barren (and false) division between the Crime Queens in England and the hard-boiled boys in the United States, had been published a year later. I knew there was so much vintage crime fiction, of all stripes, waiting to be rediscovered. But it was starting to feel like I had been passed by. I had my blog and my book, published by a minor scholarly press, but no really large-scale publishing forum, like Sarah Weinman, whose anthology of domestic suspense tales by mid-century women writers, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, had been published the year before, or Martin Edwards, who was writing introductions for the British Library's classic crime reissues.
And then came the Farjeon Affair. Literally the first post on my blog, on November 22, 2011, was about Golden Age thriller writer Jefferson Farjeon, as my blog was named in honor of his tramp sleuth of sorts, Ben, and the amusing convention in GA mysteries, desperately grasped by country house weekend guests suspected of having bludgeoned their host in his library, that a passing tramp must have done the foul deed. I posted again about Farjeon and my favorite Farjeon crime novels just four days later, then, one day after Christmas, in a post entitled "A Late Christmas Number," I posted about Jefferson Farjeon's 1937 Christmas thriller Mystery in White. Little did I know where this would go! Had I but known....
I remember googling about Farjeon back in those days and there was virtually nothing about him on the internet, certainly nothing about Mystery in White. I had been collecting his books for over a decade and was a great fan of his, having even travelled to visit the marvelous home of his famous American actor grandfather, Joe Jefferson, in Louisiana. Sadly I was not invited to have any role when, three years later in September 2014, a major concern published a new edition Mystery in White. Not only that, but my key, indeed essential, part in having publicized the book in the first place was never, to my knowledge, acknowledged anywhere. That the book went on to become in the UK a seasonal bestseller over Christmas made the situation even more bittersweet for me--more bitter than sweet, really. There's only so much satisfaction you can get from being essentially alone in knowing that you were right.
But it was also in September 2014 that I received a message from a man named Rupert Heath, in the form of a comment left on my blog. (I don't know now on which post the comment appeared.) I emailed him and this was his reply:
From: Rupert Heath
It was the beginning of a beautiful working relationship--and a friendship. It meant so much at that time to have someone to work with, someone who was really at the top of his game and respected me too. I didn't have any doubt about my knowledge or my writing ability (I'm not modest in that respect), but I just didn't have the connections others had and I was afraid I was going to be doomed to comparative obscurity. Rupert really helped save me from that. Since then I have been able to work with other presses, writing introductions (besides Coachwhip, who was my first): Stark House and Moonstone and even HarperCollins for one gig and Mysterious Press for a couple. And I got a column with Crimereads, wrote for the last issue of Mystery Scene, edited an Edgar-nominated book, Murder in the Closet, and there's even news about a good publisher that wants to publish a new book by me.
But I don't know where it would have gone without Rupert. All those reprinting projects we had: all the ER Punshons, all the Christopher Bushes, Ianthe Jerrold, Robin Forsythe, that Victorian miss Annie Haynes who proved so unexpectedly popular, Peter Drax, Patricia Wentworth, Harriet Rutland, Molly Thynne, Moray Dalton, Anne Morice, Alice Campbell, Bristow and Manning and their Invisible Host. And not to hog everything, The Puzzle Doctor's pet Brian Flynn project has been very popular!
It meant a lot knowing how much Rupert respected my work. This last December and January I was under a great deal of stress as my 92 year old father was in the hospital four times and ambulances were called out to the house three times. I won't go into it all, but you will have noticed how my blog posting really dipped then. During that time I managed to get a set of intros written for a new set of DSP Moray Dalton resissues and an intro to the Hake Talbot novels with a good deal of new information on the author. On the Dalton intros Rupert had this to say:
The intros so far are uniformly excellent, Curt! I think they may be among the very best you've written for us. And they all give fascinating colour and background to the context of MD's writing, the when and the where.
Working on those new intros/afterwords I really appreciated them more and more - you're a fantastic writer!
On the Hake Talbot:
I think this is magnificent!
I was in communication a lot with Rupert through December into January, when I learned of the sudden health problems of his wife Amanda. I last communicated with Rupert on Jan. 20 when he let me know things were rapidly declining. Amanda died five days later and I never heard from him again. I wrote him about ten days ago, but never heard back. Yesterday, coming home from a doctor's visit with my Dad I learned that Rupert had died from a massive heart attack. He was only 54. He leaves two children.
What do you say to all this? I just don't know. I do know working with Rupert was a real lifeline for me, one of the most rewarding things in my life. I feel we were able to take a place of significance in vintage mystery publishing that I hope will last. At the moment I don't know the status of the Moray Dalton reissues. They were all ready to go, I think, and I had been paid for the intros. About the Hake Talbots, or anything else, I don't know (hadn't been paid for that one). For now please think of Rupert and his family.
In one of his last emails to me, he sent me a link to a George Harrison song titled "Deep Blue":
I hadn't heard it before. I responded:
Liked the Harrison song, made me want to get that edition of the album. About his mother dying from cancer yet the song sounds not gloomy at all.
He also commented, drolly it seemed at the time, concerning other family health problems (He didn't even know Amanda had cancer yet, but he referred to her having some sort of infection):
I am presently expecting to drop dead any second.
I was getting so overwhelmed with my Dad's problems and suffering from an extremely painful herniated disc left over from Christmas. When Rupert emailed me ten days later to let me know Amanda had inoperable cancer, my Dad was on a ventilator in ICU, after reacting poorly to anaesthesia. Dad made it out, but Amanda died ten days later. I look back and I wish I had said more to Rupert at the time. I have an idea what stress can do the heart; my blood pressure has gone up ten points since last year. I thought I would be working another two decades with Rupert, my health permitting. I never imagined anything would happen to him. We are about the same age, but he just looked so healthy.
|From an English garden|
I did tell him how much I appreciated the flowers he sent after my mother's death. I hope that he read it:
I had to take care of my mother when her breast cancer spread again three years ago. I remember those flowers you sent, that was actually the only time I ever cried, if you can believe it, I thought how much Mom would have liked those lilies. Really, it was one of the nicest things someone ever did for me.
Rupert was a good publisher and editor and a good friend. He was kind and generous and did things he did not have to do. He meant a lot in my life. I will miss him terribly.