Boyle, Alistair 1952-

views updated

BOYLE, Alistair 1952-

PERSONAL: Born December 16, 1952; married.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Knoll Publishers, 200 W. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Property manager in Los Angeles, CA; freelance writer, 1995—.


mystery novels; "gil yates" series

The Missing Link, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 1995.

The Con, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 1996.

The Unlucky Seven, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 1997.

Bluebeard's Last Stand, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 1998.

Ship Shapely, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 1999.

What Now, King Lear?, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 2001.

The Unholy Ghost, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 2003.

They Fall Hard, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 2004.

WORK IN PROGRESS: More Gil Yates, private investigator novels.

SIDELIGHTS: Mystery novelist Alistair Boyle has written numerous books featuring private investigator Gil Yates.

In The Missing Link, Malvin Stark is a California man who works for his dominating father-in-law and has to deal with a pushy wife. He gains relief from this dreary situation by inventing and fulfilling an exciting nighttime identity—Gil Yates, private investigator. As yet unlicensed, he nevertheless manages to obtain a client—an illegal arms dealer whose bulimic daughter is missing. Yates must put together the details of her life. The arms dealer's ex-wife is a waitress who becomes Yates's romantic interest. Several reviewers have observed Yates's resemblance to American humorist James Thurber's fictional character Walter Mitty, well known for his flights of fantasy. Others have enjoyed Yates's use of malapropisms such as "fit as a cello" and "the vegetables of my labor." Sybil S. Steinberg in Publishers Weekly hailed The Missing Link as "inventive, quirky and utterly implausible," further noting of Boyle that "charm oozes from his pages." Rex E. Klett in Library Journal lauded the novel as well, citing its humor and romance, and declaring it "a breeze to read."

Boyle told CA about writing his first Gil Yates book: "'Okay, I admit it. It was a crazy thing to do.' That [sentence] is the start of my first book, The Missing Link, and it begins at a meeting of the Southern California Palm Society of which, as a collector of Palms and Cycads, I am a member. I did sit in the back row, and a guy did come up to talk to me while I was reading a New Yorker. The rest I made up from there, using bits of people in my acquaintance. The arms dealer is patterned after a man who deceived me in a business transaction. Writing is a stellar way of dealing with your demons. As for the part about being a henpecked husband with a wife I secretly refer to as Tyranny Rex—I'm not at liberty to discuss it. My wife won't let me."

By the time 1996's The Con opens, Stark has managed to acquire a license under the name of his alter ego, Gil Yates. As Yates, he is hired by the director of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Museum of Art to recover a stolen painting by nineteenth-century French Impressionist artist Claude Monet. Despite his continuing (other) life with his irritating wife, Dorcas—whom he doesn't leave because he likes his kids—he manages to follow his investigation to exotic ports of call such as London and Zurich, with the help of a million-dollar advance from the director. In the course of his travels, Yates mingles, to his increasing confusion, with the often-crooked high-stakes players of the art world. As chance would have it, he runs into the man a contributor to Publishers Weekly described as his "nemesis"—his first client from The Missing Link, the arms dealer, Michael Hadaad. The reviewer lamented that "the plot is really secondary to the Walter Mittyness of it all," and complained about Boyle's puns. A Kirkus Reviews critic, however, applauded the return of Gil Yates, and affirmed that The Con contained "enough twists, forgeries, double-crosses, and switch-eroos to make your head rotate."

The third adventure of Stark/Yates, The Unlucky Seven, saw print in 1997. In this novel, Gil Yates is hired by a wealthy businessman who fears he is next on the list of a mad bomber who has been blowing up the world's power elite. A contributor to Library Journal noted that "the plot capitalizes on [Yates's] eccentric behavior, naively humorous predicaments, and lucky breaks." A Booklist reviewer commented that the "thriller … is sustained by a refreshingly quirky tone and an offbeat style." And a Publishers Weekly critic observed that The Unlucky Seven is "another lighthearted and amusing romp … Yates's fantasy life is geared just right for mystery fans."

Bluebeard's Last Stand begins with spoiled Harvey Cavendish hiring Yates to keep his wealthy, soon-tobe-married, seventy-six-year-old mother alive. Reginald Windsor (a.k.a. Bluebeard) has had several rich wives or mistresses who all came to mysteriously accidental ends, and Cavendish's mother could be next on Bluebeard's list. Reginald's plan seems to involve death on the high seas, as he and Harriet set sail on a marriage trip to New Zealand, so Yates takes the penthouse cabin next door to keep an eye on them. The catch is, Yates only receives his fee if Harriet disembarks alive either unmarried or with a Cavendish-friendly prenuptial agreement in hand. With twenty-two days on ship and the stakes rising daily, both for Harriet's life and his own fee, Yates brings the mystery to a close with nonstop action, including avoiding the amorous clutches of fellow-passenger Sophia Romanoff. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt the book had a "thin plot" and "unappealing characters." However, a Booklist reviewer called Yates "utterly likable," and regarded the character as "bring[ing] a delightful blend of charm and silliness to the comic mystery."

Edna Quincy doesn't think it likely that her world-class swimmer, yacht-captain husband really did succumb to an accidental death by drowning, and her dissatisfaction with this official determination leads her to hire Gil Yates to investigate his disappearance in Ship Shapely, Boyle's fifth mystery in the series. Les Quincy vanished a year earlier while on a cruise to Hawaii, his yacht crewed by five specially chosen beautiful women who claimed to be asleep when the accident happened, and it is up to Yates to discover which of the lovely deckhands did the deed. According to Booklist contributor Mary Frances Wilkens, Yates is "a wonderfully comic, mixed-metaphorspouting hero who combines awkward charm with cunning instinct."

In 2001, Boyle published What Now, King Lear? The wife of Texas billionaire Orville Sampson hires Yates to find her husband's murderer. As did the father king in Shakespeare's play of similar title, Sampson had split his estate among his three daughters, who were squabbling over it even before he died. But he proved prescient in the nature of his death when he included in his will a provision that if he was murdered, the killer would have to be found before anyone inherited. The wife as well as the three daughters and their ruthless husbands are high on the list, though the police had investigated and cleared the sons-in-law. Yates and his wife travel to a Mexican spa to investigate. After several occasions of getting beat up by a mystery man and receiving severe looks from maids, Yates gathers the leads he needs to solve the case. A contributor observed that "Yates's cynical indifference about other people … [is] somewhat off-putting … [his] attitude toward almost everyone is tinged with contempt. That said … Boyle delivers a fast-paced and occasionally humorous tale." Booklist's Wilkens remarked, "Boyle's clever storytelling and deft writing are a treat once again…. For lighthearted, witty whodunits, it doesn't get much better than this."



Boyle, Alistair, The Con, Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 1996.


Booklist, April 15, 1997, review of The Unlucky Seven; May 1, 1998, review of Bluebeard's Last Stand, p. 1506; August, 1999, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Ship Shapely, p. 2032; May 1, 2001, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of What Now, King Lear?, p. 1622; May 1, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of The Unholy Ghost, p. 1534.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1996, p. 340.

Library Journal, December, 1994, Rex E. Klett, review of The Missing Link, p. 137; March, 1997, review of The Unlucky Seven; August, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Ship Shapely, p. 145.

Publishers Weekly, November 21, 1994, Sylvia S. Steinberg, review of The Missing Link, p. 71; February 19, 1996, review of The Con, p. 207; February 3, 1997, review of The Unlucky Seven, p. 98; May 4, 1998, review of Bluebeard's Last Stand, p. 207.

online, (July 31, 2002), review of What Now, King Lear?

[Sketch reviewed by Gina Ledbetter]