Byrd, Max 1942-
BYRD, Max 1942-
(Max W. Byrd)
PERSONAL: Born 1942, in Atlanta, GA. Education: Harvard University, Ph.D.
CAREER: Yale University, New Haven, CT, assistant professor, 1970–75, associate professor of English, 1975–76; University of California—Davis, associate professor, 1976–81, professor of English, beginning 1981, professor emeritus. Has lectured at the University of California at Berkeley and Irvine, the University of Southern California, the Sorbonne, and the University of Warwick. Worked on Squaw Valley Writers Conference staff.
AWARDS, HONORS: Shamus Award, Private Eye Writers of America, 1982, for California Thriller.
California Thriller, Bantam (New York, NY), 1981.
Fly Away, Jill, Bantam (New York, NY), 1982.
Finders Weepers, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
Target of Opportunity, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Fuse Time, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Jefferson, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Jackson, Bantam (New York, NY), 1997.
Grant, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.
Shooting the Sun, Bantam (New York, NY), 2004.
Visits to Bedlam: Madness and Literature in the Eighteenth Century, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 1974.
(Editor) Daniel Defoe: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1976.
Tristram Shandy (nonfiction), Allen & Unwin (Boston, MA), 1985.
Also, contributor to the periodical Writer. Editor, "Eighteenth-Century Studies" series, 1977–88.
SIDELIGHTS: Max Byrd is an author with diverse talents; he has written scholarly investigations into English literature, historical novels, and contemporary detective novels. Writing about the nonfiction book London Transformed: Images of the City in the Eighteenth Century for the New Republic, Alan Sillitoe found Byrd "interesting" in his explorations of "recurrent images of London at key points in the eighteenth century" through the poetic works of Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, William Blake, and William Wordsworth. "It is a book about the way in which reality fails to live up to the noblest possibilities of language," remarked Times Literary Supplement contributor Pat Roger. "For Mr. Byrd is above all a critic of primary texts, and a very good one. He explores rather than analyzes, and he searches the metaphoric life of his chosen books for clues to the feeling within. Texture rather than structure dominates his discussion of each work…. We can be grateful to Mr. Byrd for his profound and eloquent exploration of the subject."
In a later scholarly volume, Byrd examines a single novel by eighteenth-century British novelist Laurence Sterne. The wit and sense of speech of Tristram Shandy are two elements discussed in this study, according to David Profumo in the Times Literary Supplement. The critic deemed Byrd "particularly good on the book's style, an area where so many others have been repetitious or dull."
In 1981 Byrd published his first novel, initiating a series featuring West Coast detective Mike Haller. California Thriller "set[s] up an interesting and plausible plot situation," reflected Robin W. Winks in a New Republic review, but relies on violence for its ending. Winks felt that the book would "fulfill every expectation of those who like, and those who hate, detective fiction." Winks judged the second Haller novel, Fly Away, Jill, more successful, commending its tight plotting. Reviews of Byrd's subsequent novels, some of which continued the Haller series, highlighted virtues such as the vividness of his writing and his skill with characterization.
In 1993, Byrd's first historical novel, Jefferson, was published. Four years later, Byrd produced another within the genre: Jackson. Both books feature early United States presidents, the latter tells of "Andrew Jackson, not in any simple biographical sense," indicated Keith Henderson in a favorable Christian Science Monitor review, "but in the broader sense of how America's first great populist created a political and social vortex that drew in all kinds of people." Library Journal contributor Dawn Anderson similarly proclaimed that Jackson provides "wonderful insights into the people and times of our infant republic."
"Deftly balancing fact and fiction, Byrd invests his tale with color, emotion and grand historical drama," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Jackson is colorfully told through several points of view," explained Gerald Walker in the Wall Street Journal, primarily through the perspective of David Chase, an expatriate who moves back from Europe to be with family. Chase is commissioned to write an unfavorable biography of Jackson in order to damage his presidential campaign. In the process of writing the biography, Chase becomes torn between completing the book as instructed or doing what he feels is best for the country. The voice and action of other characters, such as Hogwood, the man originally commissioned to write the negative portrait of Jackson but unable to complete it due to health issues, and Hogwood's daughter, with whom Chase has an affair, also help tell the story of the seventh president. "The gripping narrative reaches back in time to untangle the innuendoes, rumors, and heroic hype that surround and submerge General Jackson," lauded Margaret Flanagan in Booklist. "The heart of the book … is an enthralling, masterly account of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815," according to Walker, who maintained: "With Jackson, Mr. Byrd has vaulted … into the front rank of American historical novelists."
More recently, Byrd completed a historical novel that also contains an element of mystery. Set in the year 1840, Shooting the Sun includes scientific and historical tidbits, in addition to a story of greed and frontier danger as Selena Cott travels to New Mexico to try to be the first person to ever capture images of a solar eclipse. In addition to taking daguerreotype images, another point of her mission is to use a portable version of Charles Babbage's famous difference engine, a type of protocomputer, in order to make the necessary calculations. Accompanying her is William Pryce, whose stated intentions for the trip is to get evidence of the difference engine's capabilities and draw investors for the machine's further development. However, his secret motive is to find evidence that the wealthy uncle of Babbage, who was last known to live with a tribe of Kiowas, has died, making it possible to obtain his fortune. Cott is also accompanied by an eclectic assortment of characters, including a Harvard mathematician, a young woman astronomer, and an artist. Encountering many difficulties along the way, Selena must survive the challenges of traveling through the American West and the machinations of Pryce to accomplish her goal. Although Ken St. Andre found minor fault with Byrd's occasional digressions into "anachronistic historical minilectures," the reviewer asserted in the Library Journal that Shooting the Sun is a "fun read." A Publishers Weekly reviewer appreciated the author's insertion of a mystery to add tension to the story, but enjoyed the "engaging travelogue along the old Santa Fe Trail" even more.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1997, Margaret Flanagan, review of Jackson, p. 1224.
Christian Science Monitor, April 4, 1997, Keith Henderson, review of Jackson, p. 15.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of Shooting the Sun, p. 1238.
Library Journal, January, 1997, Dawn Anderson, review of Jackson, p. 143; December, 2003, Ken St. Andre, review of Shooting the Sun, p. 163.
New Republic, May 13, 1978, Alan Sillitoe, review of London Transformed: Images of the City in the Eighteenth Century, pp. 29-31; August 22, 1981, Robin W. Winks, review of California Thriller, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, December 2, 1996, review of Jackson, p. 40; December 8, 2003, review of Shooting the Sun, p. 46.
Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, CA), February 9, 1998, Jennifer Borjorquez, "Life in the Past Lane," review of Jackson and interview with Max Byrd.
Times Literary Supplement, June 23, 1978, Pat Roger, review of London Transformed, p. 689; November 29, 1985, David Profumo, review of Tristam Shandy, p. 1352; December 27, 1985, p. 1478.
Wall Street Journal, May 14, 1997, Gerald Walker, review of Jackson, p. 20.