Kilian, Michael D. 1939–2005

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Kilian, Michael D. 1939–2005

(Rex Dancer)

PERSONAL: Born July 16, 1939, in Toledo, OH; died October 26, 2005, of complications from liver disease; son of D. Frederick and Laura Casmere (Dulski) Kilian; married Pamela H. Reeves, October 17, 1970; children: Eric, Colin. Education: Attended the New School for Social Research, 1957–58, and University of Maryland, 1964. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Flying.

CAREER: KNTV, San Jose, CA, writer, 1960–63; City News Bureau, Chicago, IL, reporter, 1965–66; Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, reporter and assistant political editor, 1966–71, member of the editorial board, 1971–2005, editorial writer, 1971–86, editorial page columnist, 1974–86, Washington, DC, columnist and cultural commentator, 1986–2005. CBS Radio, WBBM, Chicago, IL, commentator, 1973–82; WTTW Channel 11, Chicago, IL, commentator, 1975–78; National Public Radio, commentator, 1978–79; CLTV News, host of "DC Journal," 1995; WGN, Chicago, IL, correspondent for the Roy Leonard Show, 1996–99; commentator for CBC, 1996; commentator for Irish Radio. Board of directors, Fund for Animals, beginning 1976. Military service: U.S. Army, 1963–65; U.S. Air Force Civil Air Patrol, 1976; became captain.

MEMBER: White House Correspondents Association, English Speaking Union (life member), National Press Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: Humor Writing Award, United Press International, 1971.



The Valkyrie Project, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1981.

Northern Exposure, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1983.

Blood of the Czars, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1984.

By Order of the President, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1986.

Dance on a Sinking Ship, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1988.

Looker, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991.

The Last Virginia Gentleman, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.

The Big Score, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993.

(As Rex Dancer) Bad Girl Blues, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.

(As Rex Dancer) Postcard from Hell, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.

Major Washington, St. Martin's (New York, NY)/Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 1998.

Deep Kill, Berkley (New York, NY), 2005.


Murder at Manassas, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2000.

A Killing at Ball's Bluff, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2001.

The Ironclad Alibi, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.

A Grave at Glorieta, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.

The Shiloh Sisters, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.

Antietam Assassins, Severn House (Brooklyn, NY), 2005.


The Weeping Woman, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2001.

The Uninvited Countess, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.

A Sinful Safari, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.


(With Connie Fletcher and F. Richard Ciccone) Who Runs Chicago?, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Arnold Sawislak) Who Runs Washington?, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1982.

(With James Coates) Heavy Losses: The Dangerous Decline of American Defense, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Flying Can Be Fun (humor), illustrated by Dick Locher, Pelican Publishing (Gretna, LA), 1985.

Author, with Dick Locher, of comic strip Dick Tracy, 1993–2005. Also served as the sports editor for the Encyclopaedia Britannica Book of the Year, Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago, IL).

SIDELIGHTS: A journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Michael D. Kilian authored political thrillers and mystery series, collaborated with others to pen books about American politics and defense, and took over the writing of the Dick Tracy comic strip in 1993, a position he held until his death in 2005. A Chicago Tribune correspondent from Washington, DC, the versatile author covered topics ranging from politics to arts and culture.

Early in his book publishing career, Kilian wrote the 1979 book Who Runs Chicago? with university professor Connie Fletcher and Chicago Tribune journalist F. Richard Ciccone. In Who Runs Chicago? Kilian, Fletcher, and Ciccone examine nineteen interest groups—ranging from city politicians to society matrons to street gangs—that held power in Chicago at the time of the book's writing. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the authors "have compiled a Who's Who of Chicago power-brokers." Washington, DC, gets a similar treatment from Kilian and United Press International correspondent Arnold Sawislak in Who Runs Washington?, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer called an "informative if somewhat irreverent guide to Washington's political and social scene." A Booklist contributor pronounced it an "antic but informed guidebook to life in the nation's capital."

As a novelist, Kilian preferred to write political thrillers and mysteries. His first, The Valkyrie Project, takes place in Iceland on the eve of national elections that might lead to a Communist victory and upset the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union. Jack Spencer, an American intelligence agent and former journalist, has been assigned to sabotage the Valkyrie Project, a Soviet attempt to build a defense system that can strike down American nuclear missiles. Library Journal contributor John North wrote that "the action zips along with the requisite doses of sex, violence, and duplicity." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that the novel contains "a twisting plot, engaging characters, and picturesque backgrounds," while a Booklist contributor deemed The Valkyrie Project "a stylish spy tale."

Another Kilian novel, Northern Exposure, concerns a plot to secure the province of Quebec's independence from Canada. The responsibility for preventing Canada's disintegration falls to American diplomat Dennis Showers, who becomes trapped in a deadly cauldron of intrigue involving the CIA, the KGB, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and others. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Northern Exposure has a "fast-moving plot" as well as "fairly interesting characters," concluding that the story "fizzles out at the end, but it's pretty good fun while it lasts." Library Journal contributor Necia A. Musser observed that Northern Exposure "provides lively entertainment."

In Kilian's The Big Score the corpse of a young woman is found wrapped in a painting. Police chief Zane Rawlings investigates the death and finds himself in ever-increasing danger. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that although some of the characters "are a little broad," the author "has a great feel for plot," concluding that The Big Score "is a thoroughly entertaining thriller." Writing in the Library Journal, Beth Ann Mills said that while The Big Score is "entertainingly long on plot, it is unfortunately short on characterization."

Major Washington is a historical novel about three crucial years (1753 through 1755) in the life of George Washington, as told by Washington's fictional associate, Thomas Morley, a young ship owner and adventurer. During these years, the French and Indian War began, with Great Britain and France fighting for control of the North American interior. Washington, then in his early twenties, established his reputation as a military leader based on his actions in the conflict. Booklist contributor Brad Hooper praised Kilian's "careful and copious research" and declared: "We see a truly human Washington here, deeper than a frozen-in-ice icon." Writing in the Library Journal, Bettie Alston Shea also enjoyed the novel, calling Major Washington "well done but demanding reading."

After Major Washington Kilian wrote several mystery novels set during the Civil War, featuring his character Harrison Raines, a Virginian who dabbles in gambling and horse trading. Although Raines is a Southerner, his anti-slavery sentiments lead him to work for the U.S. Secret Service in the first book in the series, Murder at Manassas. Taking place during the first year of the Civil War, this tale follows Raines as he sets out to prove that a young officer who died at Manassas was actually a murdered hero, and not a coward killed while leading a Union retreat. What follows is a mix of spy intrigue, as Raines conducts his investigation in both the South and the North, with guest appearances from famous figures such as Allan Pinkerton, Clara Barton, and Abraham Lincoln. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the plot in Murder at Manassas was somewhat convoluted and that "the narrative never seems to find a pace it's comfortable with," Booklist contributor Jay Freeman called Raines "an interesting and attractive sleuth" and noted that Kilian "effectively handles the irony of a quest for justice in the midst of mass killing."

Throughout the series, the author uses an important historical event in the Civil War as the backdrop of each Harrison Raines book. Kilian's next installment, A Killing at Ball's Bluff, consequently features the battle of the title and involves the real-life mystery of the murder of Abraham Lincoln's friend Colonel Edward Baker. While Raines works on the case, Kilian touches on some of the issues of the time, including abolition and the consequences of war, but the main focus is on "picaresque adventure" with much "spy vs. spy" action, as one Publishers Weekly contributor described it. Both enthusiasts of Civil War novels and mysteries "will appreciate Kilian's grasp of the genres of historical fiction and mystery," according to Freeman in Booklist.

The threat of attack on Washington, DC, from a new ironclad Confederate warship, the C.S.S. Virginia (formerly the Union ship Merrimac) is a central concern in Raines' next escapade, The Ironclad Alibi. But even more worrying for him on a personal level is that his friend, a freed slave named Caesar Augustus, is accused of murdering a woman in Raines' room. Certain that Caesar is innocent, the sleuth gets permission from Robert E. Lee himself to solve the case—but he only has one week in which to do it. His investigation leads him to link the real killer to the Virginia itself. "A colorful and exciting climax caps a book that entertains from start to finish," said a Publishers Weekly writer about The Ironclad Alibi.

In addition to his historical Civil War mystery series, Kilian also began a new series of books before his death, the "Jazz Age" mysteries, and he had also been writing comic strips for Dick Tracy. Dick Tracy was originally started in 1931 by Chester Gould and features the square-jawed crime fighter of the title. When Gould retired in 1977, other writers and artists kept the strip going, with Kilian and editorial cartoonist Dick Locher taking the torch in 1993. Although Dick Tracy is much less popular than it once was, it is still carried in fifty U.S. newspapers and has many diehard fans. "[Dick Tracy] is the cop in America," said Kilian in a Denver Business Journal article. "He is part of the language," he added as explanation for the character's longevity. "I can't think of another comic strip where the character is as identifiable as Dick Tracy."



Best Sellers, February, 1980.

Booklist, December 1, 1981, p. 483; June 15, 1982, pp. 1344-1345; March 15, 1983, p. 946; September 1, 1986, p. 33; January 1, 1991, p. 909; April 15, 1992, Denise Perry Donavin, review of The Last Virginia Gentleman, p. 1507; October 1, 1993, Richard Paul Snyder, review of The Big Score, p. 253; January 1, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of Major Washington, p. 777; December 1, 1999, Jay Freeman, review of Murder at Manassas, p. 687; December 15, 2000, Jay Freeman, review of A Killing at Ball's Bluff, p. 792; October 15, 2005, Emily Melton, review of Antietam Assassins, p. 33.

Business Week, October 14, 1985, Dave Griffiths, review of Heavy Losses: The Dangerous Decline of American Defense, p. 14.

Chicago, January, 1993, pp. 80-86.

Denver Business Journal, October 12, 2001, L. Wayne Hicks, "Dick Tracy Going Strong at 70," p. 33A.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1979, p. 1112; January 1, 1984, p. 9; August 15, 1993, p. 1020; August 15, 2005, review of Antietam Assassins, p. 886.

Library Journal, December 1, 1981, review of The Valkyrie Project, p. 2332; March 15, 1983, Necia A. Musser, review of Northern Exposure, p. 601; November 15, 1985, Dennis Felbel, review of Heavy Losses, p. 85; March 1, 1988, p. 77; December, 1990, Patricia Y. Morton, review of Looker, p. 164; June 1, 1992, Barbara Conaty, review of The Last Virginia Gentleman, p. 177; September 15, 1993, Beth Ann Mills, review of The Big Score, p. 104; January, 1998, Bettie Alston Shea, review of Major Washington, p. 142.

New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1983, Dean Flower, review of Northern Exposure, p. 30; September 15, 1985, Harry G. Summers, Jr., review of Heavy Losses, p. 11; March 15, 1998, David Walton, review of Major Washington, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, October 30, 1981, Barbara A. Bannnon, review of The Valkyrie Project, p. 56; May 28, 1982, review of Who Runs Washington?, p. 62; January 7, 1983, review of Northern Exposure, pp. 61-62; January 6, 1984, p. 77; December 6, 1985, Sybil Steinberg, review of Blood of the Czars, p. 74; August 1, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of By Order of the President, pp. 67-68; July 10, 1987, p. 65; January 8, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Dance on a Sinking Ship, p. 72; November 16, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Looker, p. 44; April 13, 1992, review of The Last Virginia Gentleman, pp. 41-42; September 27, 1993, p. 46; January 5, 1998, review of Major Washington, pp. 59-60; December 13, 1999, review of Murder at Manassas, p. 68; December 4, 2000, review of A Killing at Ball's Bluff, p. 56; December 24, 2001, review of The Ironclad Alibi, p. 46; December 22, 2003, review of The Shiloh Sisters, p. 41; August 29, 2005, review of Antietam Assassins, p. 37.

School Library Journal, January, 1999, Carol Clark, review of Major Washington, p. 159.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 19, 1986, p. 6; March 20, 1988, p. 7; June 28, 1992, p. 7; October 17, 1993, p. 7.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1982, p. 124.

Washingtonian, May, 1982, review of Who Runs Washington?, p. 19.

Washington Monthly, February, 1986, pp. 52-55.

West Coast Review of Books, May-June, 1984, p. 29.



Chicago Tribune, October 27, 2005, William Neikirk and Glen Elsasser, "Michael Kilian, 1939–2005," p. 13.

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