Satterthwait, Walter 1946–
Satterthwait, Walter 1946–
PERSONAL: Born March 23, 1946, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Walter, Jr. (a club manager) and Jeanne Satterthwait. Education: Attended Reed College. Religion: Buddhist.
CAREER: Writer. Worked as a bartender and bar manager, beginning 1968.
MEMBER: Mystery Writers of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Prix du Roman d'Aventures (France), for Escapade.
Cocaine Blues, Dell (New York, NY), 1979.
The Aegean Affair, Dell (New York, NY), 1981.
Miss Lizzie, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1989.
Wilde West, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1991.
The Gold of Mayani (short stories), Buffalo Medicine Books (Gallup, NM), 1995.
Perfection, Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Work represented in anthologies, including Hitchcock's Most Wanted. Contributor of stories to magazines, including Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
"JOSHUA CROFT" MYSTERY SERIES
Wall of Glass, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1987.
At Ease with the Dead, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1990.
A Flower in the Desert, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1992.
The Hanged Man, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993, published as The Death Card, Collins (London, England), 1994.
Accustomed to the Dark, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1996.
"PINKERTON" MYSTERIES SERIES
Escapade, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1995.
Masquerade, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Cavalcade, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
(With Ernie Bulow) Sleight of Hand: Conversations with Walter Satterthwait, University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM), 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: Walter Satterthwait's writing career has flourished since the late 1980s, when he began writing a series of mystery novels featuring the character Joshua Croft, a private investigator in the American Southwest. Satterthwait, who lives in New Mexico, uses that locale—and the West in general—to give an authentic regional flavor to both his detective novels and his historical mystery tales. According to a contributor to the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, Satterthwait "is a natural storyteller with a smooth, readable prose style, qualities evidenced in everything he writes…. While his tales have their subtexts and messages, as any but the shallowest of fiction does, these are not his focus. He tells stories, and so far he has told them very well indeed."
Born in Philadelphia, Satterthwait published his first novel, Cocaine Blues, when he was thirty-three. He wrote several historical mysteries that propose intriguing situations, including an unlikely visit to the American West by Oscar Wilde in Wilde West. The essayist for St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers found Satterthwait's historical mysteries to be "the most appealing of his works," featuring his "most ambitious" writing.
Still, the author is most often recognized for his Joshua Croft novels, which include Wall of Glass, At Ease with the Dead, and Accustomed to the Dark. These are set in Santa Fe and its environs, making liberal use of the desert locale and the particular eccentricities of the city itself. According to the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers writer, the Croft books "are among the better of the current private eye series regardless of locale…. Satterthwait has excellent narrative skills, striking a good balance between straightforward narration and occasional passages that approach the lyrical." Reflecting on the series title character, the essayist noted: "Croft can fire off his share of the mandatory PI wisecracks, but Satterthwait succeeds in making him a sensitive character without being either pretentious or maudlin."
Reviewing At Ease with the Dead for Publishers Weekly, Sybil Steinberg recommended it as a "fascinating, surprising" puzzle that will give its readers "huge satisfaction." The story depicts Croft as a newcomer to the Southwest, having recently moved from Connecticut with his partner, Rita. He feels himself to be very much an outsider, but he learns a great deal about the local culture while on an assignment to locate the body of an Indian, stolen by anthropologists decades earlier. He sets out to unravel the tangled trail, trying to respect Navajo tradition as he does so. His informants begin to fall victim to murder, and Croft soon realizes that his own life is also in jeopardy.
Croft investigates a case of child molestation and kidnapping in A Flower in the Desert. A Publishers Weekly writer reviewing that book described Croft as "an appealingly sensitive, slightly cynical" character. In Accustomed to the Dark Croft's companion Rita is shot and seriously wounded by the same man who shot and disabled her years ago and murdered her husband as well. The assailant, Ernie Martinez, was an escapee from the state prison. Croft is horrified that he and Rita were not warned of the man's escape, and he sets out to exact his own justice. The action moves from New Mexico through several states and at last to Florida as Croft tracks down Martinez, finding much more murder and mayhem as he proceeds. Stuart Miller, reviewing Accustomed to the Dark for Booklist, called it a "compelling and highly readable" book. A Publishers Weekly writer also praised the novel, too, noting: "Satterthwait grips his readers early, hard and fast," adding that the "narration and dialogue crackle."
Despite the popularity of the Croft books, Satterthwait indicated that he may not continue the series indefinitely. The St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers commentator remarked that readers need not fear any change the author cares to make. "While many writers are comfortable using only voice, writing only one type of fiction, the record shows that Satterthwait has a versatility that would seem to allow him to go anywhere he chooses with his craft."
Three of Satterthwait's historical mysteries feature the characters of Jane Turner and Phil Beaumont, a pair of detectives for the famous Pinkerton's agency. In Escapade, Beaumont is hired as a bodyguard for Harry Houdini when the famous magician is threatened by a professional rival. Invited to a séance at an English manor house, Houdini attends, bringing Beaumont with him. The pair meet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and are soon involved in dangerous and mysterious events. Jane Turner appears as a woman who sees ghosts and whose life is also threatened. It is a "fast-paced" story, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In Masquerade, Beaumont teams with Turner to look into an apparent double suicide in Paris. As they work on solving the case, they encounter many famous historical figures, including Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. "With remarkable finesse and no shortage of wit, Satterthwait re-creates the world of the Lost Generation," according to Bill Ott in Booklist. Turner and Beaumont are tasked with tracking down someone who intends to assassinate Adolph Hitler in their third outing, Cavalcade. The novel successfully showcases the detectives as "an engaging pair," stated a Publishers Weekly contributor.
The author created a new detective team in his 2005 publication, Perfection. This mystery features Florida police officers Jim Fallow, a sergeant, and Detective Sophia Tregaskis. The two are assigned to a horrific case involving a serial killer who attacks large women and mutilates their bodies. Fallow and Tregaskis try to piece together a profile of the killer. The story is "grisly," according to a Publishers Weekly writer, with a narrative that proceeds "smoothly if unpleasantly."
Satterthwait once told CA: "In general I write books and short stories about people who attempt to determine why, and by whom, certain other people were killed. I like mysteries because writing them gives me—theoretically, at least—an opportunity to demonstrate how clever I am. (Which, I suspect, is part of the reason why anyone writes anything for publication. Plumage, Nathanael West called it.) But also because along the way, maybe I can actually learn a little something about the way specific people in a specific locale might react to a specific, potentially dangerous situation. I've invented—and to some extent been invented by—ivory smugglers in Malindi, Kenya; gallery owners in Santa Fe; restaurant owners in Greece; and Lizzie Borden on the Massachusetts shore in 1921. And I think that in order for any of them to have worked as characters, I needed to understand them first as people: to recognize the complicated—sometimes sloppy—uniqueness of their individual lives. And I think that doing this, in the act of fiction or the act of living, is kind of a nifty thing, and may even be important."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, November 15, 1996, Stuart Miller, review of Accustomed to the Dark, p. 575; April 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of The Hanged Man, p. 1388; June 1, 1998, Bill Ott, review of Masquerade, p. 1734; May 1, 2000, review of At Ease with the Dead, p. 1595.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2004, review of Cavalcade, p. 1123; December 1, 2005, review of Perfection, p. 1259.
Library Journal, August, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Masquerade, p. 139.
Publishers Weekly, March 30, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of At Ease with the Dead, p. 54; June 28, 1991, review of Wilde West, p. 90; June 15, 1992, review of A Flower in the Desert, p. 89; June 26, 1995, review of Escapade, p. 92; September 9, 1996, review of Accustomed to the Dark, p. 67; January 3, 2005, review of Cavalcade, p. 39; November 28, 2005, review of Perfection, p. 26.
Walter Satterthwait's Home Page, http://www.satterthwait.com (May 2, 2006).