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Whitaker, Rod 1931-2005

Whitaker, Rod 1931–2005

(J.L. Moran, Jean-Paul Morin, Nicholas Seare, Trevanian, Rodney Whitaker, Rodney William Whitaker, Benat le Cagot)

PERSONAL: Born June 12, 1931, in Granville, NY; died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, December 14, 2005, in England; married Diane Brandon; children: Lance, Christian, Alexandra, Tomasin (daughter). Education: University of Washington, B.A., 1959, M.A., 1960; Northwestern University, Ph.D., 1966.

CAREER: Writer. Dana College, Blair, NE, drama instructor, 1963–66; University of Texas at Austin, began as associate professor of film and drama, c. late 1960s, became department chair; Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, instructor, 1977–78; Emerson College, Boston, MA, chair of the communications department, beginning 1980; also taught for a semester at Penn State University.

Screenwriter and director (as Rod Whitaker; with Robert Kooris) of film Stasis (based on the short story "The Wall" by Jean-Paul Sartre), 1968; director (as Rod Whitaker) of film Genesis III (a collection of student short films), 1970. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1949–53.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright Scholar in England, c. late 1960s; Publisher's Award, Esquire, 1970, for Stasis.

WRITINGS:

The Language of Film, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1970.

(Under pseudonym Nicholas Seare) 1339 … Or So: Being an Apology for a Pedlar, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1975.

(With Hal Dresner and Warren B. Murphy) The Eiger Sanction (screenplay; also see below), Universal, 1975.

(Under pseudonym Nicholas Seare) Rude Tales and Glorious: Being the Only True Account of Diverse Feats of Brawn and Bawd Performed by King Arthur and His Knights of the Table Round, Crown (New York, NY), 1983.

WRITINGS; UNDER PSEUDONYM TREVANIAN

The Eiger Sanction (novel), Crown (New York, NY), Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Loo Sanction (novel), Crown (New York, NY), Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2005.

The Main (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Shibumi (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1979, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Four Complete Novels, Avenel (New York, NY), 1981.

The Summer of Katya (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1983, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Incident at Twenty-Mile (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(Author of introduction) Jack Olsen, The Climb Up to Hell (reprint edition), St. Martin's Griffin (New York, NY), 1998.

Hot Night in the City (short stories), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor and author of introduction) Death Dance: Suspenseful Stories of the Dance Macabre, Cumberland House (Nashville, TN), 2002.

The Crazyladies of Pearl Street (autobiographical novel), Crown (New York, NY), 2005.

The Crazyladies of Pearl Street Cybernotes Companion, privately published by Trevanian, 2005.

The Street of the Four Winds—Part I Internet Edition, privately published by Trevanian, 2005.

Author of short stories including "Switching," Playboy, 1978 (revised version published as "After Hours at Rick's" in Hot Night in the City); "Minutes of a Village Meeting," Harper's Monthly, 1979 (revised version published in Hot Night in the City); "The Secrets of Miss Plimsoll, Private Secretary," Redbook, 1984 (revised version published as "The Sacking of Miss Plimsoll" in Hot Night in the City); "The Apple Tree," Antioch Review, 2000; and, "Walking to the Spirit Clock," Antioch Review, 2003. A collection of short stories titled Different Voices was to be published by Crown in 1984, but never materialized. The book 1339 … or So was, in early form, a stage play titled Eve of the Bursting.

Also author, with Richard Kooris, of screenplay Stasis, 1968.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Dialog 5, Arion, and Texas Law Review.

ADAPTATIONS: The Eiger Sanction was adapted for film and directed by Clint Eastwood, 1975; Shibumi is being adapted as a screenplay by Warner Bros.; The Summer of Katya is being adapted as a screenplay; "Hot Night in the City" (short story) was adapted as a screenplay by Allen P. Haines, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Prior to his death in 2005, Rod Whitaker authored many successful thriller novels under the pseudonym Trevanian, but it is difficult to determine how many works he published using other names. He once told Carol Lawson of the New York Times Book Review, that he wrote under five different names on various subjects, including theology, law, aesthetics, and film, and that he planned to write "erudite little novels for special audiences."

Whitaker's first thriller, The Eiger Sanction, is the story of Jonathan Hemlock, an art historian who occasionally works as an assassin for an American intelligence agency. Hemlock is assigned to murder an enemy agent during a mountain-climbing expedition on the Eiger in Switzerland. Anatole Broyard of the New York Times wrote: "Though The Eiger Sanction is superior suspense on almost every page, the mountain-climbing sequence at the end is by far the best part, for here the details are most authentic…. There are moments … when one forgets that this is not a 'serious' novel." Newgate Callendar, in the New York Times Book Review, praised the "quality of intelligence that makes The Eiger Sanction a little more than another post-Fleming exercise in mayhem." The sequel, The Loo Sanction, was less well-received, with Broyard dismissing it as "tired and derivative."

Whitaker's next novel, more ambitious than and quite different in tone from his others, was ten years in the writing. A murder mystery in form, The Main was described by Donald Newlove in the New York Times Book Review as "a philosophical novel, no melodrama." The hero, Claude LaPointe, is an aging police detective with a terminal heart condition who is seeking a murderer among the residents of a Montreal slum called the Main. Whitaker placed less emphasis on the mechanics of police work, however, than on the emotional lives of the characters, including LaPointe, the young prostitute who moves in with him, and the rookie policeman who assists his investigation. Evan Connell, in Harper's, acknowledged the book's "wit and perception," noting that Whitaker's "narrative style is warm, his raffish characters sketched with considerable insight,… he has a feeling for the moments, the hours, and the seasons of human life."

In Shibumi, Whitaker again made use of an antihero who is a professional assassin. Nicholai Hel is as skilled in languages, sexual technique, and the Japanese game of Go as he is in methods of killing; he seeks the obscure Japanese aesthetic ideal of shibumi, an active spiritual tranquility. Hel inadvertently incurs the enmity of the Mother Company, an international consortium of oil companies, thwarting its attempt to protect a gang of Palestinian terrorists and then surviving the Mother Company's attempt on his life. Shibumi contains a strong parody element in its treatment of the conventions of sex and violence in the thriller as well as in the eccentric characterization of its antihero. Christopher Dickey, in the Washington Post Book World, remarked: "Though Hel is the central figure in a book marred by a cast of caricatures and obvious plotting, he is one of the most interesting fantasy figures to appear in recent thriller fiction. To the considerable extent that Shibumi is a character study of Hel, it is one hell of a pleasure to read." John Leonard of the New York Times observed: "Much … of Shibumi is quite silly. It just happens to be the most agreeable nonsense in commercial fiction this spring…. Although Shibumi can't stand synopsizing, it demands to be read."

In 1983, Whitaker drifted away from the thriller genre and published a romantic novel titled The Summer of Katya. Set in a small village in France in the summer of 1914, the novel features a young doctor, Jean-Marc Montjean, who meets Katya, a beautiful young woman who comes to him for help after her twin brother suffers an injury in a bike accident. As Jean-Marc spends more time with Katya, he not only begins to fall in love, but also discovers the devastating secret hidden in Katya's past. In a review for People, a contributor termed the ending of the novel "as astonishing as it is tragic."

Following The Summer of Katya, Whitaker published little until 1998 when he returned with his comeback novel. A Western titled Incident at Twenty-Mile, the book prompted a Publishers Weekly critic to term Whitaker "as unpredictable as ever." The novel takes place in the rundown silver-mining town of Twenty-Mile, Wyoming, where young drifter Matthew Dubcheck has arrived in search of a job. In what David Keymer of the Library Journal called "the classic Western confrontation of the forces of good and evil," Matthew represents good, while Lieder, a crazed killer who has escaped from prison with visions of taking control of Twenty-Mile, represents evil. Keymer felt that Incident at Twenty-Mile lacked the excitement of some of Whitaker's previous works, and found that both the characters and the dialogue seem "false." The Publishers Weekly contributor believed that the book was about twenty pages too long. However, the same reviewer noted that while the characters in Incident at Twenty-Mile are typical of the Western genre, "they are rendered with uncommon skill."

In 2000, Whitaker took a break from writing novels and published Hot Night in the City, a collection of short stories. A Publishers Weekly critic described the collection as "wide-ranging in setting and tone, yet linked by their sense of irony and reverence for the past." Among the stories in the collection are "Easter Story," about a meeting between Pontius Pilate and Jesus; "How the Animals Got Their Voices," a retelling of an old folktale; and the title story, "Hot Night in the City," which the author uses to begin and end the book. In a review of the collection for Library Journal, Michele Leber called Whitaker "a storyteller as versatile as he is skillful." Similarly, the Publishers Weekly critic termed Whitaker "an engaging storyteller, with a knack for getting inside his characters' heads."

Published just months before his death, Whitaker's The Crazyladies of Pearl Street is the author's autobiographical novel. The narration begins with six-year-old Jean-Luc LaPointe, his mother, and younger sister moving to a tenement house on a poor block in Albany, New York, to await the return of the boy's long-absent father. Needless to say, Jean-Luc's father never appears, and the family struggles to make ends meet during the Great Depression. In addition to creating elaborate stories in his mind and reading at the library, Jean-Luc observes the many "crazyladies" on his street. Among them are his own mother, who cannot seem to get over her undependable first husband; Mrs. McGivney, who spends her days reminiscing about the past; and Mrs. Meehan, the matriarch of the wild, drunken Meehan family from down the block. A Publishers Weekly contributor called The Crazyladies of Pearl Street "nostalgic" and "richly textured," while a Kirkus Reviews critic rendered it "a coming-of-ager bursting at the seams with rich stories."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 29, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Films on the Campus, A.S. Barnes (San Diego, CA), 1970.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 1999, Bill Ott, review of Incident at Twenty-Mile, p. 1154; May 1, 2000, George Needham, review of Hot Night in the City, p. 1654.

Harper's, November, 1976, Evan Connell, review of The Main.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2005, review of The Crazyladies of Pearl Street, p. 315.

Library Journal, September 1, 1998, David Keymer, review of Incident at Twenty-Mile, p. 217; April 15, 2000, Michele Leber, review of Hot Night in the City, p. 125.

New Yorker, August 13, 1979, Berton Roueche, review of Shibumi, p. 101.

New York Times, October 5, 1972, Anatole Broyard, "Something for Everybody," review of The Eiger Sanction, p. 45; November 5, 1973, Anatole Broyard, "Blood on the Computer," review of The Loo Sanction, p. 37; June 1, 1979, John Leonard, "Books of the Times," review of Shibumi, p. C23.

New York Times Book Review, September 17, 1972, Newgate Callendar, "Criminals at Large," review of The Eiger Sanction, p. 45; November 7, 1976, Donald Newlove, "The Lowest Depths," review of The Main, p. SM45; June 10, 1979, Carol Lawson, "Behind the Bestsellers," interview with Trevanian, p. 12.

People, June 6, 1983, review of The Summer of Katya, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1998, review of Incident at Twenty-Mile, p. 367; May 22, 2000, review of Hot Night in the City, p. 75; May 9, 2005, review of The Crazyladies of Pearl Street, p. 45.

Washington Post Book World, June 3, 1979, Christopher Dickey, review of Shibumi.

ONLINE

Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (March 7, 2006), "Rod Whitaker."

Trevanian Home Page, http://www.trevanian.com (March 7, 2006).

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