Wilson, John Morgan 1945–
Wilson, John Morgan 1945–
PERSONAL: Born 1945, in Tampa, FL. Education: Attended Michigan State University; San Diego State University, B.A., 1968.
CAREER: Former police reporter for Los Angeles Herald-Examiner; University of California, Los Angeles, Extension Writers' Program, instructor, 1980–; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, assistant editor, 1985–92; Easy Reader (newspaper), Hermosa Beach, CA, founder. Has also worked as a freelance writer and staff reporter for numerous newspapers and magazines.
MEMBER: Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America (former board member, Southern California Chapter).
AWARDS, HONORS: Certificate of Excellence for Reporting on Media, Los Angeles Press Club, 1987, for work published in the Los Angeles Times; Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first mystery novel, Mystery Writers of America, 1997, for Simple Justice; Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men's Mystery, 2000, for Justice at Risk, 2001, for Limits of Justice, and 2003, for Blind Eye.
(As John M. Wilson) The Complete Guide to Magazine Article Writing, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 1993.
Inside Hollywood: A Writer's Guide to the World of Movies and TV, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 1998.
Blue Moon (novel; "Philip Damon" mystery series), Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.
Good Morning, Heartache (novel; "Philip Damon" mystery series), Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.
Has also written for numerous television programs and networks, including Fox, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Court TV, and the Learning Channel. Served as supervising writer for documentary series Anatomy of Crime, and writer and co-producer for documentary series Video Justice, both for Court TV. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, TV Guide, Surfer, Entertainment Weekly, and Advocate. Columnist for Writer's Digest. Editor of Mystery Writers of America newsletter, The March of Crime. Has published short stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Blithe House Quarterly.
"BENJAMIN JUSTICE" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
Simple Justice, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Revision of Justice, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
Justice at Risk, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.
The Limits of Justice, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.
Blind Eye, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
Moth and Flame, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
Rhapsody in Blood, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Freelance journalist and author John Morgan Wilson scored a critical hit with his first crime novel, Simple Justice. The 1996 story introduced a mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Benjamin Justice. Justice, a gay journalist, had won a Pulitzer Prize for a story about a dying couple's struggle against AIDS six years prior to the novel's opening. However, he was forced to return the prestigious award—and was forced from his job as well—after it was discovered that he had invented the entire story. Now, mourning the death of his lover from AIDS—and drinking too much—the disgraced reporter is recruited by his former editor (who also lost his Los Angeles Times job over the fraudulent story) to do research on the murder of a gay man outside a Los Angeles bar. A Hispanic gang member has confessed to the killing, but his story sounds fishy to the editor; when Justice investigates he finds that no one involved is what they first seem to be. Suspects and interviewees include such diverse characters as a senator and his son and a lesbian tennis player and her publicist.
Richard Lipez, reviewing Simple Justice for the Washington Post Book World, noted: "Little of this is original, but Wilson writes with such skill, pluck, and conviction that it becomes both suspenseful and moving." Library Journal reviewer Rex E. Klett assessed the novel similarly, finding that the murderer's identity was not hard to guess but that the pathway to the guessing was an enjoyable one, including lots of "LA local color." An enthusiastic review came from Booklist contributor Charles Harmon, who called Simple Justice "an exceptionally fine debut," adding that "Wilson has created a most compelling lead character in Justice … a more human and real character than most mystery sleuths."
Following the success of Simple Justice, which won an Edgar Award in 1997, Wilson authored the second Benjamin Justice book. Revision of Justice is set in the Hollywood world of screenwriting. When a young screenwriter is found dead at a party, Justice decides to investigate the lives of the party guests to determine who might have wanted him dead. A reviewer for Booklist called Revision of Justice a "tightly paced page-turner filled with memorable scoundrels." Though a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found Justice's character hard to like, the critic commented that "Wilson offers a stark, absorbing and seemingly authentic tour of the Hollywood fringes."
In Justice at Risk Justice finds himself with a chance at a new career when documentary film producer Cecile Change hires him to work on a segment for a film about AIDS. His interest is also sparked by handsome associate producer Peter Groff, who has been taking up the slack on the production caused by director Tom Callahan's disappearance. When Justice and Groff look for the missing director, they find an empty apartment and traces of a struggle in the blood-spattered bedroom. The director's body is later found in a section of Los Angeles known for homosexual cruising, but soon connections arise between Callahan's and that of another filmmaker. Justice discovers a link between those murders and a police cover-up of a brutality case that suggests political corruption and a system-wide police prejudice. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "a startlingly complex and refreshingly sophisticated mystery." The "atmosphere is foreboding and bleak, yet Justice manages to survive with his humanity intact," commented Margaret Hanes in the Library Journal. Booklist contributor Whitney Scott noted that "Wilson explores wealth, power, and corruption in considerable depth and concludes Justice's third caper with a cliffhanger that will have fans lining up for the next."
"Rivetingly dark and brooding," The Limits of Justice finds Justice recovering from a bout with alcoholism and taking on a new writing gig, noted Scott in another Booklist review. Justice has been hired by Charlotte Preston, the daughter of late Hollywood star Rod Preston, to write a biography of her famous father in response to a recent tell-all biography. Charlotte feels that the biography is scandalously wrong in its contention that her father was guilty of systematic predation of young boys. Though she gives Justice a substantial advance, he decides he does not want to work on the project. When he goes to see Charlotte to return the advance, he finds her dead, apparently from suicide. Justice, however, does not believe she killed herself, and his investigation uncovers a group of predatory Hollywood denizens that victimize young boys in a mansion in the desert. "Amazingly, within this obvious and often ludicrous premise, Wilson is able to nourish many moments of effective art," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Wilson's Blind Eye uncovers another layer of Justice's deep character, revealing that the writer-turned-sleuth was molested by a Catholic priest, Father Blackley, when he was twelve years old. The recipient of a 150,000 dollar advance for his autobiography, Justice determines to locate the priest, but learns that he died in a hiking accident years before. He has difficulty finding out more about Blackley's death, and in response he lets Los Angeles Times columnist Joe Soto run an exposé on Blackley's history. Hours after his column appears, however, Soto is killed in a hit and run. The identity of the killer is unknown, but Justice has several suspects: a freelance assassin who was due to be the subject of a book by Soto; a shady police detective who longs for Soto's fiancée, Alexandre; and a church-connected person determined to suppress scandal. Lawrence Schimel, reviewing the book inthe Lambda Book Report, noted that "Wilson handles admirably Justice's complexly flawed character." Wilson "writes meditations on repentance and forgiveness as well as whodunits, giving discerning readers reason to rejoice," commented Scott in Booklist.
In Moth and Flame Justice takes on the task of finishing a book on West Hollywood that was begun by actor-cum-writer Bruce Bibby, who was recently murdered. As Justice works through the project, he discovers that Bibby's murder is related to a shady real estate development deal and the decades-old mysterious disappearance of a local handyman. The book is "another first-rate, increasingly engrossing, multilayered novel" in the Justice series, Scott concluded in Booklist.
Critics have often commented on the dark, depressing nature of Wilson's Justice novels. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Wilson a "sensitive and powerful writer." In an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered," Wilson commented: "As I write these, I cry along with the characters. Sometimes I laugh along with the characters, but not so often in these books."
In a collaborative effort with Peter Duchin, Wilson opens a new series with Blue Moon. The book draws upon the musical experience of bandleader Duchin to tell the story of sleuth and high-society bandleader Peter Damon. In 1963 Damon returns to San Francisco to play at the Fairmont Hotel's Venetian Room. It is an important gig, but one filled with conflicting emotions, as the Fairmont is where Damon met his wife, who was later brutally murdered in an unsolved case. More bewildering is that he sees a woman who looks remarkably like his wife around the hotel, until he spots her on the dance floor during his band's performance, dancing with seedy real estate mogul Hamilton Collier III. Abruptly, the lights go out, and when they are restored, Collier is found on the floor dead, an ice pick in his chest. Damon is inexplicably linked to Collier's death, and he must work to uncover the identity of his wife's seeming twin, find out who killed Collier and why, and clear his own name of suspicion of murder. "This collaboration marks a promising debut in a new series," commented Rex E. Klett in the Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor stated: "Expect applause and an encore for bandleader sleuth, Philip Damon."
The second music-themed mystery from Wilson and Duchin, Good Morning, Heartache, finds Damon working at the prestigious Cocoanut Grove. Unfortunately, his band is incomplete because the singer is temporarily sidelined by a cold. Damon offers the fillin gig to trumpeter and vocalist Buddy Bixby. It is a risky proposition: though Bixby has more than enough talent to make the fill-in work perfectly, he is notorious for unreliability brought on by a taste for drugs. When Bixby fails to show up for his gig this time, however, it is because he has been killed. Damon, along with bandmate, ex-cop, and sax player Hercules Platt (once the Los Angeles Police Department's only black inspector), piece together the reasons behind Bixby's death. Jenny McLarin, writing in Booklist, commented that Wilson and Duchin "brilliantly combine bits of film and music history with a thought-provoking account of bigotry against gays and blacks in a city known for its liberal excesses."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, September 17, 1996, review of Simple Justice, p. 60.
Booklist, June 1, 1996, Charles Harmon, review of Simple Justice, p. 1643; November 15, 1997, Whitney Scott, review of Revision of Justice, April 15, 1998, Ted Leventhal, review of Inside Hollywood: A Writer's Guide to the World of Movies and TV, p. 1410; June 1, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Revision of Justice, p. 1681; June 1, 1999, Whitney Scott, review of Justice at Risk, p. 1787; June 1, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Justice at Risk, p. 1808; July, 2000, Whitney Scott, review of The Limits of Justice, p. 2014; June 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review of The Limits of Justice, p. 1815; October 1, 2002, Barbara M. Bibel, review of Blue Moon, p. 303; September 15, 2003, Whitney Scott, review of Blind Eye, p. 216; November 15, 2003, Jenny McLarin, review of Good Morning, Heartache, p. 584; February 1, 2005, Whitney Scott, review of Moth and Flame, p. 947.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1996, review of Simple Justice, p. 863; August 15, 2002, review of Blue Moon, p. 1176; August 15, 2003, review of Blind Eye, p. 1050; October 15, 2003, review of Good Morning, Heartache, p. 1253.
Lambda Book Report, November-December, 2002, Jameson Currier, review of Blue Moon, p. 48; March-April, 2004, Lawrence Schimel, "Redeeming Justice," review of Blind Eye, p. 24.
Library Journal, July 1996, Rex E. Klett, review of Simple Justice, p. 168; May 1, 1998, Marty D. Evensvold, review of Inside Hollywood, p. 112; March 15, 2000, Margaret Hanes, review of Justice at Risk, p. 156; June 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of The Limits of Justice, p. 208; October 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Blue Moon, p. 132; Rex E. Klett, review of Moth and Flame, p. 71.
Publishers Weekly, June 24, 1996, review of Simple Justice, p. 48; October 20, 1997, review of Revision of Justice, p. 58; June 28, 1999, review of Justice at Risk, p. 58; June 12, 2000, review of The Limits of Justice, p. 57; September 23, 2002, review of Blue Moon, p. 53; August 25, 2003, review of Blind Eye, p. 42; November 17, 2003, review of Good Morning, Heartache, p. 49; January 10, 2005, review of Moth and Flame, p. 42.
Washington Post Book World, September 15, 1996, Richard Lipez, review of Simple Justice, p. 6.
All about Romance, http://www.likesbooks.com/ (November 5, 2005), Anthony D. Langford, review of The Limits of Justice.
Books for a Buck, http://www.booksforabuck.com/ (November 5, 2005), review of Blue Moon.
Books 'n' Bytes, http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (November 5, 2005), Harriet Klausner, reviews of Limits of Justice and Blue Moon.
John Morgan Wilson Home Page, http://www.johnmorganwilson.com (November 5, 2005).
Mystery Reader, http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (November 5, 2005), Andy Plonka, review of Justice at Risk.