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We Shall Miss them, but we can always read them

Some authors that we have lost in 2020

2020 was a horrible, no good year. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Reading (and watching) has been a comfort to many of us in this most peculiar year. A good book has been a place of refuge, and as bad as 2020 was, it was compounded by the loss of many great and beloved authors. Here is a select list of authors we have lost in 2020. It is not exhaustive, but focuses on some of the best known and widely read authors. A more exhaustive list can be found at the Literary Hub.

John le Carré (October 19, 1931 – December 12, 2020; age 89 years)

John le Carré (real name David John Moore Cornwell) was a true-life spy that wrote spy fiction. le Carré started working for the British security service MI5 in 1958. There he ran agents, conducted interrogations, tapped telephone lines, and effected break-ins in the service of protecting British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, and preventing counter terrorism and espionage within the United Kingdom. He was so good at his job that he was transferred to MI6, England’s foreign security service. There he worked undercover in Germany at British embassies in Bonn and Hamburg, running spies and collecting intelligence against Russia and the Eastern Bloc. His employment at MI6 came to an end in 1964 due to the betrayals of his cadre of undercover spies in East Germany by the British double agent, the infamous Kim Philby. By then, le Carré has already started writing spy novels; in fact three had been published including his breakthrough The Spy Who Came In from the Cold . Cornwell had to use a pen name when he started writing as all Foreign Office officers were forbidden to publish in their own names. Cornwell choose le Carré (French for The Square) as his nom de plume.

Luckily for le Carré, his fiction offered him a lucrative second career just as his spy career was ending. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was an international success and le Carré was off and running as a bestselling author for the rest of his life. Most of le Carré books are spy fiction set in the Cold War era, many featuring his most popular character, the retired spy George Smiley who keeps being brought back to solve some problem or another by MI6. He branched out with many characters and some subjects outside the spy world, including memoirs and works of nonfiction. Many of his books were made into popular movies or TV series.

Here is a very short list of his most notable works from a list on Goodreads:

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold: A veteran spy wants to "come in from the cold" to retirement. He undertakes one last assignment in which he pretends defection and provides the enemy with sufficient evidence to label their leader a double agent.

Try the movie version of this novel starring the great Richard Burton at the top of his form.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Some say George Smiley is in innocent retirement. Others say he was sacked after the Czech scandal. But all agree that nobody ever leaves the 'Circus' without some unfinished business. Brought out of retirement to trace an enemy infiltrator in the department where he was once the prize employee, the shy and retiring master of espionage moves forwards to investigate and finds himself going backwards over very old ground.

There are 2 great movie versions of this novel.

The newer one stars the amazing Gary Oldham.

The older version is the tremendously successful TV miniseries starring the even more amazing Alec Guiness.

Smiley's People: In London at the dead of night, George Smiley, sometime acting Chief of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service), is summoned from his lonely bed by news of the murder of an ex-agent. Lured back to active service, Smiley skillfully maneuvers his people -- "the no-men of no-man's land"-- into crisscrossing Paris, London, Germany, and Switzerland as he prepares for his own final, inevitable duel on the Berlin border with his Soviet counterpart and archenemy, Karla.

This was also turned into a critically acclaimed TV miniseries starring Alec Guiness.

Mary Higgins Clark (December 24, 1927 – January 31, 2020; age 92 years)

Clark earned her nickname, the Queen of Suspense, by penning over 50 novels of suspense that all appeared on the bestsellers lists in the United States and numerous European countries. Born in the Bronx to an Irish father and an Irish-American mother, Clark was always interested in writing even as a child. She wrote poems and short plays all through her school years. Clark got a job in an advertising company upon graduation from Secretarial School and wrote advertising copy for the company. She met a woman that was an airline stewardess and decided that was what she wanted to do. Her future husband was her date (their first date) for a good-bye party held by her company where he told her she should be a stewardess for a year and then marry him. She accepted this rather unorthodox proposal and after a year traveling the world as a stewardess, quit and married Warren Clark in 1949.

Warren Clark ended up in poor health and, after a struggle with heart problems, died in 1964. Higgins Clark, now widowed and the mother of 5 children, needed to find work to support her family. She began writing 4-minute radio plays. She continued as a radio scriptwriter for 10 years, supplementing her income with money gained for sales of her short stories. Frustrated with radio scriptwriting and finding the market for short stories drying up, her agent suggested she try her hand at writing novels. Her first novel, a historical fiction about George Washington failed, so she decided to write about what she liked and tried suspense fiction. Her first novel, Where are the Children? was a big success (it is in its seventy-fifth printing) and off she went to an over 45-year career at the top of the bestsellers lists.

Here is a (very) short list of her most popular and best books from a list on Goodreads:

All Around the Town: When Laurie Kenyon, a twenty-one-year-old student, is accused of murdering her English professor, she has no memory of the crime. Her fingerprints, however, are everywhere. When she asks her sister, attorney Sarah, to mount her defense, Sarah in turn brings in psychiatrist Justin Donnelly. Kidnapped at the age of four and victimized for two years, Laurie has developed astounding coping skills. Only when the unbearable memories of those lost years are released can the truth of the crime come out—and only then can the final sadistic plan of her abductor, whose obsession is stronger than ever, be revealed.

Daddy’s Little Girl: Ellie Cavanaugh was seven years old when her older sister was murdered near their home in New York's Westchester County. It was young Ellie's tearful testimony that put Rob Westerfield, the nineteen-year-old scion of a prominent family, in jail despite the existence of two other viable suspects. Twenty-two years later, Westerfield, who maintains his innocence, is paroled. Determined to thwart his attempts to pin the crime on another, Ellie, an investigative reporter for an Atlanta newspaper, returns home and starts writing a book that will conclusively prove Westerfield's guilt. As she delves deeper into her research, however, she uncovers horrifying facts that shed new light on her sister's murder. With each discovery she comes closer to a confrontation with a desperate killer.

Where Are the Children? The one that started it all. Nancy Harmon long ago fled the heartbreak of her first marriage, the macabre deaths of her two little children, and the shocking charges against her. She changed her name, dyed her hair, and left California for the wind-swept peace of Cape Cod. Now remarried, she has two more beloved children and the terrible pain has begun to heal--until the morning when she looks in the backyard for her little boy and girl and finds only one red mitten. She knows that the nightmare is beginning again...

Clive Cussler: (July 15, 1931 – February 24, 2020; age 88)

Cussler was born in Illinois, but developed his love of the sea when his family moved to California when he was a young boy of six. At his first sight of the ocean, young Clive threw himself into the waves, and not knowing how to swim almost drowned before his father snatched him out of the water. His mother promptly marched him off to swimming lessons. After two years at Community College, Cussler joined the Air Force during the Korean War where, during his service in the Air Force, he was promoted to sergeant and worked as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer for the Military Air Transport Service. While stationed in Hawaii Cussler learned to scuba dive (portents of things to come). After his military service, Cussler worked in advertising, eventually working for two of the biggest advertising firms in the country. He was first a copywriter and later worked his way up to creative director.

He married in 1955. When his wife started working nights at the local police department, Cussler took over the night family duties. When those were done, he started writing to while away the hours alone until his wife would come home. He submitted his novels to publishers and literary agents but got no takers, until he posed in a letter to a literary agent as a soon-to-be-retired literary agent that was passing on a promising writer. The agent liked his work and eventually got it to a publisher that was willing to publish. Cussler’s novels combined adventure and technology into fast-paced thrillers and became so popular that his books sold more than 100 million copies, with 20 novels cracking the bestseller lists.

Here is a (very) short list of his most popular and best books from a list on Goodreads:

The Titanic Secret A century apart, NUMA Director Dirk Pitt and detective Isaac Bell team up to unlock the truth about the most famous maritime disaster of all time. In the present day, Pitt makes a daring rescue from inside an antiquated submersible in the waters off New York City. His reward afterwards is a document left behind a century earlier by legendary detective Isaac Bell--a document that re-opens a historical mystery...In 1911, in Colorado, Isaac Bell is asked to look into an unexplained tragedy at Little Angel Mine, in which nine people died. His dangerous quest to answer the riddle leads to a larger puzzle centered on Byzanium, a rare element with extraordinary powers and of virtually incalculable value. As he discovers that there are people who will do anything to control the substance, Isaac Bell will find out just how far he'll go to stop them.

Raise the Titanic! The President's secret task force has developed an unprecedented defensive weapon that relies on an extremely rare radioactive element--and Dirk Pitt has followed a twisted trail to a secret cache of the substance. Now, racing against brutal storms, Soviet spies, and a ticking clock, Pitt begins his most thrilling mission--to raise from its watery grave the shipwreck of the century.

Treasure Charts of lost gold...breathtaking art and rare volumes...maps of hidden oil and mineral deposits that could change the world's balance of power. Now Dirk Pitt discovers the secret trail of the treasures of Alexandria -- a trail that plunges him into a brutal conspiracy for total domination of the globe. Zealots threaten to unseat the governments of Egypt and Mexico, exposing America to invasion and economic collapse. Suddenly, from East to West, anarchists reach their deadly tentacles into the heart of the United States. And Dirk Pitt, the hard-hitting hero of Clive Cussler's smash bestsellers Sahara and Inca Gold, is up against the most feared assassin known to man. An international band of terrorists is making its play for world power on the high seas -- and Pitt is the only man alive who can stop them!

Charles Portis: (December 28, 1933 – February 17, 2020)

This author might not be as well-known as the authors above, but you know at least one of his novels as the basis for two great Hollywood movies: True Grit. Portis is an American original, an author that can write scathing satire, but produces characters you love and pull for. Portis wrote only 5 novels in his lifetime; all written after he retired from newspaper journalism in 1964.

Portis was born in Arkansas and died in Arkansas, living in Memphis, New York City and London working for various newspapers, mostly for the New York Herald Tribune (he was the London correspondent for that paper), in-between his time away from Arkansas. It is said many of his main characters reflect his contrarian nature and gruff independent streak. He was a writer’s writer. His favor among other authors far out-ranked his book sales, but his books are all highly praised by critics and have won the test of time, still generating study in college English classes of today. If you read just one of his five novels, or any novel in 2021, make it True Grit - a truly great novel; but I can personally recommend all five novels. You will find something to laugh about, shout about, and ponder about.

Here is a short list of his most popular and best books from a list on Goodreads, click on this link for a full list of all 5 novels and a collection of short stories:

True Grit Mattie Ross is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

This novel was the basis of two Academy Award-nominated movies for multiple categories in both years.

The 1969 version starred John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby and directed by Henry Hathaway. This film won John Wayne his only Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Marshal Rooster Cogburn, a has-been hero who is hired to find a young girl's father's killer.

The other film was the 2010 version starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and the truly magnificent Hailee Steinfeld. I personally prefer this version. It is directed by the Coen Brothers and I feel sticks to the true story and spirit of the book.

Gringos Jimmy Burns is an expatriate American living in Mexico who has an uncommonly astute eye for the absurd little details that comprise your average American. For a time, Jimmy spent his days unearthing pre-Colombian artifacts. Now he makes a living doing small trucking jobs and helping out with the occasional missing person situation—whatever it takes to remain “the very picture of an American idler in Mexico, right down to the grass-green golfing trousers.” But when Jimmy’s laid-back lifestyle is seriously imposed upon by a ninety-pound stalker called Louise, a sudden wave of “hippies” (led by a murderous ex-con guru) in search of psychic happenings, and a group of archaeologists who are unearthing (illegally) Mayan tombs, his simple South-of-the-Border existence faces a clear and present danger.

Norwood Out of the American neon desert of Roller Dromes, chili parlors, country music, and girls who want “to live in a trailer and play records all night” comes ex-marine and troubadour Norwood Pratt. Sent on a mission to New York, he gets involved in a wild journey that takes him in and out of stolen cars, freight trains, and buses. By the time he returns home to Texas, Norwood has met his true love, Rita Lee, on a bus; befriended the second shortest midget in show business and “the world's smallest perfect fat man”; and helped Joann “the chicken with a college education,” realize her true potential in life. As with all Portis’ fiction, the tone is cool, sympathetic, and funny.

- Larry M, Acquisitions and Cataloging, Lawrence Branch

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