By Rick Kogan
7:03 PM EDT, March 23, 2013
Robert Goldsborough is and always has been a gentleman, a rare thing for a newspaperman to be in the still gruff/rough-and-tumble era when Goldsborough worked in all manner of high-level editorial capacities for the Chicago Tribune and later for Advertising Age.
What's even rarer about Goldsborough? He is the author of 13 novels, and counting.
Over the decades I have known many newspapermen and newspaperwomen who have aspired to what they consider the higher calling of Literature (yes, with a capital L): dreaming of writing novels, talking about the novels they were dreaming about in saloons, or actually starting the novels they were dreaming about and stuffing them in the bottom drawers of their desks, there to rest forever unfinished.
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Now, the late Bill Granger and the legendary Ben Hecht pulled it off and fashioned successful careers writing books. But few have done so as successfully as Goldsborough.
"Once I start doing something, I don't like to quit," he says.
In 1978, he presented his mother with a copy of his first novel, "Murder in E Minor." It was an homage to one of their favorite authors, written in the style of and featuring the characters created by Rex Stout, whose fat, orchid-growing detective Nero Wolfe and sidekick Archie Goodwin arrived in 1934's "Fer-de-Lance" and continued on for more than 70 books until Stout's death in 1975.
Goldsborough's mom liked her son's book, and that emboldened Goldsborough to try to get it published. It took years to get the approval of Stout's estate. The book arrived in 1986.
In reviewing it then for the Tribune, book critic John Blades wrote, "Goldsborough has not only revived Wolfe in all his gluttonous splendor but most of his longtime confederates as well — notably Archie Goodwin, who narrated the books and served as Wolfe's chief investigator and antagonist, as well as a frequent target of his ripostes. Neither send-up nor pastiche, the book plays strictly by the rules that Stout established a half-century ago."
Blades also wrote that Goldsborough "has already wrapped up a second Nero Wolfe mystery, 'Death on Deadline,' (but) has no plans to write a third."
So successful were those first two novels that he did write a third — and a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. In 1994, he believed he was done with Nero Wolfe. "By then I was ready to strike out on my own, to create a Chicago character that came from my imagination."
He did so inventively with Steve "Snap" Malek, a Chicago Tribune police reporter and crime solver who appeared in five novels, each with richly detailed historical backdrop and peppered with such real-life characters as Enrico Fermi and Dizzy Dean: "Three Strikes You're Dead," "Shadow of the Bomb," "A Death in Pilsen," "Terror at the Fair" and "A President in Peril."
"Of course, I had thought over the years about how Archie came to meet Nero," he says. "But thinking was all I did until the catalyst came in 2009, when (the late mystery writer) Joe Gores published 'Spade & Archer,' a prequel to Dashiell Hammett's 'The Maltese Falcon.' He did a terrific job and so I thought — "
And so, here we have "Archie Meets Nero Wolfe," featuring the kidnapping of a wealthy hotelier's son and, charmingly, Archie's arrival from Ohio and coming of age as a detective in the Manhattan of 1930. "There was some trepidation before starting the book, of course," he says. "There are so many Nero Wolfe fans out there (often referred to as the Wolfe Pack) that I expected more than one 'How dare you?' and I did get more than one. It's an occupational hazard. But most of the responses have been positive. You lick your wounds and move on."
He is moving on with — Nero or Snap?
"I'm mulling over another Snap story, but I can't come up with any good ideas. Maybe I am tapped out," says the 75-year-old author. "But I have another Nero Wolfe in the works. It's set at a Dodger game at the Polo Grounds in 1950 and there's a murder and — "
And, knowing Goldsborough, the book will arrive in stores shortly.
It is not only I who admired this ex-newspaperman's energy and his "once I start doing something, I don't like to quit" attitude. He has many admirers.
"Bob is just a great writer," says Augie Aleksy, the owner of Centuries & Sleuths, a Forest Park book shop specializing in mystery and history. "When people who live in this area come in looking for a mystery to read, I always recommend the Snap Malek series. The books are so rich with the city's history.
"The Nero Wolfe books are also terrific. This latest one is just fabulous."
Goldsborough's son, freelance writer Bob Goldsborough, recalls that his father "showed me how appealing of a field journalism can be. He would regale the family with great stories both about such fascinating people he had met and covered, but also about fellow journalists as well."
Bob Goldsborough, who writes often for the Tribune, also says he's happy that his father has "been able to break through and enjoy this success, because his work as an author has really represented something of a second career for him. ... He taught me that writing can be a lot of fun, and just enormously satisfying."
Colleagues, don't you think it's time to fish those novels out of your desk drawers?
Rick Kogan is a Tribune senior writer and columnist.
"Archie Meets Nero Wolfe"
By Robert Goldsborough, Mysterious Press, 234 pages, $14.99 (paperback)
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