I've been interested in the writing of Walter Satterthwait since reading his excellent historical mystery Miss Lizzie shortly after it was published in the UK at the end of the 80s. At that time it seemed to me that he was destined to become one of the genre's major figures. His versatility - he wrote a short series about the private eye Joshua Croft as well as novels featuring such notable figures as Oscar Wilde and Harry Houdini - was in many ways a great strength, but although I admire authors who avoid the same-old, same-old, possibly it counted against him. His work was well-respected but it's probably fair to say that he never quite achieved the level of commercial success that one might have anticipated. Of course, that is true of many, many gifted authors.
I never met Walter but I gather he had an extremely interesting and varied life and he was a good friend of someone I did knows slightly, the late Sarah Caudwell, another charismatic figure who was in many ways a very different kind of character. It would have been wonderful to listen to them in conversation together. Sadly, he died earlier this year after a long illness. The good news is that Stark House Press have recently republished his 2008 novel Dead Horse, together with an excellent intro by Rick Ollerman.
And what a fascinating book it is. Like much of his best work, it's a historical crime novel, inspired by real life events - in this case the apparent suicide of Emily Whitfield, second wife of the hardboiled writer Raoul Whitfield. Satterthwait's version of events is invented, but compelling.
I devoured this book in just 24 hours. Satterthwait's terse style here is very much in the hardboiled tradition. He invents a dogged local cop, Tom Delgado, who is convinced that there is more to Emily's death than meets the eye. It's a doom-laden story set in Santa Fe, where the Whitfields had a ranch called Dead Horse. This is an excellent reprint, which I can recommend. And it's made me want to read Whitfield too...