Monday 11 March 2024

John Pugmire R.I.P.

I was very sorry to hear on Friday of the death of my friend John Pugmire. John's wife Helen told me he passed away on Thursday morning. I knew he'd had health problems, but the news came as a shock and I shall miss John greatly. He was a great fan of the Golden Age and since the death of Bob Adey nobody has done more than John to advance the cause of locked room mysteries. He championed the likes of Paul Halter as well as a number of interesting Japanese writers including Alice Arisugawa.

John was a Brit who lived in New York, but I enjoyed his company on a number of trips to the States. He attended the Edgar awards back in 2016 and was one of the very first to congratulate me when The Golden Age of Murder won. Next morning he and I travelled back together on the train from New York City to Washington DC and he was also with me the following day when the book won the Agatha. The next year, he was on my table at the Gala Dinner at Malice Domestic when I received the Poirot award. John is second right in the photo below.

He and I kept in regular touch and I was impressed by his work in developing Locked Room International, a small press which revived a great many unknown impossible crime stories. He asked me to write an intro for Stacey Bishop's Death in the Dark and he proved just as good to work with as he was to chat to. 

John was one of the group of trusted crime fiction history experts I asked to take a look at the manuscript of The Life of Crime and of course his comments were invaluable. He was a lovely man and I treasure the memories of the times we shared together.


Santosh Iyer said...

Yes, I realised something was wrong when my several emails to him during past 2-3 months remained unresponded. Generally, he would reply quickly.

Liz Gilbey said...

I had never heard of John Pugmire, but after reading your lovely tribute, I decided someone with such a great smile and fascinating eyes deserved a little research. And now I wish I had known about him before.
For anyone else reading this and is interested, there is a fascinating little interview with him at Publisher's Weekly to read on Google, and more details about Mr Pugmire pm the Locked Room International website.
What a unique person and talent. Thank you for highlighting his life and work.

Martin Edwards said...

Santosh, Liz, thanks very much. Yes, he was a great guy and is already much missed.

Rui Leal said...

Sad to hear this news. I've never met John in person, but I've had email correspondence with him since 2011, almost since the beginning of Locked Room International. It was with John's commitment and enthusiasm that I know and have currently books signed by several locked room mystery writers (Paul Halter, Jean-Paul Torok, Yukito Ayatsuji, Ulf Durling, Alice Arisugawa, Szu-Yen Lin, Takemaru Abiko, Tokuya Higashigawa, Masahiro Imamura). He was also kind enough to sign the books as editor/translator. I will remember him fondly.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for this, Rui, a well-earned tribute.

Anthony said...

I too was sad to hear of John's passing. I had the good fortune of responding in time to his post years ago (2014?) asking for proofreaders for his LRI titles. I was able to proofread over a dozen titles - perhaps two dozen? - for him since then. In exchange, he would send a copy of the book along with a note/signature from the author, if alive. I knew things had taken a turn last December when he emailed me thanking me for my contributions, and explaining that he could no longer run LRI due to "old age and ill health." Being that this was his passion and he had kept it going despite surgeries/other health issues, I rightly feared that the current situation was grave. I will miss corresponding with him about locked-room mechanics and other elements of the books he published. The last title I proofread for him was in October, a collection entitled "The House of the Red Death" by Taku Ashibe, translated by Ho-Ling Wong. Unfortunately, it looks like he was not able to release it in time.

TomCat said...

This is indeed a tremendous loss and to say nobody has done more to advance the cause of locked room mysteries is an understatement. John Pugmire's translation of Paul Halter's short story collection, The Night of the Wolf, finally getting published in 2006 was one of the events that helped to get the locked room mystery out of the slump it had been in for decades. At the same time, LRI helped to popularize translations of non-English detective fiction. Without Pugmire and LRI, there probably wouldn't be a translation wave and the current Golden Age (locked room) revival would look a bit differently. Yes, he'll be dearly missed.

Thank you for letting us know, although it's last news you want to see in your feed.

Martin Edwards said...

Hello, Anthony, and thanks for your comment. The work that people like you do with proof reading etc is invaluable and I'm sure you made a significant contribution to LRI's success. Let's hope that somehow the good work will be carried on.

Martin Edwards said...

Well said, TomCat. I entirely agree.

Barbara P said...

I am beyond heartbroken to hear this news. I have dozens of LRI books on my shelves and were it not for John Pugmire, I would never have been introduced to all the wonderful stories from Japan, China, and France that were translated through his efforts. These books have enriched my life by not only providing intellectual stimulation but also glimpses of other cultures and eras which were not well-known to me. I can only hope that the mission of LRI will be able to be carried on so we can continue to enjoy future works.

Pietro De Palma said...

I was surprised and then very saddened by the death of my friend John. he was very reserved, and even though I knew that he had had health problems, I could never have thought that they were serious enough to cause his death. we had an intense correspondence between 2015 and 2022. He convinced me to provide him with one of my stories for his anthology on Locked Rooms, and since I didn't have anything suitable at the time in the editorial format he required, I had to reduce a long story which I had written years before, dedicating it to a dear friend of mine, Igor Longo, who he knew as an acquaintance of Roland Lacourbe. He had asked me on several occasions for stories to publish on EQMM, but since my best ones are longer than the 7 pages expected, it always ended up that they didn't suit him. We had spoken for the last time on February 1st, his thank you seemed strangely laconic to me, he who, when he responded, always wanted to know how I was and if I had any news from Igor, who had translated for him, an Italian novel for his L.R.I. I'm really sorry

Pietro De Palma said...

I remember that an article of mine on my blog in English attracted his attention. Basically I was reviewing a novel by an Italian author from the 1930s, later a naturalized American, and a political journalist from the 1960s who was an expert on Italian events. He asked me to translate it for him, but my English is not refined enough to convey the nuances of Italian, and so I suggested he use Igor Longo as a translator. This caught his interest because he knew Igor as a translator from English and an international expert on Locked Rooms and a good friend of Roland Lacourbe. and then John asked me to photocopy the text in Italian for him. He was disappointed, I realized later, when he offered to send me a copy of the novel translated into English, and I refused as I had the copy of the original novel. probably he had mentioned in the edition the help I had given him, I don't know.
He had thought of having Igor translate my unpublished novel, but Igor's death due to serious health problems (not death but serious health problems) made this idea in vain. Another memory is that when, before he published his supplement to Bob Adey's essay, he read an article of mine on a novel by Connington that he didn't know, he told me that he had reminded Skupin about it for the publication they were preparing: In Whose Dim Shadow

Martin Edwards said...

Barbara - absolutely! Let's hope that it happens.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for those memories, Pietro.

Jochen_from_Germany said...

I found the news about John's passing on this site yesterday, and my reaction
to it was not surprise - as I knew about his poor health for a year - but a
deep sadness.
We had been in contact for nearly twelve years, and I think I justly may be proud
to call him my friend.
I had collected our complete correspondence over the years, and dug out the very
first mail I had sent to him on September 15th, 2012.
It was an unabashed long one, telling him how I got to locked rooms, which were
the authors I liked and which I didn't, and my wishes for his long-lasting health
and life to be able to publish the (then) remaining thirty-six Paul Halter novels,
To my big surprise, John responded in an equally long mail, telling me how he got
into translating and publishing impossible crimes, his plans for the future, and
even offering to provide me with a signed and lettered copy of his publications as
he noticed HOW crazy I was (and still am) about locked rooms and impossible crimes.
I have a "J" lettered copy of all of them...
We kept in contact during the years, every now and then.
One fine day, I sent him my result of a crackpot bet with a colleague about writing
a thrilling short story, asking for his opinion.
He told me he considered it quite well and, thus, encouraged me to go on writing.
As a result, my attempts brought out "Zirkusluft" ("Circus Air"), an impossible
crime novel, written during a span of six months after work and on weekends, and
becoming the (undeservedly, of course) least-selling mystery of all time.
On another fine day, John sent me - the dilettante par excellence - the offer of
writing a short story as the German entry of "The Realm of the Impossible" - and
he really published it there!
On the finest day of all, John told me his own real-life impossible event story
which had occured to himself and his wife.
By the way, I didn't guess its solution...
Sadly, our last contact was on March 31st, 2023, due to serious health problems
on both sides.
These mails were not very long but incredibly moving, somehow like an early
There are signs that I may regain my health but it is so incredibly sad to learn
John didn't succeed.
R.I.P. my dear friend.

Martin Edwards said...

Jochen, thanks so much for sharing these poignant memories. He was a truly generous friend. I send my best wishes for your complete recovery.