Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Genteel New England Mystery Writer William G. Tapply

And now for something completely different. Something halfway pleasant, for once. I turn your attention to William G. Tapply, an esteemed New England mystery writer who passed away two years ago from leukemia. I've never read any of his books, but I should try at least one of them. They seem like the kind of mysteries my own Ma used to take home from the library in their cellophane covers, back in the day. Although Mr. Tapply got a relatively late start as a writer - publishing his first mystery in his forties - he seems to have lived the kind of life that most of us just dream about. The chance to do what you love for a living, and yet not get so successful at it that your life becomes a bloated caricature of its former self and you want to suck the lead out of the barrel of a shotgun (Ernest Hemingway, I'm not necessarily thinking of you...)

Tapply seems to have led a charmed life in many respects. His bio reads like the bio of a person who lives in one of those enchanted cabins painted by Thomas Kinkade, or like that of a character in some touchy-feely upper middle class drama on the Hallmark Channel. I mean truly - not to dis the guy, I'm sure he was talented, but still... His father wrote for Field & Stream, and he grew up in Lexington, Mass. in the forties and fifties - a perfect time for a suburban boyhood. He was "a fabulous athlete", according to his wife, excelling at baseball and basketball. He was also no slouch academically, having attended what is probably the classiest liberal arts college for smart WASP's - Amherst - and then later Harvard, to pick up a master's in education. He taught English and worked as an administrator at Lexington High School for 25 years, thus garnishing his resume with the noblest of professions - teaching - before moving to New Hampshire and writing full-time. He also found time to become an expert fly-fisherman and to travel extensively. His wife found him "infinitely interesting".

To me, he sounds insufferably perfect.

I mean - my attitude here is not snark, not really, it is just old-fashioned envy and admiration, intermixed. The guy sounds like a modest and tasteful version of that rakish old bearded guy in the Dos Equis commercials. His modesty was reflected in his writing as well, which he preferred to be "invisible", stylistically. “If someone tells you, ‘Wow, that’s great writing,’ you know you’ve failed,’’ he wrote. His best known creation was Brady Coyne, “a Spenser-like character, but more polished. He was a lawyer with Brahmin clients who always wanted to keep the police out of it." The Scarlet Pimpernel of Middlesex County, to wit - “a skillful blend of amateur versus professional, serious versus frivolous, and intellectual versus physical.” These are the sorts of books you can snuggle up with when you can see the maple leaves turning orange outside the window of your study, or when the snow is falling (but not too heavily), or - if it's summer - when you can hear the piquant eruption of a lawn mower half a block away.

There's a paradox afoot in the idea of crime novels the mere reading of which evokes a serene and soothing world. But we all like to feel comfortable now and then, even while reading one's favorite literary genre. Let us hope that at least Tapply's villains were more tormented than he seemed to be.

William Tapply, 69, prolific writer of mysteries, nonfiction (Boston Globe)
Author Website
William G. Tapply - Short Bio

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