Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Joe L. Hensley


Bill Crider's blog carries the mention, and a link back to the
Ellison discussion website.

- Monday, August 27 2007 9:18:47


At 9 AM exactly, this morning, the 27th of August, my phone rang; and
it was Tom, the younger brother of my friend of more than 50 years,
the most excellent sf and mystery writer,


a staunch, talented friend I could not have loved more were he my
brother. Joe died in the night. Last night.

Please spread the word. I am in fear that such mass amnesia as exists
in the country, in the genre, in the massmind, that few will know his
name. He needs to be remembered. Yet when I called LOCUS to report
his passing, the (very polite) young woman who answered, who took the
news, may not have recognized it, nor be aware of Joe's significant
credits. I'm not sure; but I cannot leave this to chance. So, please,
if you can: let everyone know that big, charming, wonderful Joe
Hensley is no longer coming out to play with us.

Very sad, Harlan

Ed here: I first met Joe Hensley in 1961 when Roger Ebert, Vic Ryan and I bummed a ride from Wilson Bob Tucker to the Midwestcon in Cincinatti. It was a small group of maybe a hundred or so with lots of pros and even an editor or two. A heady moment for a Cedar Rapids kid.

One of the pros I talked longest with was Joe Hensley. I'd read his science fiction stories in Planet and other magazines of the time and I was a big fan of pieces in the fanzine Yandro. Plus his Ace novel The Color of Hate was one of my favorite books of the time. (And it holds up damned well today.) I was amazed that he treated me not like a dumb fan but an actual human worth talking to.

I always remembered that and in the late 70s, when I wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed his latest crime novel Rivertown Risk, we started writing back and forth and talking about when I was going to try something a bit more difficult than short stories for downmarket men's magazines.

When Bob Randisi and I started Mystery Scene in 84 I made sure that we covered all of Joe's books and that he had a forum whenever he chose to use it. Even though few seemed to realize it, Joe was one of the best crime writers of his generation. This journalist-turned lawyer-turned judge knew what he was talking about, especially when it came to the kind of governmenalt corruption so prevelant today.

If you read through a shelf of his Roback novels you'll find a sense of the Midwest that evokes Sherwood Anderson, all the sad little secrets and sorrows of flyover country rendered in pitch perfect writing. These novels need to be read.

We usually spoke three or four times a year, long, looping coversations about the old days when science fiction had meant something to us, and the new days when crime fiction fixed our attention. Some of our last conversations concerned some of the people of our old Yandro days who'd passed on. And then Joe's wife died. Several times he talked about her final years and what he'd done for her and what she'd meant to him.

I'm not being merely sentimental when I say it's dfficult to imagine a more decent, honest, honorable man than Joe Hensley. He was a big man in all respects, gentle and wise and true.


Judi Rohrig said...

How very sad about Joe Hensley. I had the honor of working with Joe in Madison, IN, when he was the Democratic city campaign chairman and I was the treasurer. This was in 1971. Joe was a jewel of a man.

Much later, when I was wading through the personal letters of John D. MacDonald at the Smathers Library at the University of Florida in Gainesville, I came across his name quite a bit. Seems Joe and his wife took a few cruises with JohnD and Dorothy and became friends.

I'd always meant to look up Joe when I was back in Madison, but... well, that's an old story of "gonna," isn't it? Joe was a terrific storyteller as well as a wonderfully kind man.

He will be missed.

Judi Rohrig

Anonymous said...


What a great piece about Joe. Thanks for writing it. I was lucky enough to know him personally, though not well, and your words certainly describe the man I knew. Thanks again.

best, Steve Stilwell

Anonymous said...

I only met Joe Hensley once and that was the year he was a Guest of Honor at Pulpcon; apparently not long after his wife had passed away. Everything that you and Harlan wrote about him rings very true from just that one meeting. We had a most enjoyable conversation about lesser-known mystery writers, Midwestern SF fandom, a few mutual friends, and so forth. He may be the most comfortable conversationalist I've ever met. Joe had a true knack for talking with people and exploring their lives as an interested observer. I would very much like to have known him better, but I'm glad that I at least had that one good conversation with him. I'll remember Joe Hensley. He was the real thing.

Curt Phillips
Abingdon, VA