I had to take my car in for servicing today. Took two hours so I read several stories in Deadly Allies 2 a fine anthology edited by Bob Randisi and Susan Dunlap in the early nineties. The story that grabbed me was Ben Schutz's What Goes Around. The number of riffs he ran on the standard private eyestory was amazing.
Here we have a young woman working her first case as a private detective having to turn to an established detective to help her on a case that he soon realizes is not at all what it seems. Then the fun starts, one twist after another, each beautifully rendered. A small masterpiece.
Ben had one of those frustrating careers that come along all too often. Most of his work was as good as--and in some cases much better than--crime writers on the best seller list. He had his own voice, his own take on humanity and he was a wizard with the tools of storytelling. He even managed to get published by two or three major houses but somehow it never went together.
Not too long before he passed his agent Lynn Meyers called me one night and told me about a novel Ben had written that a number of editors loved but just couldn't get through committee. Lynn wanted to know if I'd read it for Five Star. Well I did and I was stunned by it. Flat out it was the best book Ben had ever written. It was a brave, personal, disturbing, true book about the world as Ben had come to see it. I couldn't believe that nobody in NYC would publish it. We bought it immediately.
The reviewers went crazy for it. Everybody raved. We followed up with a collection of his short stories. More raves. Along with many more writers Ben deserves to be reprinted and remembered. He was a fine man and a fine writer.
This seems to be my week for quoting Kevin Burton Smith. Here's what Kevin said about Ben's last novel The Mongol Reply:
"This is not a comfortable novel, and many a reader might squirm with an unpleasant shock of self-recognition. But I think that Schutz, a forensic psychologist himself and the author, in the 1980s and early 90s, of a Shamus Award-winning hard-boiled series starring Washington, D.C., private eye Leo Haggerty (Embrace the Wolf, A Fistful of Empty), has returned to fiction after an absence of more than a decade with arguably his most angry and potent work yet. The Mongol Reply is an unrepentant, take-no-prisoners assault on the twisted and selfish games people play in the name of love, and the sometimes very brutal price that children (and ultimately, all of us) have to pay for their parent’s sins. Welcome back, Ben."
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THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE and A FISTFUL OF EMPTY were my favorite PI novels of the '90s, with all respect to Collins, Gorman, Estleman, Pelecanos, and Randisi. For a while, I really thought Schutz was poised for the big break.
Thanks for this retrospective on Shutz. Embrace The Wolf still has one of the most stunning premises of any P.I. novel I've ever read. And unlkie some writers who can come up with a great story idea, but have no idea what to do with it, Shutz always delivered.
Thanks, Ed. Everything you say about Ben and his work was true. I was lucky enough to know him and call him friend. Thanks for writing this piece.
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