Twin Cities mystery writer Harold Adams, who died April 4 at age 91, was "kind, intelligent and very nice," according to his longtime friend Barbara Mayor. "He wasn't anything like Carl Wilcox."
Wilcox was the reluctant sleuth in 17 novels by Adams, beginning in 1981 with "Murder" and concluding in 2000 with "Lead, So I Can Follow." The stories are set at the height of the Great Depression in a small South Dakota town where Wilcox's parents own a hotel. Wilcox, who sometimes earns money painting signs, is not exactly a law-abiding citizen. He has to solve a few crimes before people stop considering him a bum.
"Carl wasn't a bad man, just a little different," said Mayor, who was first reader for all of Adams' manuscripts. "He was a pretty wild character in the beginning. He'd been in prison, he got into fights and he was a womanizer. But in the last book he was married and happy. It was fun to watch him change."
Adams, who also wrote three stand-alone novels, won the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award and a Minnesota Book Award for his Wilcox novel "The Man Who Was Taller than God" (1993).
Ed Gorman, a mystery writer, editor, critic and historian, paid tribute to Adams in the Minnesota mystery anthology "Writes of Spring" (Nodin Press, 2012).
"I consider Harold Adams to be one of the major voices of his generation of crime fiction writers," Gorman wrote. "His unique voice, his strong sense of story and structure, and his rich, wry depictions of the Depression-era Midwest have stayed with me long after the works of flashier writers have faded. There's music in his books, a melancholy prairie song that you carry with you for life ... I consider him to be a master."
Adams was born in Clark, S.D. He worked at the Minnesota Charities Review Council and the Better Business Bureau where he met Barbara Mayor's late husband, John. After Adams divorced he lived with the Mayors in their Minnetonka home until they moved to Summit Place Senior Community in Eden Prairie, where Adams was in the memory unit for the past three years.
Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp, owners of Once Upon a Crime mystery bookstore in Minneapolis, visited Adams frequently in his final years.
"We will always remember Harold as a sweet man and immensely talented author," Shulze said. He and Frovarp edited the 2012 "Writes of Spring" anthology, which is dedicated to Adams and includes two of his previously unpublished stories.
Shulze, who collects opening lines from novels, said one of his all-time favorites is from "Paint the Town Red," Carl Wilcox's second adventure:
When sober, I sleep light enough to hear a cat lift its hind leg for a wash job, but this guy was quiet as aging and I didn't know he was in the lobby until the desk bell clanged.
Mary Ann Grossmann can be reached at 651-228-5574.