I found out today that my friend John Baker from Charleston passed away last night. John and I never met in person, but we corresponded for nearly thirty years. I don't recall for sure how we got in touch, but he may have gotten my address from Mike Avallone. John was a mystery fan who read all sorts of books, but he had a special fondness for hardboiled private eye novels and had read everything by Avallone, Richard S. Prather, Mickey Spillane, and dozens of other authors. He traded letters with a lot of them, too, typed or handwritten letters because while John eventually gave the Internet a try, he still preferred the old-fashioned way of corresponding.
Like many of us, he kept a list of everything he read and was always on the lookout for new authors he might like, or old authors whose books he wanted to reread. In one of his last letters to me, he asked if I remembered the author of a private eye series set in Tokyo and featuring an ex-G.I. who was a karate expert. I suggested he might be thinking about the Burns Bannion series by Earl Norman, and that turned out to be right.
Not surprisingly, John was also a Mike Shayne fan, and in 1984 I came out of my "retirement" as Brett Halliday to write one final Shayne story, "Fishing for Murder", which featured John and a friend of his as characters and used some of his plot suggestions. I think he enjoyed appearing in a Shayne story like that.
It hasn't quite soaked in on me that next week or next month, there won't be an envelope in the mailbox with John's distinctive handwriting on it. He sometimes signed his letters, "Your faraway friend, John". Maybe a little farther away now, John, but still a friend.
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