Piccadilly Publishing

 

 

PETER McCURTIN

Peter McCurtin
aka Jack Slade / Gene Curry

Peter J. McCurtin was born in Ireland on 15 October 1929, and immigrated to America when he was in his early twenties. Records also confirm that, in 1958, McCurtin co-edited the short-lived (one issue) New York Review with William Atkins. By the early 1960s, he was co-owner of a bookstore in Ogunquit, Maine, and often spent his summers there. Additionally, McCurtin and his second wife shared their home in Ogunquit with a dog that also happened to be part wolf.

McCurtin's first book, Mafioso (1970) was nominated for the prestigious Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, and filmed in 1973 as The Boss, with Henry Silva. More books in the same vein quickly followed, including Cosa Nostra (1971), Omerta (1972), The Syndicate (1972) and Escape From Devil's Island (1972). 1970 also saw the publication of his first "Carmody" western, Hangtown.

Carmody is, on the surface at least, just another trail-wise adventurer. Sometimes he is presented as an outlaw, sometimes as a gun-for-hire. Whatever his current occupation, however, Carmody's eye is always on the main chance, as McCurtin's tough, spare narrative frequently makes plain.

Carmody's exploits set the tone for most of the westerns McCurtin was to write over the next two decades. His view of the frontier is harsh and unforgiving, a place where a man with any sense looks to his own safety, and to hell with everyone else. McCurtin's westerns are fast, violent and chauvinistic, but the violence and sex are seldom overtly explicit. McCurtin further distances his protagonist from other stock western anti-heroes by recounting the series in the kind of hard-boiled first-person style normally associated with the private-eye genre.

McCurtin's editor at Leisure Books remembers that he was "a terrific, fluent, natural writer of action, and a solid researcher for his westerns and mysteries. Leisure did not, in my time (1979-1981), let anyone else write under Peter's name, but Peter wrote under other names in addition to his own byline. He was a real workhorse with, unfortunately, an alcohol problem (like so many), and without question the very best writer that Leisure was publishing at the time. Perhaps he could have been better and more prolific under better circumstances." For a while, McCurtin himself also worked as an editor at Leisure Books.

The author spent a prolonged spell writing various mercenary and Executioner-style anti-Mafia stories. His name appeared on the first of Manor's Marksman books, Vendetta, leading many to speculate that he also wrote under the pseudonyms "Frank Scarpetta" and "Bruno Rossi" (author of the Sharpshooter series). He also provided a novelisation for the cult action classic The Exterminator.

McCurtin returned to the western in 1979 to take over the Sundance series originally created and written by the late, great Ben Haas, under the pseudonym "John Benteen". In McCurtin's hands, however, Sundance -- a half-breed Cheyenne who undertakes various missions to raise funds to fight the corrupt Indian Ring -- became a colder, more impersonal figure, more violent and less credible.

Midway through his tenure on the Sundance books, McCurtin wrote the adult western series Jim Saddler, under the name Gene Curry. This series returned him to the gritty first-person style of narration that made the Carmody books so distinctive.

McCurtin produced one of his all-time best books in 1982 -- the powerful western Rockwell, which is a fictional retelling of the life of Orrin Porter Rockwell, the so-called "Mormon Triggerite" who upheld the law in Salt Lake City. Tough, vivid and compelling, the author's strengths as a storyteller are shown here to their best effect.

An acquaintence said: "When he wrote most of his books, he lived in a studio in Murray Hill, on 39th Street, only a few blocks from the New York offices of Tower Books, which at the time were located at 2 Park Avenue. His building was called the Tuscany Towers back then. It's now a W Hotel. He had a Murphy bed, a kitchenette, and a desk with manual typewriter. There was no phone except for the payphone in the building basement. He liked eating at Automats, he went to the movies several times a week and spent a lot of time reading."

Peter McCurtin died in New York on 27 January 1997. His westerns in particular are distinguished by unusual plots with neatly resolved conclusions, well-drawn secondary characters, regular bursts of action and tight, smooth writing. if you haven't already checked him out, you have quite a treat in store.