Stuart Woods, prolific writer of bestselling thrillers, dies at 84

Stuart Woods, a prolific and award-winning mystery writer who produced several best-selling books during what his memoirs duly described as “an extravagant life,” died July 22 at his home in Washington, Connecticut. He was 84 years old.

The death was confirmed by his wife, Jeanmarie Woods, his only immediate survivor. She did not specify a cause.

Mr Woods, who was also a licensed private jet pilot and transatlantic sailor with homes in New York, Maine and Florida, embarked on his career as a novelist somewhat haphazardly.

But once he became a writer, he turned a $7,500 advance for his first novel, “Chiefs,” in 1981 into an award-winning career as a one-man fiction factory, churning out up to five thrillers a year, including the one became the basis for a six-hour CBS miniseries in 1983.

His four-decade body of work included dozens of New York Times bestsellers featuring, among other characters, Stone Barrington, a suave and libidinous New York lawyer and former police detective; Ed Eagle, a Santa Fe defense attorney; William Henry Lee IV, a Georgia senator elected president; Holly Barker, retired Army major and Florida police chief recruited by the CIA; and Rick Barron, a police detective who becomes a production manager for a Hollywood studio in the 1930s.

Mr. Woods also wrote a travel book, “A Romantic’s Guide to the Country Inns of Britain and Ireland” (1979).

“I have a feverish imagination,” he told The New York Times in 1999. “And a rich fantasy life, which helps with the sex scenes.”

He typically wrote two hours a day, until about noon, writing up to a full chapter at that time. Before submitting a book, he said, he would complete “half a dozen chapters at the start and a brief summary of the rest, and send it to my publisher.”

“When they agree to that,” he added, “then I ignore the synopsis and do whatever I want.”

Her memoir, “An Extravagant Life,” was released in June.

Referring to Mr Woods’ “clockwork” output, Times critic Janet Maslin compared him to a popular and equally industrious novelist, calling him “the Nora Roberts of mystery bestsellers”.

Both Mr. Woods and his character Stone Barrington frequented Elaine’s, the literary haunt on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. To keep the saloon alive at one point, Mr Woods tried to buy it from its salty owner, Elaine Kaufman, when it was suffering financially.

Elaine finally closed in 2011, but Mr. Woods’ muse remained free.

“I have a theory that the writers are blocking out fear that the book won’t be as good as what you’ve been telling all your friends,” he said, “so if you never finish, they don’t will ever find you.” He added: “It takes a concerted act of will, every day, to work at it.”

Stuart Chevalier Lee was born on January 9, 1938, in west-central Manchester, Georgia, to Dorothy (Callaway) Lee, a church organist, and Stuart Franklin Lee, a runaway gas station owner. in another state after stealing a traffic jam. plant when her son was 2 years old. When Stuart was 6, his mother married Angier David Woods, and the boy took his stepfather’s surname.

After earning a degree in sociology from the University of Georgia in 1959, Mr. Woods served in the Air National Guard. He emigrated to New York to become a journalist but ended up working for an advertising agency there, then in London.

He then moved to Ireland, where he began writing his first novel. But he was quickly disconcerted when he fell in love with sailing and started racing. In 1976, in a race from Plymouth, England to Newport, RI, which took him 45 days, he finished roughly in the middle of the pack.

He then wrote a non-fictional account of the race, “Blue Water, Green Skipper”, and, after returning to Georgia, sold the US rights to WW Norton & Company. He also agreed to publish “Chiefs,” the thriller Mr. Woods had started eight years earlier.

“The chiefs,” he said, had been inspired by his discovery, at age 9, of his grandfather’s chief of police badge in the family attic. The grandfather wore the badge, bloodied and pricked by shotgun pellets, when he was killed in 1927 in a case of mistaken identity by a gunman delirious with malaria.

The plot revolves around three generations of law enforcement officers, starting with a cotton farmer who is appointed chief of police in the 1920s and tasked with solving the ritual murder of a teenager.

“Chiefs” won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was adapted into the CBS miniseries, which starred Charlton Heston, Danny Glover and Billy Dee Williams.

In 2010, Mr. Woods received a Grand Prix de Littérature Polcière, France’s most prestigious award for crime and detective novels, for his novel “Imperfect Strangers”.

Her first marriage ended in divorce. He married Jeanmarie Cooper in 2013.

Mr Woods was deeply attached to the Authors Guild, a professional organization, recalling the support he received from it as a fledgling author. He also valued his readers, even if his patience with them sometimes ran out.

In ‘Dark Harbor’ Mr Woods cryptically wrote: ‘Whoever killed Dick and his family vacuumed as they left the house through the patio door. Very neat man. Very smart too. The passage left a number of readers perplexed.

But in more than one interview, Mr Woods was unwilling to play Holmes to the Reader’s Watson.

“Don’t ask about the vacuum cleaner,” he wrote on his website, “and before you ask about the plots of other novels, remember: I never explain! It’s all in the book, get it!

Lola R. McClure