“The world is full of obvious things by which nobody by chance ever observes,” once wrote novelist Arthur Conan Doyle. Good storytelling often mixes those observations of life from angles which people rarely look. A mix of suspense and humor into bizarre mysteries marked the career of Texas novelist Bill Crider. A man of good humor and gracious goodwill toward his fellow writers, Crider became a favorite among mystery readers.
Allen Billy Crider was born in Mexia in July 1941. He grew up in the small Limestone County community with a brother and a sister, and along the way, he whittled his name simply to “Bill.” His brother, Bob Crider, ultimately became a science teacher in Mexia. The future author’s childhood included baseball cards and music as well as a growing appreciation for the written word. He proved an able student and graduated at the top of his class at Mexia High School in 1959.
After graduation, he headed to Austin as an English major at the University of Texas. He graduated with a bachelors degree in 1963. He then enrolled in the graduate school at North Texas State University (the modern University of North Texas) in Denton. In 1965, Crider married Judy Stutts, a fellow Limestone County native and Baylor University graduate. The union would last the next 49 years. After the two married, she worked as a secretary while he completed graduate school.
Once Crider earned a masters degree in 1969, he left Denton and returned to The University of Texas for his doctorate. While in Austin, his wife gave birth to a son and a daughter. He enjoyed his learning experience in graduate school, and in his often self-deprecating wit, once claimed he would not have left if his wife “hadn’t forced me to get out and get a real job.” He wrote his doctoral dissertation on detective novels, a genre he had long since fallen in love with, and earned his Ph.D. in 1972.
Crider landed work as a professor of English at Howard Payne University in Brownwood as he finished his dissertation. In 1982, he edited Mass Market Publishing in America, a guide for aspiring writers. He stayed at the university for twelve years, leaving in 1983. Afterward, he took a position teaching English at Alvin Community College, not far from Houston.
He began writing his own novels and short stories. In 1981, he published “A Right to Be Dead” with co-author Joe Lansdale. In 1986, he released Too Late to Die. The book won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America in 1987. It was the first of roughly two dozen novels in a series featuring Sheriff Dan Rhoads, a small-town Texas sheriff. Crider also released the popular Texas Capitol Murders in 1992. Several of his mysteries centered around English professors thrust into the awkward position of solving mysteries, including One Dead Dean (1988) and A Knife in the Back (2002).
In the late 1990s, Crider penned two novels with famed TV weatherman Willard Scott. Murder under Blue Skies (1998) and Murder in the Mist (1999), the two books in the series, centered on the character of Stanley Waters, a retired TV meteorologist-turned-detective.
Most of his works were mysteries, but he branched out into other areas. He wrote six western novels between 1988 and 1999. He wrote six horror novels under the pen name Jack MacLane. He also wrote several books for children, including the award-winning Mike Gonzo series.
While his writing career took off, he rose in the ranks at Alvin Community College, eventually becoming Chairman of Division of English and Fine Arts. Crider retired from teaching in 2002 and devoted himself to his writing. He laughingly referred to himself as “a full-time writer or a part-time bum.”
His wife remained a constant partner and supporter in his writing career. Judy Crider edited the rough drafts of his works and offered many suggestions as he went through the writing process. Eventually, she took up writing as well. In 2001, the two co-wrote “Chocolate Moose,” a short story that appeared in the anthology Death Dines at 8:30. The two won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story in 2002 from the Mystery Writers of America.
He wrote an Internet blog after his retirement where readers enjoyed his humorous look at everything from television to the frustrations of buying a new lawnmower at Wal-Mart. He published several more books. He ultimately wrote more than 50 books. Crider died recently at his home in Alvin at the age of 76, a man beloved in print by his readers and in real life by his family and many friends.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org