Better known by the pseudonym of Bruce Alexander, Bruce Cook died at the age of 71 on November 9, 2003, in Los Angeles. He is chiefly remembered as the author of the adventures of Sir John Fielding, his main work between 1994 and 2003. Though these eleven novels of detection, translated into nine languages, brought him an international reputation, his bibliography includes twelve other books that appeared between 1979 and 2003, along with many hundreds of reviews and articles in many newspapers and magazines.
Bruce Cook: Journalist and Writer
Born in 1932, Bruce Cook grew up in California (Berkeley, Dunsmuir) and in his birthplace, Chicago, where he received a degree in English literature. A translator with the U. S. Army in Germany in the 1950s, he worked for some years in Washington, D. C., before moving to Los Angeles in 1983, where he lived until his death. He spent time in Europe on a regular basis--in Paris, in Normandy, and in England, where he drew inspiration for his writing.
Starting to write early in life, he began his career as a journalist in the 1960s. He worked as critic-of-all-media-duties (with the National Observer from 1967 to 1975), then became film reporter, and book review editor (with the Los Angeles Daily News from 1984-1990), then followed his love of literature by writing many book reviews for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Detroit News, and USA Today.
At the same time, during the 1970s, Bruce Cook was writing books--The Beat Generation (1971), Listen to the Blues (1973), The Town that Country Built (1993), and two biographies, one of Dalton Trumbo (1977), the other of Bertolt Brecht (1983). His last book was a fictional biography of Shakespeare--Qualms of Conscience: The Confessions of William Shakespeare (2004).
As he liked to tell it, he developed an early interest in fiction. He published Sex Life, a novel of the sexual revolution, in1979, then knew his first success as a crime novelist with the adventures of Chico Cervantes, a California cop turned private eye, the only Mexican-American in crime fiction. Four novels, appearing from 1988 to 1994, make up this series of lively characters--Mexican Standoff, Rough Cut, Death as a Career Move, The Sidewalk Hilton.
A Series of Novels: The Adventures of Sir John Fielding
The adventures of Sir John Fielding, long considered--he discovered his historical hero in a volume of history in 1977 and structured the framework for the first Sir John novel in1982--have delighted readers since the publication of the first volume, Blind Justice, in 1994. Each novel in the series is centered in a different setting or theme. Blind Justice(1994) is about depravity among the nobility; Murder In Grub Street (1995) concerns the place of Jews in society; Watery Grave (1996), the Navy; Person or Persons Unknown (1997), prostitution. Jack, Knave and Fool (1998) delves into the world of show business and autopsies. The action of Death of a Colonial (1999) takes place principally in the city of Bath in its heyday. The Color of Death (2000) confronts the question of slavery; Smuggler's Moon (2001) investigates judicial corruption and contraband in the English Channel. An Experiment in Treason concerns the American Revolution. The Price of Murder (2003) unfolds in the world of horse racing. From one book to the next, the same characters meet again and again and the reader not only lives in the lives of the two admirable heroes, but also in the lives of small-time crooks, a gambling bigwig, a visionary doctor, and prostitutes with hearts of gold. These novels captivate the reader both for their real and fictional heroes and for the liveliness of a style that unites a marvelous and moving sense of humor with irony and good cheer.
The crime novel is sometimes relegated to a secondary rank in literature, and only certain authors are capable of raising the genre to the status of serious fiction. The adventures of Sir John Fielding, which uses an original point of view--that of a poor orphan who lends his eyes and pen to a blind judge--are distinguished by the quality of the writing and the accuracy of the historical setting. They make Bruce Alexander a great author of historical crime fiction.
Senior Lecturer in English
University of Bretagne Occidentale
November 21, 2003 www.univ-brest.fr/hcti
Note: A final novel in the Sir John Fielding series--Rules of Engagement--was published in 2005, two years after Bruce Alexander's death.
From a distance, Bruce was one of those writers you hate to love. He seemed too good at what he did — and he did it all. When I first read his work, in the late 60s, he was
writing movie reviews. Soon it was jazz criticism, biographies, book reviews, fiction. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd wrtten operas — the scores and the librettos.
He was so good that he inspired as much envy as admiration — and suspicion. He's much too industrious and versatile and talented, I thought — somebody with all these
professional virtues must be a monster in person: Driven, egomanaical, ruthlessly competitive, insufferable — all the stereotypical character flaws that we sluggard types
like to hang on our betters. But when I got to know Bruce, sometime in the 80s, I discovered right away that he was the exception — one of those rare writers who are even
more impressive in person than they are in print. In other words, it was love at first sight. He was bright, charming, and exceedingly modest, when he --unlike most writers
--had so little to be modest about. Above all else, he was generous, with his time, advice, and sympathy. The other day I came across a description of a character in a book
by Somerset Maugham, a writer Bruce probably admired: I quote: "He was ready to do anyone a kindness and seemed to find nothing too much trouble if he could thereby oblige
his fellow man." As soon as I read that description, I thought, There, by the grace of God, goes Bruce. Some deaths are harder to accept than others — especially Bruce's.
The last time I saw him, he was full of love, ambition, youth. He looked and acted like he was going to live forever. With his legacy of family, friends, and work, he surely