Reviving Appel

To show how out of touch I am, this article about noted crime writer Benjamin Appel ran in the New York Times over the weekend and I managed to miss it till Tribe linked to it yesterday. Appel, who wrote crime novels set in his native New York between 1934 and 1977, is being brought back to life — book-wise, at least — thanks to the efforts of his family and Stark House Press:

He had a busy career writing books with evocative titles: “Brain

Guy,” “The Power House,” “The Dark Stain,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Sweet

Money Girl.” His New York books were populated with crooks, hangers-on

and street-level politicians, and they captured a certain kind of

working- or lower-class desperation. Yet they are filled with genuine

affection for all these characters.

Although Mr. Appel drew

good reviews, his books never did much on the best-seller lists. “Brain

Guy” was the big one, the one that made his reputation, but within a

year after it was published, he didn’t have enough money in his pocket

to pay for a cab the night he met his future wife, Sophie, an admission

she found deeply endearing.

Mr. Appel produced more than

books; he also produced (or helped produce) those daughters. Willa

Appel, the middle one, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, runs the New

York Structural Biology Center in Upper Manhattan. It is not far from

the opening scene of “The People Talk,” Mr. Appel’s major work of

nonfiction, an oral history of the Depression.

In the nearly

three decades since their father died in 1977, Willa and her sisters,

Carla and Marianna, have worked to keep his name alive. Willa arranged

to have “The People Talk” republished in 1980, and the sisters donated

his papers to the University of Texas at Austin. Carla was instrumental

in getting Stark House Press, a publisher in Eureka, Calif., to reprint

“Brain Guy” and “Plunder,” a novel of World War II. Both will be out

this month.

And since Stark House is awfully good at picking out unjustly forgotten genre gems, I’m looking forward to reading a least a small portion of Appel’s backlist.