Back in the nineties there were a number of authors whose books I looked forward to on a yearly basis. They used to be known as the midlist. Solid professionals who made a substantial amount of sales to libraries. Good, dependable fiction from people like F. Paul Wilson, John Farris, Bill Pronzini, and Ed Gorman.

Despite some short fiction and pseudonymous-published novels, Ed Gorman wasn't really a horror writer. However, he was embraced by fans of the genre. The very first book publication from Cemetery Dance was Gorman's Prisoners & Other Stories. Other books of his graced the small press.

Gorman wrote a lot of westerns, but he was known to many as a mystery-suspense writer. His books were excellently written and they rarely featured cardboard cutter characters. You'd be more likely to feel sad for killers in Ed Gorman story as hate them.

His work is filled with humanity. Pain, sorrow, guilt, regret are omnipresent in the world of Ed Gorman, but so is humor and humanity.

Murder in the Aisles is one of his early books. It features a character named Tobin who is a television movie critic. Obviously inspired by Siskel and Ebert, Tobin shares a show with a partner and they often quarrel. Tempers flare on an episode, and Tobin slugs his co-host and stomps off the set. The partner is murdered later that night, and Tobin is the main suspect. He takes it upon himself to discover the real murderer.

Murder in the Aisles was followed by a sequel called Several Deaths Later. I read both of these in the early nineties, when I was discovering that suspense fiction isn't so different from horror.

I recently re-read Several Deaths Later, after finding a nice hardcover at a library sale. It not only holds up, it has aged like a fine wine.

The plot of Several Deaths Later is straight out of Agatha Christie. Tobin joins a group of washed-up actors on a cruise for a second rate show called Celebrity Circle. It's a bunch of bullshit, and Tobin hates being part of such a shallow endeavor, but his review series was cancelled and he needs the bread.

As you could guess, a celeb is murdered and Tobin once again finds himself an unlikely detective trying to ferret out the malefactor. Other than the exotic setting, Several Deaths Later is standard stuff, but Gorman's empathy raises it above most other private eye books of its ilk. He depicts the celebrities as grossly vain, with infantile temperaments, but he also shines a spotlight on their desperation and unhappiness.

Of course Tobin stumbles over red herrings before discovering the murderer. The motives behind the crime are tragic and heartbreaking.

Tobin was apparently not popular enough for Gorman to continue the series. That's a shame. I really like the character.

Ed Gorman was prolific, and I read everything of his I could get my hands on. I don't quite think I can say Several Deaths Later is one of his best, but it's goddamned good, and that's more than enough for me.

Thankfully I have a lot more Gorman books to revisit. When you read as many books as I have, the details grow dim. What's the point of owning books if not to read them over again?

Written by Mark Sieber

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