Liter, who lived in Tazewell County, died in 2008 after leaving the newspaper and writing several novels –– from “Rainy-Day Lover” and
“Murder Inherited” to seven titles written pseudonymously as “Cyn Castle” and especially five books in his “Nick Bancroft Mystery Series.”
Now, his daughter, Martie Liter Ogborn, has started re-releasing the potboilers with an eye to continuing the series herself.
The first two, “August is Murder” and “Murder by the Book,” were available at Ogborn’s Dec. 14 book-launch party at Landmark Recreation Center.
That’s appropriate since Liter was a competitive bowler as well as an avid golfer and gardener, and fan of the Bears and Cubs. Plus, Bancroft’s fictional escapades occasionally mirror Peoria (called Centrel City here), from citing the old Town and County Lanes to yet another losing season for the Cubs.
Although murder mysteries, Liter’s Bancroft books are less in the style of masters such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and more like Robert Parker (the Spenser series) and Tony Hillerman (the Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn books).
Where Chandler and other hard-boiled authors – also including Joe Lansdale and even Kinky Friedman – specialized in metaphors and similes, Liter stresses stories, much like best-selling writers adept at plots, such as Lee Childs or Michael Connelly.
But like a couple of Journal Star colleagues who also penned novels (Jerry Klein’s “fathersday” and Gerry Whalen’s “Tamara,” written under the pen name Ann Sullivan), the newspapermen could turn a phrase.
Bancroft narrates the first effort to kill him in “August is Murder,” observing “ghost-like human figures emerged from the darkness and stood in small groups. Flames flared, died down, and flared again. Faces, some I recognized, appeared and vanished, only to appear again. The third floor collapsed into the second and, finally, the debris settled, with sparks flying, onto the remains of the first floor. Nothing was left except burning wood, ashes and smoke.”
In “Murder by the Book,” Liter writes, “The streets, with the dim street lights, seemed dark until we got to the store and stood across from it. Now the darkness disappeared. I imagined eyes, police eyes, watching our every move.”
A U.S. Navy veteran who served in both World War II and the Korean War, Liter’s Bancroft is a reporter drawn into a case where a woman is found dead at the Stadium, a sex-etiquette book in her lap, in “Murder by the Book.” The victim’s father wants Bancroft to find the killer, but the newsman is distracted by a torrid love affair with a receptionist and questionable interactions with another woman, detective Faustine Smith.
Various double reverses ensue, with Liter’s skillful storytelling making the yarn riveting and rewarding.
“August is Murder” has the plucky hero endure that attempted assassination-by-arson, a vicious beating, an attack by dogs and gunfire to serve his client, a racy nudist. It’s as action-packed as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan without the military minutiae, and as filled with both local color and universal appeal as Carl Hiassen’s gems.
There’s more to come says Ogborn, who plans to release the next three Bancroft novels – “And the Band Played On,” “Death Sting” and “Point of Murder” – within the next six months.
“Murder by the Book,” 122 pages. 2002 Digital Parchment Press.
“August is Murder,” 138 pages. 2002 Digital Parchment Press.