Stuart Woods, the prolific, award-winning mystery author whose memoirs spawned several bestsellers during what he described as “a life of excess,” died July 22 at his home in Washington, Conn. He was 84 years old.
His death was confirmed only by his wife, Jeanmarie Woods, who was his only survivor. She did not explain why.
Mr. Woods, also a licensed swashbuckling private jet pilot and trans-Atlantic sailor with homes in New York, Maine and Florida, made his career somewhat casually as a novelist.
But once he became a writer, he paid $7,500 for his first novel, “Bosses,” in 1981, before turning out five thrillers a year in an award-winning career as a one-man fiction factory. In the year It became the basis of a six-hour CBS mini-series in 1983.
A New York Times bestseller spanning more than four decades, it features, among other characters, Stone Barrington, a suave, libidinous New York lawyer and former police detective, Ed Eagle, a Santa Fe defense attorney; William Henry Lee IV, Georgia senator-elect for president; Holly Barker, CIA-Recruited Army Major and Florida Police Chief; and Rick Barron, a police detective who became an executive for Hollywood studio productions in the 1930s.
Mr. Woods wrote a travel book, “A Romantic Guide to Country Inns in Britain and Ireland” (1979).
“I have an obsession,” he told the New York Times in 1999. And a rich fantasy life, which helps with sex scenes.
He typically writes two hours a day, until noon, by which time he’ll produce a full chapter. Before submitting a book, he says, “I first finished half a dozen chapters and a short synopsis of the rest and sent it to my publisher.”
He added: “When you accept this, I will ignore the summary and do what I want.”
His memoir, “An Extravagant Life,” was published in June.
Citing Mr. Woods’s “clockwork” production, Times critic Janet Masley likened him to “a famous and equally assiduous romance novelist, the Norah Roberts of the mystery bestseller.”
Mr. Woods and his character Stone Barrington frequent Elaine’s, a literary hangout on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. When Mr. Woods struggled financially to keep the salon alive at one point, he tried to buy it from owner Elaine Kaufman.
Elaine finally closed in 2011, but Mr. Woods’ museum remained intact.
“I have a theory that writers’ block is the fear that the book won’t be as good as you told all your friends, so if you don’t finish it, they’ll never know you. “It takes a concerted act of will every day to work at it,” he added.
Stuart Chevalier was born Jan. 9, 1938, in west-central Manchester, Ga., to Dorothy (Callaway) Lee, a church organist, and Stuart Franklin Lee, a gas station owner who ran away to another state after robbing a bottler. When the plant boy 2. Stewart was 6 years old, his mother, Anger, married David Woods and the boy took his stepfather’s name.
After graduating from the University of Georgia in 1959 with a degree in sociology, Mr. Woods served in the Air National Guard. He moved to New York to become a journalist but ended up working for an advertising agency in London.
He later moved to Ireland, where he began writing his first novel. But he soon took a different direction when he fell in love with sailing and took up racing. In the year In 1976, the 45-day race from Plymouth, England to Newport, RI, finished in the middle of the field.
He then wrote a nonfiction account of the race, “Blue Water, Green Skipper,” and, after returning to Georgia, sold the American rights to WW Norton & Company. He also agreed to publish “The Bosses,” which Mr. Woods had begun eight years earlier.
“Boss” was inspired by the discovery of his grandfather’s police chief badge in the family’s attic when he was 9 years old. When his grandfather was killed in 1927 when he was mistakenly identified by a malarial gunman, he wore a bloodied and shotgun-scarred badge.
The plot revolves around three generations of law enforcement officers, starting with a cotton farmer who is anointed police chief in the 1920s and tasked with solving the murders of a teenage cult.
“Bosses” won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was adapted into a CBS mini-series starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover and Billy Dee Williams.
In the year In 2010, Mr. Woods received France’s most prestigious prize for crime and detective fiction, the Grand Prix de Literature Politique, for his novel “Imperfect Strangers.”
His first marriage ended in divorce. He married Jeanmarie Cooper in 2013.
Mr. Woods is deeply committed to the Writers Guild professional organization, recalling the support he received as a budding author. He also admired his readers, even if his patience with them wore thin at times.
In “Dark Harbor,” Mr. Woods writes dramatically: “Whoever killed Dick and his family left the house through the porch door and it was empty.” A very polite man. Very smart too. The passage has left many readers confused.
But in more than one interview, Mr. Woods refused to play Holmes with Watson, the reader.
“Don’t ask about the vacuum cleaner,” he wrote on his website, “and before you ask about the plot of other novels, remember: I never explain! It’s all in the book, just imagine!”