In 1990 I began a search for one of the most mysterious authors in 20th century detective fiction. One who was praised by the New York Times in the '50s and forgotten by the '70s.
My quest to bring him back to the world took two-decades.
It started when I became enamored with paperback series western hero Tom Buchanan by Jonas Ward. I started searching for the author to find out more about him. This was the dawn of the Internet age when if you did a search for The Beatles, 25 entries came up.
After weeks buried in old reference books, I found that Ward was a clever pseudonym of William Ard, one of the most popular writers of 1950s hard-boiled detective novels.
Nothing was known about him. Even the date of his death was in question. Months later, I found a reference to John Ard, a New Jersey judge. I called him. He was the writer's cousin who aimed me toward another relative who kindly told me that Ard's widow, Eileen Hendrick, lived in Florida. She said she would contact Eileen to see if she would talk to me.
A few weeks later the phone rang. "This is Eileen Hendrick. I understand you're interested in my husband, Bill."
Over the next few months we became friends. She told me about the young Bill, how they met while he was an ad writer and they married and had two children. They moved to Florida where Ard wrote, played golf and spent time with his family. They lived, she said, from book-to-book.
William Ard's output was large. He wrote hard-boiled fiction with series characters Timothy Dane and Lou Largo. He wrote so fast that he used several pseudonyms. One of his westerns, The Name's Buchanan, became a film, Buchanan Rides Alone, starring Randolph Scott.
In 1997, I published my findings in Paperback Parade, bringing William Ard to the attention of the passionate band of vintage book collectors, using photos of the young Ard and his family that Mrs. Hendrick provided. It was the first time anyone had seen a photo of the writer.
Ard's career took off after he wrote the ad copy for Bus Stop starring Marilyn Monroe. For a decade his hard-boiled novels were bestsellers hailed by most critics.
In 2007, I created a website devoted to William Ard. For the home page I used a college photo I bought from Dartmouth. It was almost immediately copied by several book collector sites and used without attribution, an unavoidable occupational hazard these days. Unlike many authors, I welcomed it because it further promoted Ard.
Over the years I collected nearly all of Ard's paperback titles and posted them to the site. I knew my efforts -- and I never wanted or made a penny on this venture -- were successful when the author's books started appearing on eBay.
But the story wasn't over.
On Nov. 25, 2010 I received a response to one of my posts from Francis M. Nevins, one of the pre-eminent scholars on mystery and hard-boiled writers. Nevins was impressed with the site and knew a publisher who would be interested in reprinting some of Ard's books. This was beyond my wildest dream. After 50 years, thanks to family, friends, and social media, Ard is now back in print.
Twenty years ago Ard's vintage paperback titles -- if you could find them -- sold for a couple bucks. Today they sell for up to $350.
Ard was so passionate about his writing that even as he lay in the hospital dying of cancer, he had a typewriter with him, working until he died.
His resurrection could not have been done without today's technology -- the website, the liberal "borrowing" of his photos and sharing of the vintage book cover photos, the book dealers, eBay and publishers like Ramble House.
Twenty years ago William Ard was so obscure that the date of his death was listed as "1962(?) Now, if you Google him, you know that it was 1960.
He was 37.