Friday, August 31, 2007

Judge Joe

This on Joe Hensley from Ed Gorman's blog. My thanks to Ed for allowing us to repost it here.

Ed here: I first met Joe Hensley in 1961 when Roger Ebert, Vic Ryan and I bummed a ride from Wilson Bob Tucker to the Midwestcon in Cincinatti. It was a small group of maybe a hundred or so with lots of pros and even an editor or two. A heady moment for a Cedar Rapids kid.

One of the pros I talked longest with was Joe Hensley. I'd read his science fiction stories in Planet and other magazines of the time and I was a big fan of pieces in the fanzine Yandro. Plus his Ace novel The Color of Hate was one of my favorite books of the time. (And it holds up damned well today.) I was amazed that he treated me not like a dumb fan but an actual human worth talking to.

I always remembered that and in the late 70s, when I wrote to tell him how much I enjoyed his latest crime novel Rivertown Risk, we started writing back and forth and talking about when I was going to try something a bit more difficult than short stories for downmarket men's magazines.

When Bob Randisi and I started Mystery Scene in 84 I made sure that we covered all of Joe's books and that he had a forum whenever he chose to use it. Even though few seemed to realize it, Joe was one of the best crime writers of his generation. This journalist-turned lawyer-turned judge knew what he was talking about, especially when it came to the kind of governmenalt corruption so prevelant today.

If you read through a shelf of his Roback novels you'll find a sense of the Midwest that evokes Sherwood Anderson, all the sad little secrets and sorrows of flyover country rendered in pitch perfect writing. These novels need to be read.

We usually spoke three or four times a year, long, looping coversations about the old days when science fiction had meant something to us, and the new days when crime fiction fixed our attention. Some of our last conversations concerned some of the people of our old Yandro days who'd passed on. And then Joe's wife died. Several times he talked about her final years and what he'd done for her and what she'd meant to him.

I'm not being merely sentimental when I say it's dfficult to imagine a more decent, honest, honorable man than Joe Hensley. He was a big man in all respects, gentle and wise and true.