VJ Books Blog

(timesunion.com, Nov. 21, 2008, Paul Grondahl)

Author George Clark Chesbro, who published 27 genre novels and developed a cult following in France and Japan for his dark and futuristic tales, died Tuesday of complications from congestive heart failure. He was 68.

Chesbro grew up in Delmar and graduated in 1958 from Bethlehem High School, where he was a class president and captain of the swim team. He spent his adult life struggling with emotional pain that he exorcised on the page, particularly in a series of popular novels that featured a dwarf and former circus performer known as Mongo the Magnificent, whose second act involved a career as a private investigator, Dr. Robert Frederickson. “He had his demons,” said his wife, Robin Chesbro. “He always said, ‘Happy people don’t write.'”

Chesbro didn’t start out as a writer. After earning a degree in teaching at Syracuse University, he was a special education teacher and worked with emotionally troubled teens at the Rockland Psychiatric Center. “He treated others with dignity because he had his own struggles with self-worth,” his wife said.

Chesbro published his first novel when he was 29. His breakout book, “Shadow of a Broken Man,” published by Simon & Schuster in 1977, sold well, earned royalties and generated an advance on his next book, “Turn Loose the Dragon,” substantial enough to allow him to quit his day job. He had lean years as a writer, but earned his living as a wordsmith. “He believed you needed perseverance to succeed as a novelist,” his wife said.

Chesbro wrote screenplays and books under the pen name of David Cross. Hunter Goatley, a devoted fan, maintains a Web site about Chesbro’s writings called Dangerous Dwarf. Chesbro won an Ellery Queen Award and served as president of the Mystery Writers Association. His prodigious output also included more than 100 published short stories in espionage, science fiction, mystery and a hybrid genre known as tech noir. “He called his writing the dark engine,” his wife said.

Chesbro had been married twice when Robin, a childhood friend, reconnected with him in Nyack, Westchester County, where he was living as a recluse. They married 11 years ago and moved to New Baltimore eight years ago.

“He had to be on the Hudson. He loved that river,” said his sister, Judith Ragone. “He was a free spirit and when it came to his imagination, the wilder the better.”

Services are private. The family asked that donations be sent in Chesbro’s name to the Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society, 3 Oakland Ave., Menands, NY 12204.