Novelist Hillary Waugh dies at 80

Mystery writer penned almost 50 novels

Novelist Hillary Waugh, whose prolific career introduced generations of mystery readers to small-town intrigue and police techniques rooted in real investigations, has died in Connecticut. He was 88.

Waugh died Dec. 8 in a nursing facility in Torrington after a brief illness, his son Lawrence said Saturday.

Waugh’s dozens of novels – numbering almost 50, including some he wrote under pen names – earned him a Grand Master Award in 1989 from the Mystery Writers of America.

The honor places him in the company of such writers as Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Mickey Spillane, Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie.

Hillary Baldwin Waugh was born and raised in New Haven and was graduated from Yale University in 1942. He served as a U.S. Naval Air Corps aviator in World War II. His avocations ranged from boxing and badminton to song writing and newspaper cartooning.

His first novel, “Madame Will Not Dine Tonight,” was published in 1947 and began a long string of mysteries in which the characters used real police techniques to solve mysteries.

That was a clear departure from the genre in which a private detective, squirreling away facts and relying on his or her wits and instinct, emerged with all the answers.

“I was tired of reading about these super-detectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots,” Waugh told The New York Times in 1990.

“I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head, and instead write a story as it really happened.”

One of his early works, the 1952 novel “Last Seen Wearing,” is listed by the Mystery Writers of America as one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time.

Waugh used Connecticut as a setting for many novels, changing town names slightly but enjoying the juxtaposition of bucolic small-town life against the commotion and suspicion caused by crimes in tight-knit communities. He had lived for living for decades in Guilford, where he was elected in 1971 to a two-year term as town first selectman.

Besides his fictional work, Hillary Waugh wrote a 1990 book, “Hillary Waugh’s Guide to Mysteries and Mystery Writing.”

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