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Novelist, former newsman Bill Granger, dead at 70

Bill Granger got his start newspapers as copy boy WashingtPost later wrote for UPI Chicago Sun-Times Chicago Tribune Daily Herald.

Bill Granger got his start in newspapers as a copy boy at the Washington Post and later wrote for UPI, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Daily Herald. He also wrote 28 books, mostly mysteries and thrillers.

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Updated: May 25, 2012 8:09AM

If loving Chicago is “like loving a woman with a broken nose,” then novelist and newspaperman Bill Granger was enthralled by her deviated septum.

He filled articles and books with tales of his rust- belt romance with her dark streets, alleys and taverns.

“A lot of real Chicago lives in the neighborhood taverns. It is the mixed German and Irish and Polish gift to the city, a bit of the old country grafted into a strong new plant in the new,” he once wrote.

In a journalism career that stretched from 1963 to 1999, he wrote for UPI, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Herald and the Chicago Tribune. The energetic, entertaining Mr. Granger did feature stories and TV criticism and reported from hotspots such as Belfast.

He liked nothing better than printing a scoop and heading to journalistic watering holes such as Ric­cardo’s and the Billy Goat to crow — or argue — about it.

Mr. Granger died Sunday at the Manteno Veterans Home, where he had lived since 2002. He was 70. He had suffered a series of strokes starting when he was about 58 that affected his memory and health, said his wife and sometime co-author, Lori.

In addition to being a reporter, Mr. Granger was an author of 28 books, most of them thrillers and mysteries. Some of his work was optioned by Hollywood, his wife said. “Devereaux,” the lead character in his 13-book “November Man’’ series, was so well-received that reviewers likened the spy to George Smiley and James Bond.

In 1979, his first

novel in the series , The November Man — about an IRA plot to blow up the yacht of an English lord who is a cousin to the queen — drew attention for its eerie parallels to the assassination of England’s Lord Mountbatten only weeks after it was published.

“We got calls from Australia, we got calls from all over the world,” his wife said.

At the time, the blunt-spoken Mr. Granger made it clear he had no time for the extremists on either side. He said IRA terrorists were “cowards” and “punks,” but that official English policy was “racist” and that Ireland ought to be united.

In 1981, he won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his novel,

Public Murders, which centered on the investigation into the slaying of a Swedish tourist in Grant Park.

His books had a strong Chicago flavor, with colorful characters named Slim Dingo, Tony Rolls, Rena Taurus and Jesus X. Mohammed, and quintessential city settings that included the Wendella Boat rides, the Fullerton L stop and Miller’s Pub.

Mr. Granger was raised on Chicago’s South Side. He edited the student paper at DePaul University. He met Lori while they were both “copy boys” at the Washington Post.

He had planned to enter the newspaper business the old-fashioned way, by working his way up from copy boy, “but I think it was [columnist Mike] Rokyo who told him to go to college,” his wife said.

“He was always a terrific writer — fast,” she said. “You never saw anybody type as fast as him.”

“Bill was the best writer I ever knew, and also the fastest,” said his friend, Paul McGrath, who worked with him at the Sun-Times.

Mr. Granger respected the seasoned rewrite men and women who could whip up a clean story out of a mass of facts. Once, the Sun-Times assigned him to write up a history of China — in two hours. He did.

“He was brilliant and mercurial,” his wife said. “He could always make you laugh. He’d have thousands of ideas every day. . . . Three or four would be great.”

When he was working on his novels, “He was a strange mixture of strong self-discipline and complete disorganization,” she said, using his mornings to drink coffee, read and write as much as he could.

But the strokes that he suffered scrambled his present and past. In 2003, his friend Burt Constable wrote about visiting Mr. Granger at the veterans’ home, where he sometimes thought he had to meet a deadline at a newspaper where he no longer worked, and sometimes thought he had to get back to his childhood home.

Still, “he grasped the cruel irony that the stroke, which robbed him of his mind, has made him stronger physically by forcing him to forgo alcohol, cigarettes and fatty foods. . . . He always seemed to be in the process of giving up one of those three,” Constable wrote in the Daily Herald.

Mr. Granger rallied, telling his friend: “I’m going to write about this.”

Pointing to his head, he said: “There are a million stories here. . . . The stories are just crying to get out.’ ’’

Mr. Granger also is survived by his son, Alec, and his sister, Ruth Wellens.

A private memorial service is planned.

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