The small-town, Depression-era hotel in Corbin, S.D., where most of Harold Adams’ mystery novels took place was based on a hotel that his grandparents ran and where Adams and his brothers spent their summers when they were growing up.
Adams, who died April 4 at age 91, was born in Clark, S.D., and lived most of his life in the Twin Cities, where he worked first for the Better Business Bureau and then the Charities Review Council.
But his real passion was writing, and his longtime friend Barbara Mayor recalled that he used to go to work an hour early every morning so that he had quiet time in which to write.
Adams’ series of mysteries about the laconic sign painter/private eye Carl Wilcox were all set in Depression-era South Dakota. Critically acclaimed, they won prizes. Adams was twice nominated for a Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and won the Shamus in 1993 for “The Man Who Was Taller Than God.” He also won a Minnesota Book Award the same year for the same title.
“The main character, Wilcox, was based on his uncle,” Mayor said. “His uncle was a womanizer and had been to prison, so of course Harold was fascinated by him.”
The 2012 “Writes of Spring” anthology, published by Nodin Press of Minneapolis and edited by Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp of Once Upon a Crime Bookstore, paid tribute to Adams. The anthology was bookended by two of Adams’ previously unpublished short stories.
Adams’ work was praised by Publishers Weekly as “quietly effective storytelling,” and “a refreshing antidote to the verbiage of many bloated bestsellers.”
Mayor’s husband, John, met Adams when the two worked together at the Better Business Bureau. Late in life, Adams, who was divorced, lived for a few years with the Mayors, and Barbara Mayor served as Adams’ first reader and volunteer editor.
“The books were a lot of fun, and I think they were really well-written,” she said. “I never was a mystery reader before, but I really liked those books. If people read a couple, they read all of them.”
Adams is survived by a daughter, Wendy Adams McKenzie, of Hudson, Wis.
At Adams’ request, there was no funeral.