The recent death of 33-year-old Tristan Egolf, a novelist cursed with promise at an early age, has given rise to a literary detective story. Obituaries published last month failed to name Egolf's birth father, Brad Evans, a flamboyant writer, political activist, and right-wing adventurer who shared many of his son's gifts and demons -- and who, like his son, died by his own hand.
Egolf's brief life story reads like a fairy tale. A punk rocker turned street busker in Paris, he struck up an acquaintance with the daughter of Patrick Modiano, a prominent French author and screenwriter (''Lacombe Lucien"). Modiano helped publish Egolf's first novel, ''Lord of the Barnyard," in France. Subsequently published in Britain and the United States, ''Barnyard" received gushing reviews. Le Monde likened Egolf to Mark Twain, J.P. Donleavy, and Cormac McCarthy. The French daily and the Times of London both compared Egolf -- presciently, it turned out -- to John Kennedy Toole, the talented New Orleans novelist who killed himself at age 32.
Outside his writing, Egolf achieved some renown as a political agitator. In July 2004, Egolf and a group of friends -- the ''Smoketown Six" -- were arrested in Lancaster, Pa., for stripping down to thong underwear and piling on top of one another during a visit by President Bush, to protest the treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. Also last year, he organized an anti-Columbus Day rally and burned President Bush in effigy. You can hear Egolf discuss his protests on his multimedia website, windmillsonline.us.
The trajectory of Egolf's life eerily parallels that of his birth father, Evans, who was divorced from Egolf's mother, Paula, when Tristan was a little boy. (Tristan was adopted by his stepfather, Gary Egolf.) Evans was a University of Louisville football star who worked on riverboats and at a small newspaper in Kentucky before drifting into the ambit of William F. Buckley's National Review magazine. Buckley's sister Patricia and her husband, L. Brent Bozell Jr., were Tristan's godparents.
Moving further to the right in a society that was tilting leftward, Evans became a speechwriter for right-wing politicians and a publicist/activist for extreme-right fringe groups such as Bozell's militantly prolife Sons of Thunder, which had declared ''a state of war" between the Catholic Church and the US government. At the end of his life, Evans claimed to have been engaging in paramilitary operations in Central America, according to his father, Warren Evans, and Amber Faith, the mother of Brad Evans's third child. All of his children -- Tristan, Gretchen, and Siegfried -- were named after characters from Wagner operas. ''He was very Wagnerian," says Faith, who lived with Evans for six years.
''Brad was approached constantly by these soldier-of-fortune types -- they really freaked me out," says Faith, who ended her relationship with Evans shortly before his death from a drug overdose in 1987. ''He died under questionable circumstances," says his father. ''It was called suicide."
To what extent, if any, was Tristan Egolf's swashbuckling literary and political lifestyle influenced by his father? The two met only a few times before Evans's death, although Tristan later developed a close relationship with his Evans grandparents, living on a farm near them in Indiana a few years ago. ''I had the feeling that Tristan had a crush on Brad," says his godmother, Patricia Bozell. ''Brad was this wonderful, Errol Flynn-like guy. Can you imagine being his son?" ''He remembered his dad very well and rather idolized him," Warren Evans says. ''They were a fascinating and, for a grandfather, a sometimes heartbreaking story."
Why was Brad Evans purged from his son's obituaries? ''I'm speculating, but I think Paula didn't want to share her grief with us," Warren Evans says. ''I know the family has been extremely tight-lipped about Tristan's father," says Judy Hottensen, publicity director at Egolf's publisher, Grove/Atlantic. Reached at her home in Lancaster, Pa., Tristan's mother, Paula, decried the interest in her first husband and said, ''I am not going to tell you anything."
Tristan Egolf's third novel, ''Kornwolf," will be published in January.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is firstname.lastname@example.org.