boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Rodney Whitaker, author best known as Trevanian

LOS ANGELES -- Rodney William Whitaker, the mysterious mystery writer best known as Trevanian, the author of such international bestsellers as ''The Eiger Sanction," died Dec. 14 in England of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 74.

His 1972 blockbuster ''The Eiger Sanction," which was turned into a 1975 movie starring Clint Eastwood, was Trevanian's first and perhaps best-known novel. It told the story of art historian and sometime assassin Jonathan Hemlock (Eastwood in the film) sent to murder an enemy agent during a mountain climbing expedition on Switzerland's majestic Eiger.

Some derided that novel and the 1973 ''The Loo Sanction" as pale James Bond derivatives. The author considered them intentional Bond spoofs. Whatever they were, they sold millions of copies and established him as a must-read mystery writer.

Among the other Trevanian novels were the cult favorite ''Shibumi" in 1979, the romantic ''The Summer of Katya" in 1983, the Western ''Incident at Twenty-Mile" in 1998, and his last, the semiautobiographical book ''Crazyladies of Pearl Street" published in June.

For years, Mr. Whitaker studiously avoided interviews or publishers' promotions that would reveal his identity. Many speculated that Trevanian was novelist Robert Ludlum, a rumor Mr. Whitaker put to rest.

In a rare interview, he told The New York Times Book Review in 1979 that he wrote ''under five different names on several subjects -- theology, law, aesthetics, film."

The eclectic author, using the pseudonym Nicholas Seare, wrote the medieval parody ''1339 or So . . . Being an Apology for a Pedlar," published in 1975, and ''Rude Tales and Glorious: The Account of Diverse Feats of Brawn and Bawd Performed by King Arthur and His Knights of the Table Round" in 1983.

An educator in communication and dramatic arts, Mr. Whitaker wrote nonfiction books under his own name. Among those was ''The Language of Film" in 1970.

He also wrote under the names Benat LeCagot and Edoard Moran.

His writing has been compared to that of Emile Zola, Bond's creator Ian Fleming, Edgar Allen Poe, and Chaucer. Unlike many popular mystery authors, Mr. Whitaker never turned out formulaic or cookie-cutter books.

His publisher outed Trevanian as Mr. Whitaker in 1984, and as early as 1975, Mr. Whitaker used his own name in a shared screenwriting credit for the Eastwood movie.

The author remained attached to pseudonyms long after his real name was published in reference books. He offered some insight in a 1998 interview with Newsweek, shortly after publication of his Wyoming-based novel ''Twenty-Mile," which the magazine described as a ''spectacularly entertaining Western."

Mr. Whitaker explained that names were involved with his unusual method of writing, which required conjuring up an author capable of writing a particular novel. ''I ask myself, 'Who can tell this tale best? Who would already have this information?' " he told Newsweek. He said he would name his imagined author and set the author/character to writing the novel.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives