Milton author puts young Congressman Kennedy in the middle of a late-1940s murder mystery set in Washington

By Bob Yearick

In this fictionalized novel, Congressman Jack Kennedy is a prime murder suspect.

William F. Crandell was raised in northwestern Ohio, was an infantry officer in Vietnam, suffered a foot wound there, and is a fan of Mark Twain and Raymond Chandler — all traits he shares with private detective Jack Griffin, the protagonist of his novel, Let’s Say Jack Kennedy Killed the Girl.

The whodunit is set in Washington D.C. at the dawn of the Cold War and is the first in what will be four Jack Griffin novels with equally intriguing titles: If Only Truman Were Dead (scheduled to be published this summer); But Patton’s Dead. Right?, and Mr. Hoover Will Hate This.

Now a resident of Milton, in Sussex County, Crandell has been writing since his high school days in Toledo, when he reported on events at his school for a weekly newspaper. He went on to Ohio State University — his parents’ alma mater — where he majored in political science and became a second lieutenant in the Army through the ROTC program

Following graduation, Lt. Crandell was sent to Vietnam, where he served in the III Corps near Saigon. His unit was ambushed, and he was hit by shrapnel. “We were supposed to be ambushing the Viet Cong,” he says, “but our location and intent were betrayed, so they were waiting for us.”

He says he joined the Army because he wanted to serve and to test himself. “I expected to do the job well and make a difference, at a point in my life where I needed that.”

Like many veterans, his time in the service changed him.

No More ‘Crip-Crap’

“Serving in Vietnam made me appreciate life, having nearly given mine,” he says. “I questioned authority more after Vietnam, treasured my friends, stopped worrying about crip-crap.”

He returned to Ohio State and earned a master’s in American history and political science, then stayed on to get a Ph.D. in American history.

Of his professional career, Crandell says: “Every job I’ve held since leaving the Army has been based on my writing skills.” He wrote reports and strategic plans, among other papers, many of them while working for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In his spare time he wrote fiction, a sideline that has flourished since he and his wife of 33 years, Judith Speizer Crandell — also a novelist — moved to Milton. 

The vibrant town’s population has grown from 2,576 in the 2010 census to 3,291 as of 2020, and the Crandells have found it to be a veritable literary hotbed. They joined a seven-member writers group that he says has been very helpful. More important, two of the members were connected with Devil’s Party Press, which has called Milton home since 2017.

Crandell’s short story, “The Last Lootenant Wins His Fuckin’ Medal,” was published in DPP’s What Sort of Fuckery Is This? anthology, and has won several prizes, including first place in the short story category of the National Federation of Press Women’s 2020 Communications Contest. Some of his other short stories have appeared in several recent anthologies. 

DPP, which published Let’s Say Jack Kennedy Killed the Girl in December, calls it “an action-packed, hard-boiled bullet train of adventure and intrigue set in the backdrop of Washington D.C., and featuring an array of fictionalized real-life historical characters.”

Of the series of novels, Crandell says: “Years on Capitol Hill and in federal law enforcement agencies have given me a player’s knowledge of how crime and power operate, amid the dedication and the slime beneath the skin of America’s capital.”

Five-Cent Coke

In Let’s Say. . ., the author captures the zeitgeist of late-1940s Washington with plenty of cultural references. Some, like Alan Ladd, the Barrymores, and the Washington Senators baseball team, will be recognizable only by readers of a certain age. Others, like a five-cent Coke and 20 cents for The New Yorker, lend a sense of economic verisimilitude to the story.

Crandell is a colorful writer, using frequent similes that range from the creative (“I sank like a heavy dew into my swivel chair”) to the strained (“His voice sounded like a prep school boy staring at a physics exam after a night of tossing back cheap gin and smoking Luckies”). Even his characters speak in similes. Young Jack Kennedy declaims: “I hung onto that (the knowledge that he wasn’t a killer) like the bottom rung of a rope ladder hanging over Hell.”

Besides Washington — actually Silver Spring, Md. — the Crandells have lived in Albany, N.Y., the Catskills, and, of course, Toledo, where their daughter still lives. But now they are comfortably settled in their retirement home in Milton. 

“We like it here very much,” says Crandell, adding that the town is close to excellent restaurants in Lewes and Rehoboth, and, of course, the beach.

“We make it a requirement that we get to the beach at least once a week,” he says. 

Bob Yearick
The copy editor of Out & About, Bob Yearick retired from DuPont in 2000 after 34 years as an editor and writer. Since “retiring,” Bob has written articles for Delaware Today, Main Line Today and other publications. His sports/suspense novel, Sawyer, was published in 2007. His grammar column, “The War on Words,” is one of the most popular features in O&A. A compilation of the columns was published in 2011. He has won the Out & About short story contest as well as many awards in the annual Delaware Press Association writing contest.

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