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updated: 8/28/2014 12:31 PM

Late columnist's spy novel hits silver screen

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  • Video: The November Man trailer

  • Video: Brosnan on Granger's books

  • Video: The November Man Memories

  • Lori Granger, widow of newspaperman and novelist Bill Granger, shows off his books Wednesday in Chicago. The seventh in his "November Man" series was adapted for the silver screen.

       Lori Granger, widow of newspaperman and novelist Bill Granger, shows off his books Wednesday in Chicago. The seventh in his "November Man" series was adapted for the silver screen.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Lori Granger, widow of newspaperman and novelist Bill Granger, shows off pictures from the release party for the book "The November Man" in the late 1970s to John Kelly, middle, and Phil Wizenick. The men, friends of Bill Granger, attended a party Wednesday in Chicago to celebrate the release of a "November Man" movie starring Pierce Brosnan.

       Lori Granger, widow of newspaperman and novelist Bill Granger, shows off pictures from the release party for the book "The November Man" in the late 1970s to John Kelly, middle, and Phil Wizenick. The men, friends of Bill Granger, attended a party Wednesday in Chicago to celebrate the release of a "November Man" movie starring Pierce Brosnan.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Granger died in 2012 at the age of 70.

       Bill Granger died in 2012 at the age of 70.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2003

 
 

I don't know what the late Bill Granger would have written about one of his novels finally being made into "The November Man" film starring Pierce Brosnan. But I do know that Granger's Daily Herald column would have been honest, funny and finished well before deadline so that he could have fully enjoyed Wednesday night's movie premiere party in his honor at Chicago's legendary Billy Goat Tavern.

As he often did during his career, Granger would have held court in the Billy Goat, telling stories and making friends.

Instead, his widow, Lori, and son, Alec, joined an eclectic gathering of old newspaper employees, former barkeepers, fans and friends to toast the author, who died at age 70 in 2012, more than a decade after strokes robbed him of his short-term memory and the ability to write.

"He would have just loved this," Lori Granger says. "It would have been a kick."

The movie, which opened Wednesday, is based on Granger's 1987 novel, "There Are No Spies," the seventh in his "November Man" series featuring a veteran spy character who goes by his last name, Devereaux. Hollywood executives began buying options to make Granger's "November Man" novels into movies in the late 1980s, his widow says. They'd pay a few thousand dollars to reserve the rights for a year or two, and then do nothing, which didn't seem to surprise the scrappy, street-wise Granger.

A South Side Catholic school kid, who liked to note that he graduated from De La Salle Institute as did both of Chicago's Mayors Daley, Granger wanted to be a newspaper man.

While getting his English degree from DePaul University, where he was editor of The DePaulia student newspaper, Granger landed a gig with the news wire service United Press International. He learned how to write accurately, clearly and quickly. After a two-year stint in the Army, Granger was hired in 1966 as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, which led to a reporting job with a column at the Chicago Sun-Times. Granger quit jobs, got laid off, was fired, rehired and ended his career as a Daily Herald columnist.

He wrote his first novel in the late 1970s out of necessity after the Daily News folded and the Sun-Times was pondering layoffs.

"He had expected to be fired and he had sprained his ankle, and he had a couple of days off, so he started writing," Lori Granger remembers.

Full of knowledge about the city he loved, Granger wrote a gritty crime novel called "Public Murders." Publishers rejected it.

"They weren't interested in a Chicago book but asked if he could do a spy novel," Lori Granger says. He gave them "The November Man." Published in 1979, the novel created an international stir. Its plot centered on a conspiracy to assassinate a member of the British royal family by blowing up a boat. Later that year in real life, the queen's cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed on his fishing boat when a bomb exploded. It was a coincidence, but it gave the book publicity.

Publishers took a second look at "Public Murders," and it won the prestigious Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1981. While Granger said that book was his favorite, he wrote 25 novels and collaborated with his wife on three nonfiction books over 20 years. Granger wrote spy novels, mysteries and crime thrillers, and finished them so quickly, his books often competed against each other.

"There was no 'slow down' mode for Bill. Slow down meant take a few months off," his widow says. When she asked her husband how he knew so much about the shady world of international spying, Granger told her he used the politics of newsrooms as the basis for his insight.

Granger often talked about his novels as if writing them was merely a part-time job needed to pay the bills.

"That was bravado. He loved these books. He lived that," Lori Granger says. "When he was writing a book, that's what life was about. I always liked to have him work at the newspaper, too, even if he made enough money off the books to live on. He was a just a guy who had to write."

Early reviews for the movie, including Dann Gire's review in today's Daily Herald, aren't nearly as positive as the original reviews for Granger's books.

"He never paid a lot of attention to reviews of his book, so this wouldn't have affected him," Lori Granger says. But he would have wanted to be involved.

"He always told me that he wouldn't have cared what they did with his books if they made a movie, but I don't think that's true. He would have been firing off emails about every detail, even what the movie posters would look like," says Lori Granger, a lawyer now in private practice.

She says he might have even wondered if a former James Bond was "too handsome" to play one of his characters, who always seemed more Charles Bronson than Pierce Brosnan.

The movie has spawned talk of a sequel, led to reprints of the book it was based on and renewed interest in Granger's other books. As thrilled as Granger would have been about the movie, he might have been most proud that his writing could provide income after his death.

"Movie money," Lori Granger says, sounding a bit like her late husband, "is better than book money."

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