Charles Petzold

William Diehl, 1924-2006

November 28, 2006
Roscoe, NY

I was startled to see in the Arts section of this morning's NY Times an "In Memoriam" ad purchased by Ballantine Books for William Diehl, the author of Sharky's Machine, Primal Fear, and seven other novels. I was not aware that he died last Friday.

William Diehl was my father's first cousin, and in my childhood I knew him as Uncle Bill. His mother and my father's mother were sisters. Bill Diehl was 5 months older than my father, and they were childhood friends.

Both my father and Bill Diehl were in the service during World War II, and when they got out, it was Bill Diehl who convinced my father that they should go to college together on the G.I. Bill. They went to the University of Missouri. (I don't know how they picked that school. My father grew up in Queens, NY.) My father majored in mechanical engineering; I think Bill Diehl must have majored in journalism.

My mother, who grew up in St. Louis and Little Rock, was also attending the University of Missouri, and that's where my parents met. They were married around Thanksgiving 1950, moved to New Jersey, and I was born in 1953.

Bill Diehl settled down in Atlanta, and later logged some years working for the Atlanta Constitution. His family and ours continued to have some contact, but not so much after my father died. I remember visiting them in Atlanta at least once, maybe twice. He had a daughter about my age, and a son about my brother's age.

I don't think I saw Bill Diehl anytime after the 1960s. My mother sometimes spoke to him by telephone after that, but not in the last 15 years or so. His first novel, Sharky's Machine, was published in 1978. The movie version, which came out three years later, wisely scratched the original ending, which took place inside a giant pachinko machine. (Bill Diehl had a bit part in the movie. In a scene in a lock-up area of the police station, he plays a pimp who frightens one of the jailed prostitutes.)

I also remember reading his second novel, Chameleon (1981) and perhaps Primal Fear (1992) as well.

Sometime in the early 90s, when I was going to Comdex twice a year, and spring Comdex was being held in Atlanta, I considered getting in touch with him and trying to have lunch or something. He was living on St. Simon's Island by then (or at least that's what my mother thought). But I never did.