HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Novelist Hillary Waugh, whose prolific career introduced generations of mystery readers to small-town intrigue and police techniques rooted in real investigations, has died in Connecticut.

He was 88.

Waugh’s son, Lawrence, confirmed his death Saturday, saying it occurred Dec. 8 in a nursing facility in Torrington after a brief illness.

He had moved there recently to be near one of his daughters after living for decades in Guilford, where he was a former first selectman.

Waugh’s dozens of novels – numbering almost 50, including some he wrote under pen names – earned him a Grand Master Award in 1989 from the Mystery Writers of America.

The honor puts him in the company of others such as Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Mickey Spillane, Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie.

Hillary Baldwin Waugh was born and raised in New Haven, graduating from Yale University in 1942 and serving as a U.S. Naval Air Corps aviator in World War II.

With avocations that ranged from boxing and badminton to song writing and newspaper cartooning, Waugh has said he started his first mystery novel while stationed in Panama to fight the boredom of his off-duty hours.

His first novel, “Madame Will Not Dine Tonight,” was published in 1947 and became the first in a long string of mysteries in which the characters used real police techniques to solve mysteries.

That was a clear departure from the genre in which a sole private detective, squirreling away facts and relying on his or her wits and instinct, emerged with all the answers.

“I was tired of reading about these super-detectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots,” Waugh told The New York Times in 1990.

“I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head, and instead write a story as it really happened.”

One of his early novels, the 1952 story “Last Seen Wearing,” is listed by the Mystery Writers of America as one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time.

Waugh’s interests were not limited to literary pursuits. In 1971, he was elected to a two-year term on the Republican ticket as first selectman of Guilford, where he lived for decades.

He used Connecticut as a setting for many novels, changing town names slightly but enjoying the juxtaposition of bucolic small-town life against the commotion and suspicion caused by crimes in tight-knit communities.

Lawrence Waugh said his father would disappear for hours to write, either penning a new novel or updating the voluminous diaries that spanned his life from about ages 17 to 80.

Those journals lined row after row of the family’s bookshelves, containing everything from philosophical ponderings to accounts of literary parties at the Waugh home with other mystery writers of the day.

“He was very, very social and entertained a lot, and had a lot of writer friends. They would read each other’s work and stay very involved with each other,” Lawrence Waugh said.

While Hillary Waugh’s mysteries kept readers guessing to the end, those who knew him best could hear his voice or recognize his favorite expressions in the writing.

“I could never read his stuff because I always knew who did it. I knew how his mind worked and I picked up these subtle things, thinking, ‘Oh, he wouldn’t have mentioned that if he didn’t think it was important,”‘ said Lawrence Waugh, who now lives in Austin, Texas.

“We always sort of knew what he was working on, but when you’re a kid, you don’t really talk to your dad about his work,” he said, laughing. “A book would come out about once a year, there’d be some sort of party, and that’s what we knew.”

In addition to his fictional work, Hillary Waugh wrote a 1990 book, “Hillary Waugh’s Guide to Mysteries and Mystery Writing.” He also was a small-town newspaper editor for a year in nearby Branford and was a longtime board member and officer of Mystery Writers of America.

Waugh had three children – Lawrence, Sandra and Kathryn – with his first wife, the former Diana Taylor, from whom he was divorced in 1980. He was married to fellow mystery writer Shannon OCork from 1983 to 1995.

Until declining health sent him to a nursing home, Waugh lived in the same Guilford cottage where he had spent his boyhood summers and did much of his writing. The family plans a private memorial service there in summer 2009.

AP-ES-12-27-08 1626EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.