William Peter McGivern was born in Chicago on December 6, 1922, the second son of Peter Francis McGivern and Julia Costello McGivern. His father was a banker and businessman, his mother a dress designer who catered to a fashionable clientele in her shop on Michigan Boulevard. For a time, his father’s business interests brought the family to Mobile, Alabama, where McGivern was reared.
In 1937, McGivern quit high school and returned to Chicago, where he worked as a laborer for the Pullman Company in the Pennsylvania Railroad yards. During this time, he read widely and eclectically, particularly the works of American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He also discovered the prose of G. K. Chesterton and the poetry of Robert Burns. In addition to his wide reading, he had begun to write. By 1940, he was publishing in the pulp-fiction market, particularly in science-fiction and fantasy magazines.
During World War II, McGivern served three and one-half years in the United States Army and was decorated for service in the European campaign. He would later draw on these experiences in an autobiographical novel, Soldiers of ’44 (1979), based on his experiences as a sergeant in charge of a fifteen-man gun section during the Battle of the Bulge. At war’s end, he was stationed in England, where, for a period of four months, he attended the University of Birmingham. McGivern was discharged from the army in January, 1946.
In December, 1948, McGivern married Maureen Daly, also a writer. They had two children, a son and a daughter. From 1949 to 1951, McGivern worked as a reporter and book reviewer for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. As a police reporter, he became interested in police officers and detectives and how they function in an environment of big-city corruption. The experience provided the details and factual basis for several of his crime novels.
In a long and distinguished career, McGivern published some twenty-five crime novels and an array of short stories, screenplays, and television scripts. In 1980, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America, which in 1954 had given him its Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture for his writing of the novel The Big Heat (1952). McGivern died on November 18, 1982.