Robert Lloyd Fish was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on August 21, 1912. He received a bachelor of science degree from the Case School of Applied Science, later Case Western Reserve University, in 1933 and served in the Ohio National Guard from 1933 to 1936. He married Mamie Kates in 1935, and the couple had two daughters. Fish’s career as an engineer was highly successful. He held numerous managerial positions in major companies, including Firestone Tire and Rubber. He was a consultant on vinyl plastics in many parts of the world—Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, and Venezuela, among others. When he submitted his first effort at detective fiction to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1960, he was forty-eight years old and had lived with his family in Rio de Janeiro for ten years.
Fish was to have as successful a career in writing as he had in engineering. Several popular series established his reputation after he received the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award for The Fugitive, written in 1962. He collected two more Edgars from that organization and served as its president in 1978. Two of his stories were made into films. Mute Witness (1963) was the basis for Bullitt (1968), starring Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn, and The Assassination Bureau (1963), which was the completion of a Jack London spy story, was made into an English film with Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, and Curt Jurgens; the film, however, departs so far from the original as to be unrecognizable.
Failing health did not deter Fish. He had open heart surgery in 1971 but continued to work at his Connecticut home until his death on February 23, 1981, when he was found in his study, pen in hand. A moving tribute from his friends in a memorial section of The Armchair Detective indicates that he was also a humane and compassionate man. In 1984, the Mystery Writers of America established the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award, sponsored by the author’s estate. The award honors the best mystery short story by a previously unpublished author.