Michael Kilian, 66, a journalist, author and cartoon-strip writer drawn to satire and intrigue who nearly engineered a divorce between Detective Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart, died Oct. 26 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He had liver failure.
Long based in Washington for the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Kilian wrote about military and political affairs as well as the arts and society scene from the District and New York. He also co-wrote guidebooks to political power, including "Who Runs Washington?" (1982), and more than a dozen thrillers set in the Cold and Civil wars.
Dick Tracy, a square-jawed crime stopper created by Chester Gould in 1931, fell to successors after Gould's retirement in 1977.
Starting in 1993, Mr. Kilian teamed with illustrator Dick Locher, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist at the Tribune, and brought to the strip topical plotlines involving hate crimes, terrorists and child abductions. They created rogues named Pixel and Cellphone for a storyline about DVD piracy.
In February 1994, a week before Valentine's Day, they aroused great publicity by having Tess Trueheart serve Tracy with divorce papers. The workaholic Tracy was rarely at home, and when he arrived, he was met with a cold dinner and an increasingly colder wife.
"It was cumulative with her," Mr. Kilian said in 1994. "And whereas her attitude now would not have been acceptable in the '40s, '50s or early '60s . . . you should not, as the wife or husband of someone like this, just sit back and take it."
In fairness to Tracy, Trueheart might have anticipated her problems. After all, Mr. Kilian pointed out, they dated for 18 years before he agreed to marry. But in the end, they reconciled for their children and took a vacation that renewed their flame.
At its peak, which lasted through the 1950s, the strip ran in more than 500 newspapers. Tribune Media Services now syndicates it to about 50 newspapers.
Michael David Kilian was born July 16, 1939, in Toledo and raised in Chicago and Westchester County, N.Y. His father produced radio serials, including "Terry and the Pirates."
After Army service and some journalism experience, Mr. Kilian joined the Tribune in 1966 and, within a few years, became a member of the editorial board and a columnist. A subject he revisited was the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland and his scorn for the Irish Republican Army.
In columns, he was also known for a satirical format involving mock transcripts of congressional testimony. He once took the Reagan administration bromide about relaxing air-quality standards to "a reasoned pace" and applied it to matters of race relations, highway safety measures and arms control.
In a lampoon of the media, he presented the War of 1812 as if it had been covered by Dan Rather. The report begins: "The War of 1812, already growing increasingly popular as it drags on into the War of 1813 and the War of 1814, took a new and ugly twist today with reports that British warships are sailing up Chesapeake Bay and are about to attack Philadelphia."
Similarly, on the arts beat, he was skilled with the double meaning and wry observation.
In 2002, for an exhibit featuring photographs of a Tuscan countess at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he began his article this way: "Let us now take up the awesomely trivial but frightfully compelling question: Who's the vainest woman who ever lived?
"The number of contenders would seem to be as myriad as the stars, but there is an answer.
"Marie Antoinette? Not really. Frivolous, yes. Self-indulgent, yes. Preferred cake to bread, yes. But no more vain than your average spoiled royal. Besides, as contemporary depictions of the French queen amply attest, she was no tomato (though she definitely was sliced)."
His novels were zippy thrillers meant mostly to entertain. They included "The Valkyrie Project" (1981) and "Northern Exposure" (1983) as well as a historical novel he regarded as a favorite, "Major Washington" (1998), about the future first president.
He wrote a Civil War mystery series featuring Pinkerton agent Harrison Raines and several Jazz Age mysteries with bon vivant Bedford Green. Under the name Rex Dancer, Mr. Kilian wrote suspense books starring a fashion photographer.
Fond of white slacks, blue blazers and ascots, Mr. Kilian frequently looked as if he had just stepped off the presidential yacht in 1930. The McLean resident also was a glider plane pilot and had written a humor book about flight with Locher.
Survivors include his wife of 35 years, Pamela Reeves Kilian of McLean; two sons, Eric Kilian of Falls Church and Colin Kilian of Brooklyn, N.Y.; his stepmother, Sara Kilian of Atlanta; and a brother.