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SANTA FE, N.M. – Evan S. Connell was virtually unknown to the general public, but to critics and students of graduate writing programs, the adventurous author was regarded fondly and often praised for his diversity of interests.

Connell’s Depression-era Kansas City in the twin novels “Mrs. Bridge” and “Mr. Bridge” was even made into a movie starring husband and wife movie actors, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Still, few knew about his accomplishments in Santa Fe, where he’s lived in recent years. On Thursday, the acclaimed author of “Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn” – a book about Custer’s last stand – was found dead in his apartment. He was 88, his niece said.

Connell was a National Book award finalist, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a finalist in 2009 for the International Man Booker Award for lifetime achievement.

Connell was the author of 19 books, including two book-length poems, a biography of Spanish painter Francisco Goya and a historically detailed novel about the Crusades, “Deus Lo Volt!”

He wrote often of seekers and doubters, world travelers through the ages, and conventional folks who secretly yearned to break out.

The author himself was blessed with a curious and unpredictable mind, his subjects including alchemy, Antarctica, Nordic tales, Marco Polo, Mayan sculpture and the quest for gold in the New World.

Connell was born in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 17, 1924, the son and grandson of physicians.He began writing while attending Dartmouth College, but he left in 1943 to enlist in the Navy, becoming a pilot and flight instructor. After the war, he returned to college and graduated from the University of Kansas in 1947 with a degree in English literature.

He traveled to Europe, lived briefly in Paris and returned to the United States in the mid-1950s. He lived for more than three decades in San Francisco before moving to New Mexico in 1989. He never married.