So my plan to booklog daily in fifteen-minute increments stopped almost before it began, but I have a book that has to go back to the library tomorrow that I want to quote from, specifically The Perfect Murder, by Jack Hitt with Lawrence Block, Sarah Caudwell, Tony Hillerman, Peter Lovesey, and Donald E. Westlake. I heard about this book when I was enthusing over Sarah Caudwell and a friend said her contributions were terrific.
And so they are. The premise is that a rather insufferable man writes to a bunch of mystery writers asking for advice on how to commit a masterpiece of murder. (I would recommend skimming his initial letter until he starts laying out practicalities, because I nearly sprained my eyes rolling them before then. Yes, I know it’s characterization, that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading it.) Caudwell’s response begins,
My Dear Tim,
Let me say, before we go any further, that I cannot hear of your committing a murder in the United States of America. It is, quite simply, out of the question.
You aspire not merely to murder but to Art, and in any work of art the choice of background is of critical importance. . . .
I should be sorry to offend your patriotic sensibilities—but you do see, don’t you, that the United States simply will not do? In a country where the homicides of a single day are too numerous to be fully reported on the television news—where every schoolchild expects a firearm for the next Christmas or birthday present—where minor disagreements betwen motorists are commonly resolved by an exchange of bullets—in such a country any murder, however interesting or bizarre its incidental features, is doomed to be essentially commonplace.
No, Tim, if you are to achieve distinction you must cross the Atlantic.
I do so adore Sarah Caudwell.
As this might imply, the writers’ responses are, objectively, not to be taken seriously; but within the framework, they manage to convincingly suggest that their emotions and professional pride are involved. Which is a neat trick and which leads to amusements when Tim sends them all each other’s initial responses. I particularly liked Block’s summation of what he expected the other writers to send:
Westlake would enlist the aid of some bumbling criminals, and he’d have all of them try to kill your wife, and they’d all fail, until she died laughing. Lovesey would have her slain in the ring by a bare-knuckled pugilist. Hillerman would dress you up in a feather headdress and have you make a sand painting, calling down the Great Spirit to crush your wife to death in a buffalo stampede. And Caudwell would shuttle you between Lincoln’s Inn and the Isles of Greece, in the company of people named Ragweed and Catnip.
I may never be able to think of Ragwort and Cantrip by their correct names again.
Anyway, I found this entertaining bedtime fluff, and if you like any of the authors in question, it’s worth checking your local library or used bookstore for a copy.