The day you died two years ago, I was keeping several things from you. Odd thing is, it was all good news -- an award that I had won, the end of my day job, some other odds and ends. I made the mistake that so many people make every day; I assumed we had all the time in the world. But even as I sat on the train from New York, anticipating all I had to share with you, you were already dead. I came home to a barrage of e-mails about your funeral arrangements and several e-mails asking if the other e-mails were a hoax. They were, unfortunately, all too true.
We buried you on December 4th. Almost 50 people gathered at your graveside -- high school friends, writers like myself, Baltimore wrestling fans who remembered your radio show. So many people spoke at the service that the cemetery workers became impatient with us. We were still shoveling dirt on top of your casket when they brought the backhoe in, forcing us to scatter. One writer asked another: "Is the backhoe traditional at Jewish funerals?"
I'm not really sure what I think of the afterlife, so I'm torn between assuming you know everything and feeling you may need a few updates. I figure you're so busy helping the powers-that-be run things that a few details could have escaped your notice. So I'll tell you about some of your favorite people. S.J. Rozan has a stand-alone coming out next fall, Absent Friends, and she's keeping an online journal that explains the book's progress from manuscript to bound book. It's a great idea; I wish I could steal it, but she's doing a better job than I'd ever do. George P. Pelecanos is every bit the star you always expected him to be; Hard Revolution is sure to bring him even more acclaim. (Do you still get ARCs, Paige? Is there hand-selling in the afterlife? You clearly have some clout, or else how can we explain the way the bay surge from Isabel came right up to the door of Mystery Loves Company and then retreated?)
Sujata finally brought Neel home. Pia's a good big sister, no surprise there. I'm just sorry that Neel never got to know his Bubbie, and I hope Pia will tell him stories about you as he gets older. I recently listened to Sujata read an excerpt from her next novel, The Pearl Diver, and it was terrific. Sujata never believes it, but she's a very, very funny writer. In just five pages, she skewered Washington, upscale restaurants, politics, and the Atkins diet in a few deft strokes.
My ninth book is almost done -- I'm completing the latest round of revisions and plan to start my 10th in January. Really could have used your help on this one, which would have been an automatic addition to your long-promised reference work on Jews in crime fiction, "So Nu, Who Did it Already?" Throw me a title if you get a chance, okay? Something biblical that alludes either to marriage, running away, or love. Oh, and I've been named Maryland Author of the year by the Maryland Library Association. Past fiction winners include Alice McDermott and Madison Smartt Bell, one an NBA winner and the other a nominee, which I mention just so you'll go to About Last Night and read Terry Teachout's first-hand reports on this year's NBA ceremony.
As a crime writer for almost a decade, it bugs me that I can't solve the one persistent mystery of your death. Here's what I know -- it was December 1st, there had been a signing at the store, and afterward you went to Little Italy with Scott Flander. From what I've been told, you saw a former Oriole on the sidewalk and began chatting him up. You were in mid-sentence when you collapsed and they took you to Hopkins by ambulance, where you were "pronounced," as we used to say in newsrooms. It was a small comfort, knowing that the last day of your life was probably your definition of perfection -- a signing with several writers, dinner in Little Italy, a chance encounter with an Oriole.
But darn it, Paige, who was that Oriole? We never found out. Throw us a clue sometime, okay, whether by Ouija board -- another Baltimore-born phenomenon much like yourself -- or a cloud formation in the shape of a "5." Although I guess even an out-of-towner would have recognized Brooks. Rick Dempsey? Boog Powell? That guy from Essex who had such a great season in 1989?
Let me know, okay?
The November reading report. Edgar, Edgar, Edgar. Morningside Heights by Cheryl Mendelson. A galley of Last Lullaby by Denise Hamilton. A collection of short stories by the Chesapeake chapter of Sisters in Crime (in manuscript but on a publishing fast track). Just starting Welcome to My Planet* Where English is Sometimes Spoken and am getting ready to move Pete Dexter's Train up in the rotation. Lots of re-reading, including The Bad Seed, in preparation for a screening of the film here in Baltimore on Feb. 7th, where I am to speak on children and homicide; and Dan Jenkins' Baja, Oklahoma. Doesn't have the great opener in which a reporter imagines an editor's fate. (I think that was You Gotta Play Hurt, and I'd be indebted to anyone who wants to send me that passage, which I believe begins "Here's how I want the preppie son-of-a-bitch to die . . .") It does, however, have Mankind's 10 Stages of Drunkenness, one of the most essential lists I've ever come across. Here it is, copyrighted to Mr. Jenkins, of course:
Happy holidays and I hope those of you who enjoy the seasonal revels never progress beyond Stage Four.
- Witty and Charming
- Rich and Powerful
- Fuck Dinner
- Crank up the Enola Gay
- Witty and Charming, Part II