As promised, here is the original Harper’s Magazine article that inspired The Perfect Murder.
And, as I mentioned last time, you’ll see Mr. Westlake is not actually a dominating presence in the conversation. He’s reacting mainly to what the others are proposing, offering suggestions, observations, relevant citations of both fact and fiction, but he’s really off to one side, watching the rest of them, I think. His own murder plan that he came up with for the book is not here, even in embryonic form. He came up with that later.
Only one of the writers–Hillerman–seems to have already arrived at a solid plan (the yuppie mushroom massacre), and merely needs to fine tune it a bit. Much as I enjoyed Hillerman’s contributions to the finished book, I felt like he kind of mailed it in a bit–well, technically they all did.
What strikes me as interesting about Westlake’s reticence is that he did always say that in school he was never ‘the funny one.’ He wasn’t the life of the party. He wasn’t the one who dominated conversations. He was, ultimately, the one who could be funnier than any parlor room (or barroom) wit–with a bit of time and contemplation. But he was also someone who needed, it often seems, to be inspired by others–encouraged–presented with an idea, then given room to run with it. Who does that remind me of? Dortmunder. Also Parker. Not big talkers, those two.
So it’s a rather telling look at the way his mind worked in public, and how he wasn’t necessarily an overwhelming presence in person. He liked to lay back in the weeds a bit sometimes, and make his presence known when the time was right. Or maybe he was having a spot of indigestion that day, I don’t know.
Here’s the article. You may have to download the scans yourself–or even print them out–to read them properly. For whatever reason, you can’t expand the images by clicking on them, and I’m not sure why–maybe there’s something I’m forgetting to do, but I’ve forgotten what that is. The section containing the discussion between the writers is in rather annoyingly small print. Might want to be quick about it too–you never know when I might be forced to delete it. If that happens, I can always email the scans upon request (which would probably work better anyway). Try and stop me, coppers!
(Also, you’ll note a number of old newspaper articles interspersed through the piece, relating to the murder trial of Dr. Robert Buchanan. The link I’ve created leads to the article about him on something called ‘Murderpedia.’ Well, I guess it would, wouldn’t it? Bon Appetit.)