I arrived late at the Savoy Hotel for the recent Crime Writers Association’s very smart event, the Cartier Diamond Dagger Prize. It is a lifetime achievement award, awarded annually. Last year’s recipient was Ian Rankin. This year’s was to be – ah – well – here’s the problem: I hadn’t read the invite, just had made a note in my diary that the event was on. On the night my beloved Helen arrived on time (a Swedish national trait) whilst I arrived a fashionable half an hour late, without even being able to blame it on traffic congestion, as I’ve taken to biking in London. (I’ve got a brilliant Brompton folding bike. It saves a £15 taxi ride from Notting Hill to the West End, or, by car, a staggering £59 last time I drove in: Notting Hill-Wardour Street-Curzon Street-Notting Hill: Parking NCP in Windmill St. (9.30am-2pm) £30.00. Parking in Curzon Street. 2.30-6.30 £16.00. Congestion charge £8. Petrol £5.00. Gulp! Only problem with the bike is that I arrive unfashionably sweaty.
Having forgotten to read the invite, I had also forgotten to brief Helen on the event. ‘Just turn up at the Savoy, looking smart, and I’ll meet you at the Crime Writers function.’ I said. So she turned up there alone, bumped into one friendly face, Geoffrey Bailey, the Greatest Living English Bookseller, once the scion of Hatchards of Picadilly, now lording it over the Pan Bookshop in the Fulham Road. “Who’s that little American in the funny hat?” she asked Geoffrey. When he had finished choking on his champagne he whispered back, reverentially, ‘Elmore Leonard.’
It was strange being in the Savoy hotel again. I hadn’t been back since spending my wedding night here in 1979. Oscar Wilde wrote a wonderful comment about wedding nights: He said, “Sooner or later, every American groom takes every American bride to visit the Niagara Falls. They must surely be the second biggest disappointment in American married life.”
So Elmore got his award. The man hailed as the Boss, the Grandmaster, the Chief, the Big Cheese, is a sprightly if diminutive octagenarian. He spoke eloquently, exuding the energy of a man not even half his age. But was he being forgetful, disingenuous, or downright mischievous when he gave all us other writers present (including Ian Rankin, PD James, and most of the rest of the first division of UK Crime Writing) this piece of advice: “Never start a book off talking about the weather.”
Later that night, inspired by his pithy talk, I took a copy of Get Shorty to bed and began reading the first sentence:
“When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their of-and-on cold winters; thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.”
Got you, Shorty!