Did I know Walter? Not really. Were we friends? Absolutely. We met at mystery conventions and occasionally popped up in other countries at the same time. I always enjoyed seeing him. He represented another side of the writer’s life: peripatetic, diverse, full of interesting people I would never have found on my own. I was rather envious of his way of going anywhere at a moment’s notice, always sure of finding a couch to sleep on and a new adventure. One of my best memories is of the time he and Sarah Caldwell arrived from London to see me in Paris. I met them at the Gare du Nord and joined in a moveable feast that wandered through back streets, brasseries, fifth-floor walk ups, with a cast that could have come from Cabaret. (Considering Sarah’s parentage, that was most appropriate) It was wonderful. The next morning I staggered up, packed my laptop and went to the BN to continue my research. When I got home, I found that Walter and Sarah had come looking for me to repeat the party. I have regretted being such a studious stick in the mud ever since.
Above all, Walter was a brilliant writer. Books like Miss Lizzie and Wilde West are iconic in their choice and treatment of the subject. I gave my aunt a copy of Masquerade and she said it was Paris in the 1920s just as she remembered it. When Miriam Grace Monfredo and I were doing Crime Through Time anthologies, we immediately tracked Walter down and demanded a submission. He responded with “Murder One”, which has already become a classic. My favourite story of his was the one about cassoulet and I can’t find it! He took an Edgar Allen Poe-ish plot and gave it his usual surprise twist. I told him that I will never be able to eat (or cook) cassoulet without thinking of him. If anyone can remember where it was published, please let me know. [editor’s note: it’s in The Mankiller of Poojegai and Other Stories]
I liked Walter very much. He sent me e-mails from places I may never get to. He was fun. Did I know him? No, but I’m not sorry. I think I’d rather keep my fantasy of Walter Satterthwait, the magical pied piper, wandering the world followed by those he enchanted then vanishing only to appear again in another guise to spin tales. I’ll keep a lookout for him, just in case.