I try to remember how many times I met Leighton in person, and it feels like we must have met on more than one occasion, but I can only pin down the Bouchercon in St. Louis in 2011. As I recall, he came to one of my panels, because we shared a publisher (the wonderful Soho Press) and he’d never met me (I was pretty new), and then I went to one of his panels. Naturally, since it’s a Bouchercon, there was a lot of socializing that went on in the bar as well (someone here may have already mentioned the sheep's head from Iceland).
At the time, Leighton struck me as somewhat reserved but also essentially engaged. He didn’t have to make an effort to go see me on a panel, but he did.
Because I wrote crime fiction with foreign settings, I did a couple of guest spots at Murder Is Everywhere. More recently, I ended up taking over one of the regular spots on Murder.
I don’t really know the history of the blog, but my impression was that if Leighton hadn’t actually founded it, he was its prime mover and the person who held it together. When I think about Leighton, an adjective that pops into my head over and over again is “meticulous.” It is a trait that I admire greatly. Leighton cared a great deal about his work, about his craft, about anything in which he participated. He sweated the small stuff. At least, that’s how it seemed to me. He wanted to do things the right way.
Not long after I agreed to be a regular blogger at Murder Is Everywhere, I experienced a bunch of problems. Personal stuff, a crazed schedule, and a weird problem in my hand/arm that made typing really unpleasant. I wrote to Leighton, trying to passive-aggressively quit without actually saying the words directly.
He didn’t have time for that, or energy. He was dealing with some problems of his own. Health things that looked like they might be serious. Then he apologized for being short.
I felt like an absolute ass. There was no reason for him to apologize to me. I’d handle it, I assured him, and it was the last thing that he needed to worry about.
Shortly after that, Leighton told the group what was going on, and that he was going to need to take a break from blogging, a decision that he made with great reluctance. But he’d need his energy to fight this battle for his health.
It was just temporary, though. We’d line up substitutes and carry on, and Leighton would be back. And I wasn’t going to quit, because that would be letting Leighton down.
Under his photo at Murder is Everywhere, the caption read: “Leighton. Brazil. Taking a break.”
Further into his treatment, it became clear that he wouldn’t be returning any time soon.
Finally, he wrote an email to us. The first lines were: “This is the email I never hoped to write. It’s to tell you that I shall have to drop out of MURDER IS EVERYWHERE for the foreseeable future.”
He told us something about his diagnosis and his treatment. He made some suggestions about what the best way to handle the transition would be. And closed with: “I’m really, really sorry about this, but as Martin Luther said, “I can do no other”. (Except he said it in German, of course.)”
That was Leighton. He cared, deeply, about his work and his commitments and his friendships.
I knew how serious the diagnosis was. I think we all knew. We all hoped he’d be the one to beat the odds. Someone always does, and why not Leighton, who worked so diligently, who did everything with commitment and care.
Last Saturday evening we got the news that he didn’t beat the odds.
I was supposed to post for Sunday. I didn’t know what to do. Jeff suggested that we post his photo, and the beautiful words that his wife and daughter had written about his passing.
As I did so, it occurred to me that you can measure the weight of a person's passing by the grief and love in the words of the people he left behind.
After I posted, I took a minute to look at the site, to make sure I hadn’t made any dumb mistakes. I noticed Leighton’s photo, and the caption: “Brazil. Taking a Break.”
I deleted “Taking a break.” And left the rest as it was.