Saturday, November 13, 2021

My Memories of Leighton Gage


Thursday's post by Michael, Stan, and Annamaria celebrating the twelfth anniversary of Murder is Everywhere caught me off guard. On the one hand, how could those years have passed by so quickly? On the other, how could folk who'd known each other relatively briefly in the overall scheme of things, now share life-long friendship feelings among one another?  Some of us even find Brother-Sister happenings.:)
Perhaps it's magic. Or possibly camaraderie akin to that formed in battle together. To me it's more likely that the spirit of the man whose vision, dedication, and compassion brought MIE to life, continues to draw like-minded sorts who share those values to this site. Both writers and readers.  
Whatever the reason, I'm eternally grateful to Leighton Gage. It's been eight years since Leighton passed, but how I felt then is how I feel now. This is what I had to say back then.
I feel like crying.

It’s how I’ve felt only a few times before.  When my brother died I remember most vividly.  He died way too young.

Leighton did too. 

He was seventy-one in years but forever young in spirit and drive.   Always bursting with ideas and plans, yet never for a moment forgetting what mattered most: his beloved wife Eide, children and grandchildren.

I first met Leighton at Miami Book Fair International in November 2009.  It was my first appearance as a panelist at a book fair and the debut year of my first novel in the United States.  My gig ended at about the same time as the roosters started crowing and as I wandered the halls trying to decide on where to go next, I saw a sign bearing the name “Leighton Gage.” 

A reviewer had kindly compared my writing to Leighton’s so I took it as a sign that this was the place to be.  Thank you, fate.

Leighton came across as the captivating, articulate, erudite speaker so many others have described and one thing more: a hell of a nice guy, or as they say in (parts of) Miami, a real mensch.

As soon as his panel ended I made a beeline toward Leighton on the podium but a fan speaking Portuguese beat me there.  I patiently waited until they concluded their conversation and then stepped forward to introduce myself.  Before I could say a word Leighton stood and began apologizing, saying he had to hurry off to the book signing room and suggested we speak there.

I extended my hand and said, “No problem, my name is Jeff Siger.  Pleased to meet you.”

The next words out of Leighton’s mouth put him forever at the top of my all-time good guys list.  

“Jeffrey Siger?  The author of Murder in Mykonos?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather from one of those rare Brazilian birds he so often described in his MIE posts. 

He sat back down and proceeded to tell me in detail how much he’d loved the book when he read it as a judge for the Edgars’ best first novel award (there seems to be a common thread here among some MIEers :)).  When he asked about the reception it had received from the locals on Mykonos I said, “They haven’t lynched me yet, but I’m ever on the lookout for torches and pitchforks.”  We laughed and exchanged stories until someone from the signing room came in to drag him away.  We promised to email each other.

Thus began a weekly correspondence running virtually non-stop up until the big guy fell too ill to write.  As I write these words it still hasn’t hit me that it’s over.  That I’ll be seeing no more “obaat, obaat, obaat” signoffs, the acronym we developed to express Leighton’s philosophy that in every aspect of the writing life the most important principle to bear in mind is that every reader matters: “One book at a time.” 

In February 2010 Leighton asked if I’d like to do a guest appearance on his pride and joy, Murder is Everywhere.  I jumped at the chance.

A few months later, in the summer of 2010, my then girlfriend and I were in Rome while Leighton was there and we met for drinks and dinner with some of his friends. It was a true My Dinner with Andre experience, and by the end of the evening we felt as if we’d known each other forever. 

In the Fall of 2010, Leighton said that he and his five MIE author mates would like me to come on board as the seventh member of the crew.  Once more he’d wowed me.  But it came at a price, for he expected me to pull my weight each and every week.  As much as he believed in tirelessly promoting one’s work—something he always pushed me to do more of—MIE was not part of that formula.  Leighton and the other creators of MIE (Cara Black, Tim Hallinan, Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip), Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Dan Waddell) did so in common cause to offer readers literate, interesting details of the venues inspiring their work devoid of self-promotion (except on new book launches).  The extraordinary success of the site is a tribute to that vision as exemplified by Leighton’s relentless pursuit of excellence in all of his posts.

Bouchercon 2011, St. Louis

At the last gathering of the MIE crew with Leighton (in St. Louis at Bouchercon 2011), we all had great fun, none more so than our time together in the hotel bar sharing Yrsa’s smuggled sheep’s head with him and Eide. 

In the bar with the sheep.

But my fondest memory of Leighton is the time we shared together at a joint book signing he’d arranged at a Barnes & Noble in Reston, Virginia. (The photo at the top of this post captured that memory.) We had such fun we vowed to take it on the road and call it “Silver Hairs on Tour.”  I’m afraid that will have to wait.

Leighton was a gentleman-leader, relentless in the pursuit of aiding his friends, a gifted author, articulate spokesman for his cherished Brazil, and loved by all lucky enough to know him.  The world is greatly diminished by his passing and the mystery community mourns an irreplaceable mentoring friend.
God rest your soul, dear brother.




  1. Thank you, Jeff. It's so important to us all to remember who, rather than where, it all started...

    1. Michael,you together with Stan, Yrsa, Tim, Cara, Dan, and Leighton set an extraordinary high standard for the rest of us to attain--not just in the quality of our writing, but in the character of our content. Thank for that.