Death of a Citizen: Reflections on 984 Acequia Madre
Donald Hamilton, for those who may not know, died in 2007 in Sweden at the age of 91. Don was one of the "hard-boiled" writers of mystery and noir who is often listed alongside Spillane, Prather and MacDonald. Among his early work were westerns, of which The Big Country is the most famous, but Don was most widely known for the Matt Helm thrillers whose secret agent hero has been called the American James Bond. The first book in that series was entitled Death of a Citizen.
I was fascinated to read in the December issue of this august publication that Don Hamilton's house at 984 Acequia Madre has been re-worked and is up for sale. Since that house held some very fond memories for me, I though I might offer a little uninvited commentary.
My qualifications for this cheekiness are as follows: I was delivered by the infamous doctor-turned-kidnapper referred to in the article as a former owner of the property; the house is the first building, to say nothing of the first adobe, that I ever underpinned; I drilled the well on the property; Don was an old shooting buddy of mine; I crewed on his boat and, oh yes -- I was quite happily married to his youngest daughter, Vicky. But not to worry: I will not get all maudlin, mawkish and bathetic.
Some of the old timers around here may recall that Don turned out about a book a year during his productive years. His schedule, which I spent thirty years trying to emulate, was to get up at around six, have a cup of very strong coffee, and go back to his studio to write. I say "back" because he slept and wrote in the same 215 square-foot space. He would hammer away, get agitated, cross the courtyard to the kitchen for some more coffee or a visit with whomever happened to be around, and then go back to get agitated again. At twelve sharp he and his wife, Kathleen, would be in Booth One at The Palace, Santa Fe's iconic and, sadly, defunct gathering place on Burro Alley. There, each would have a vodka martini, Kay would likely order the special, and Don would order the prime rib. And another martini.
Early afternoon called for a nap for everyone who was involved in lunch, though not all of us could take the time. Then Don would take his dog for a walk. At five sharp, a difficult hour for those of us trying to be productive citizens in the non-literary world, there would be drinks, cheese and crackers, and a very jolly time under the portal. There were often fun guests; Dick Stearn, Richard Bradford, Ragnar Ulfung, Sally Wagner, Jack Schaefer. . .
By six-thirty Don was back in the studio, dog at the foot of the bed, reading. He read a book a day, and then Kay, a former librarian, would catalog it and try to find space to compress it into the shelves.
Don is gone now, and the house has changed -- as it should. The death of the notable citizen who lived at 984 adds a line or two to its pedigree. But, of course, what the new owners will like best is the Crocker well water.