It wasn’t my idea.
The premise of Deadly Honeymoon, that is. It was Don Westlake’s idea, and I remember the evening he recounted it to me. My then–wife and I were at an upper flat in Brooklyn’s remote Canarsie section, where Don and his then–wife lived. We’d get together a few times a month, at their place or ours, and sit for hours talking and listening to records. And, as often as not, drinking something.
Don and I sometimes showed each other work in progress on evenings like that. I remember reading a dozen pages, typed on the same model Smith–Corona manual portable that he’d use for the next half century, in which a man was striding purposefully across the George Washington Bridge; when a motorist offered him a lift, the fellow—Parker, by name—told him to go to hell.
“This is great,” I said, or words to that effect. Do you know where it’s going?”
“No,” he said, “but I think it’ll be interesting to find out.”
Indeed. Don wrote twenty–four books about Parker without ever telling us his first name; the last, Dirty Money, was published in 2008 a few months before his death.
Besides showing each other what we’d been writing, we talked about what we were thinking of writing, and one night Don mentioned an idea he had: a young couple on their honeymoon, the groom beaten up and the bride raped, and the couple, rather than report the incident to the police, decide to seek justice on their own. Did he have a title? He did. Deadly Honeymoon.
We drank some more beer and talked of other things, and that was that. This would have been in 1961. By the middle of the following year my wife and infant daughter and I had relocated to a house in a suburb of Buffalo, and Don and his wife and sons had moved to a house in Englishtown, New Jersey. And it would have been sometime in 1963–4 that I picked up the phone and called him.
“Remember Deadly Honeymoon? Did you ever do anything with that idea?” He hadn’t. “Well, do you think you’re going to?” He allowed that it seemed unlikely. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “I can’t get it out of my head. Would you mind if I took a crack at it?”
He told me to go ahead.
So I did.
I don’t remember much about the actual writing of Deadly Honeymoon, which suggests that it went smoothly enough. It was published in 1967 by Macmillan, and constituted my first appearance in hardcover. Everyone assumed this was a Big Step Up for me, and in a way I suppose it was, but I knew the book had not gone to Macmillan until half a dozen paperback publishers, starting with the folks at Gold Medal who’d brought out Mona (now Grifter’s Game) and Death Pulls a Doublecross (now Coward’s Kiss) had declined to publish it. Gold Medal had paid a $2500 advance for each of the books they’d done, while Macmillan was willing to go $1000.
Still, hardcover publishers took you to lunch, and I got two or three very pleasant lunches with my editor, a thoroughly charming woman named Mary Heathcote. That has to count for something. And my parents were very proud, and that’s something, too.
When Don read the book, his reaction was interesting. He liked my idea of having Dave and Jill go after the bad guys together. “I’d have sent her home to her parents for the duration,” he said, “or stuck her in a motel somewhere. And he’d have done it all on his own, and then reclaimed his bride in triumph.”
Here’s the thing—I’d always assumed, from that initial moment in Canarsie, that their revenge would be a team effort. That was the idea I thought I was stealing. But it turned out that I’d stolen that part of the idea from my own self.
Never mind. I dedicated the book to Don. Least I could do.
It was Henry Morrison who sold Deadly Honeymoon to Macmillan, and the ink was barely dry on the book’s first printing when he sold movie rights to producer William Castle. No end of screenwriters took a shot at adapting it, and the project just got worse and worse as it went long. The film did get made, and was released rather tentatively in 1973, with the title Nightmare Honeymoon. It starred Dack Rambo and Rebecca Dianna Smith, with Pat Hingle as the crime boss, and it was set in New Orleans, and, let us come right out and say it, it stank on ice. The formidable Elliott Silverstein, who gave us such a genuine delight in Cat Ballou, directed Nightmare Honeymoon, and I understand he thinks even less of the picture than I do.
In case you were wondering, it’s not available from Netflix. And that’s okay with me.
In book form, Deadly Honeymoon has been in and out of print over the years. Macmillan sold paperback rights to Dell, and a couple of other paperback houses have reprinted it since then. And now it’s available as an ebook, and isn’t that a wonder?