In Memoriam: Roger Hobbs

  • Posted on: 17 November 2016
  • By: Noah Brand

I lost a friend a few days ago. Roger Hobbs was one of those frustrating people: you wanted to resent his talent and huge success, but he was such a decent, easygoing guy that you just couldn't. Everything he did, he did too young. Novels, movie deals, bestsellers, award after award after award... all years, decades ahead of any normal career trajectory.

And now he's dead. Too young.

I'd been meaning to get in touch with him for the last couple months, have lunch, talk about getting a regular poker game together. You know how it is, you figure you can do it tomorrow. Turns out I was wrong about that. Now we'll never have lunch, never play poker again. He'll never write a third book. The grotesque unfairness that is death claims another one, because fuck 2016. All I have left is a wish that I'd reached out when I still had the chance.

The best memory I have of Hobbs is one night when a few of us were over at his place, up all night writing, and it came out that he and I were the only Columbo fans present. Excited, we tried to explain to the others the delights of Lt. Columbo's serene war on upper-class crime, but we kept tripping over each other. Finally, we decided to just show them. I did an atrocious Peter Falk impression and Hobbs became a snooty rich bastard who'd murdered his wife, and for twenty minutes the two of us improvised a Columbo episode. Lacking the languid 90 minutes of an NBC Mystery Movie, we did all the best beats that the show usually had in abbreviated form, because we both knew them. ("I'm sorry to intrude on your time of grief, but I have just a couple of questions." "I loved my wife dearly, no matter what those cheap gossips say!" "Boy, this is a lovely house, sir." "There's a perfectly reasonable explanation, Lieutenant." "Mrs. Columbo loves that hi-fi stuff, but it's all over my head." "Lieutenant Columbo, I'm not sure I like your insinuations." "Oh, sir, I did have just one more question...") Our back-and-forth was rapid, our character voices consistent, and the payoff ("It said in that magazine article that your famous hi-fi room is completely soundproof, so there's simply no way you could have heard the gunshot like you claimed.") was set up in advance, still surprising, and correct for the period. It was the single greatest improvisational experience I've ever had, because I've never done it with anyone else like Hobbs. His deep understanding of narrative, of tone, of mystery structure, all came out intuitively as we riffed back and forth.

I wish I could do that again, ask him just one more question, but I can't.

Too damn young.