Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Death by Fiction

Sex, lies and murder. The aspiring authors of the Manchester Mystery writers’ circle don’t just write about these vices. They commit them…

There’s been a murder at the Manchester Mystery Writers’ circle. A publisher with a sordid reputation turns up dead at their Friday night meeting. A single shot to the forehead. A cold-blooded execution. And a hotel full of suspects.

It’s a major inconvenience for some. And a golden opportunity for others.

The circle’s five aspiring mystery authors try to work out whodunit.

A policeman, a gangster, a pensioner, a psychopath and a femme fatale.

Each hopes to solve the mystery in his or her own distinctive style. The correct solution could land one of them the publishing contract of their dreams. And all of them try to unravel the crime without exposing their own torrid involvement.

From the novel...

The interview room was a grey cell. As small as life and twice as bleak. Grey walls. Grey ceiling. Grey floor. Grey table. Annabel sat in a grey chair facing a grey-faced Detective Sergeant Cassidy. A grey tape-recorder whispered softly in the background, quietly catching every word she hadn’t spoken.

“For the sake of the record…” Cassidy’s Manchester accent disappeared while he spoke into the tape recorder. Clearly anxious to sound important on the recording he enunciated with the round and plummy tones of a BBC radio announcer from the 1940s. “…it should be noted here that Annabel Blake has refused legal representation.”

Cassidy made no mention of the fact that, before he had turned the tape recorder on, he had said the only suspects who demanded a solicitor present were those with something to hide. She was not naïve enough to believe that was true. She felt slightly insulted that he thought so little of her intelligence as to use the line. Nevertheless, because she felt sure she could conceal the truth, Annabel agreed to be interviewed without a solicitor present.

He cast a glance toward the clock on the wall and said, “The time is now 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 9. We are recommencing the interview begun at 10:00 p.m. on Friday, November 8. Those present are myself, Detective Sergeant Franklin Cassidy. Constable Mary Elizabeth Watcham…”

He paused. The uniformed constable muttered, “Present.”
“…and the interviewee, Annabel Blake.”

Feeling a response was needed from her, she said, “Present.”

And then, save for the hiss of the tape recorder and the whisper of its turning spools, there was more silence. Constable Mary Elizabeth Watcham, with her hands behind her back and her breasts thrust boldly into the chest of her flak jacket, studied the clock. Cassidy glowered at Annabel. And Annabel stared at the table.

Because she wasn’t under arrest—because she was only helping the officers with their enquiries—she had been allowed to keep her possessions. She rummaged through her coat and retrieved the three things that were always in her pockets. A tube of L’Oreal grape lipstick, a stainless steel compact mirror, and her Zippo lighter.

Cassidy pointed toward a NO SMOKING sign, the only decoration in the room aside from the clock. She nodded silent understanding of the gesture. But she couldn’t stop herself from tracing a finger over the raised image of the skull and cross bones.

“Come on, Ms Blake.” Cassidy’s tone was gentle and avuncular. The suggestion of a rare smiled teased his thin lips. It was obvious his mouth was not used to forming the expression. “You’re a member of The Great Northern’s writers’ circle. You’re a storyteller. Tell us a story.”

“A story?” she mused. “A mystery story?”

The novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart once said, ‘The mystery story is really two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.’ Annabel reflected on that remembered quotation as she realized there were three possible stories she could tell Detective Sergeant Frank Cassidy.
She could tell him the story he wanted to hear.

She could tell him the story she wanted to tell.

Or she could tell him the story that really happened.

On consideration, she decided the story he wanted to hear and the one she wanted to tell bore the closest similarities. They would probably make for the most acceptable narration. She didn’t think either of them wanted to hear her version of what had really occurred. That twisted and tawdry tale would involve too many personal revelations.

“I wanted to get published.”

Cassidy regarded her coolly.

Watcham stared, unblinking, at the clock on the wall.

“I’ve wanted to be published since…” She paused and wondered how long she had harbored the dream of becoming a writer. It seemed like forever but that would have been a trite and clichéd phrase and she didn’t want the transcript of her conversation with the policeman to be an unsatisfactory read.
“I’ve wanted to be published for as long as I can remember.”

The words surprised her with their truthfulness.

She could recall harboring the desire to write fiction from childhood days when she had first begun reading fairy stories before graduating to simple novels. Turning the pages; being mystified and enthralled by the exciting worlds accessible through printed ink on paper; she had yearned to be one of the gods that created fictional worlds for story-hungry readers like herself. The deep-rooted need to see her own work in print had been a huge part of her life. That desire had dictated her choices of English studies, which was where she had met Chris, her first fateful love. Her need to write had influenced every other major decision in her life, from the therapeutic decision to write about her interpretation of the world and her feelings toward it, through to her subsequent employment in a local library. Annabel thought it was true to say the desire to become a published writer had been with her for as long as she could remember.

But accidentally speaking the truth in this situation was a disconcerting experience. She reminded herself that she was in a police interview room and her words were being recorded. Experience had taught her that, in such circumstances, it would be a mistake to speak the truth.

“That’s how I came to be a member of the Great Northern’s writers’ circle. I wanted to be a published writer.”

Cassidy scratched something on a notepad.

Annabel could see he had a bundle of paperwork with him. It rested on the desk between them by the side of his right arm. Without trying to read any of it—or at least, without making it obvious to Cassidy that she was trying to reading it—Annabel saw one manila folder labeled AUTOPSY REPORT. The words carried the cold finality of death. Gooseflesh prickled her arms. She forced herself to sit still, fearful that an involuntary shiver might be misinterpreted as an admission of guilt.

“You knew White?”

She shrugged. “I guess.”

“How did you meet?”

“I attended the meeting on the first of this month. That was when Randall Wolf announced that an editor from London would be visiting the group on the eighth.” She stared pointedly at Cassidy. “You weren’t at that meeting.”

He scratched more notes on his pad. “November first?”
She nodded.

“Wolf said the owner of M R White publishing would be visiting the circle. The man was going to give us a lecture about publishing and then we were going to try and sell him our work. I think that was the general plan.”

“But it didn’t happen like that?”

“No. White being dead prevented him from being able to deliver his lecture.”
There was silence.

The recorder hissed softly in the background as it captured every word unspoken.

Annabel and Cassidy considered each other like Grand Masters on opposing sides of a championship chess table. He didn’t seem to blink very often. His eyes were wide. His gaze was unwavering. The whole effect was mildly hypnotic. She thought it was a feature that added to Cassidy’s image of being vaguely reptilian. It was not an attractive look. No one ever said, ‘as pretty as a snake,’ or ‘as handsome as a lizard.’
He coughed. “So, you met White before he died.”



“The Great Northern Hotel. The bar, to be specific.”


“Thursday night. Thursday the seventh of November. About ten o’clock.”
“What happened?”

She willed her cheeks not to blush. “I’m a writer. He was a publisher.” It sounded like the start of a ribald joke. She was a writer, he was a publisher, and he showed her how to submit. There was an unpleasant truth at the centre of that humor. And it was as much as she was going to tell Cassidy about her meeting with White. There was no need to explain she had been dressed like a cheap hooker on Thursday night.

Excerpt Ends

Death by Fiction (the eBook version) will be released on August 30th 2010. The print version will be available later this year. Ordering details are available on: