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Synopsis: Ever really felt like killing someone? London crime novelist Matt Wells has. Dumped by his agent, his publisher and his wife, he has more revenge fantasies than most, but when Matt is contacted by a serial killer called the 'White Devil', he is horrified to discover that this evil force knows everything about him, his family, friends - and his enemies. Then the slaughter begins and Matt's idle fantasies are made all too real. If Matt can't stop the White Devil in time, all those people Matt really hates are about to meet a chilling fate...
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.: The day I made my deal with the devil started the same as any other.
It was one of those sunny late spring mornings when your soul was supposed to take to the air like a skylark. Mine hadn't.A few miles to the north, the white steel circle of the London Eye reflected the rising sun, its iris vacant and its pods already full of tourists who were more in awe of the ticket prices than the supposedly inspiring view. Suckers.
I was on my way back from walking Lucy to school in Dulwich Village. The stroll down there, hand in hand with my beautiful eight-year-old, chattering away, was one of the high points of every weekday. The other was when I met her in the afternoon. The uphill slog back to my two-room flat was the nadir. A blank computer screen was waiting for me there, and in the last month I hadn't managed more than a couple of album reviews. Today my next novel seemed as far away as the skyscrapers of Manhattan; tomorrow it would probably have moved on to Chicago.
I had to face up to it, I told myself as I walked along Brant-wood Road. I was blocked, good and proper. Suffering from terminal writer's constipation. About as likely to make progress as the government was to increase taxes on the rich. It was time I came up with an alternative employment strategy. There seemed to be plenty of work available destroying the pavements for the cable companies. I stepped across the uneven, recently laid strip of asphalt and went up the path to my front door. Except it wasn't mine. I was renting it from the retired couple below. The Lambs were charming on the surface, but sharp as butchers'knives when it came to anything financial or contractual. I'd only taken the place so I could be near Lucy after the divorce. She and my ex-wife, Caroline, were round the corner in what had been our family home overlooking Ruskin Park. The way things were going, I wouldn't even be able to afford this dump for much longer.
There wasn't anything special in the mail—certainly no checks; a music magazine I was forced to subscribe to even though I wrote for it occasionally, the electricity bill, and an invitation to a book launch. Someone in the publicity department of Sixth Sense, my former publishers, was either stunningly incompetent or was winding me up. No way was I going anywhere near what they were calling "a low-life party" to celebrate Josh Hinkley's latest East End gangster caper. When he started, the toe-rag had half the sales I had. Now I was a nobody and he was a top-ten bestseller. Could he write? Could he hell.
I made myself a mug of fruit tea, trying to ignore what Caroline had said when I gave up caffeine. "Brilliant idea, Matt. You'll be even less awake than you are now." She could nail me effortlessly. A top job in the City, daily meetings with business leaders, international credibility as an economist—and a tongue with the sting of a psychotic wasp. How had I managed to miss that when we got together? It must have been something to do with the fact that she was the owner of a body that still turned heads in the street. Who was the sucker now?
I logged on to my computer and opened my e-mail program. I had several writer friends who proudly said that they never checked their mail until they'd finished work for the day. I'd never had that sort of discipline. I needed to feel in touch with the world before I wrote my version of it. Or so I'd convinced myself. Deep down, I knew it was a displacement activity on the same level as arranging your paper clips or dusting your diskettes. When I was moderately successful, I still got a rush from unexpected good news, even if it was only my agent's assistant proudly telling me that they'd sold the translation rights for one of my books to some Eastern European country for a small number of dollars. It had been almost a year since something as insignificant as that had happened.
The contact page on my Web site was connected to my inbox. For the time being. I was struggling to pay the bill, so www.MattStonecrimenovelsofdistinction.com wouldn't be online for much longer. When my books were selling, I used to get up to five messages a day from fans bursting to tell me how much they loved my work. Now that I wasn't the apple of any publisher's eye, I was lucky if I got five a week. But I lived in hope. There was nothing like a bit of undiluted praise to crank the creative engine.
After I'd deleted the usual cumshot and cheap drugs spam, I looked at what was left. A brief mail from the reviews editor of one of the lad mags I contributed to. I'd sent him a message begging for work and here he was informing me that my services were not required this month. Great. That went the same way as the spam. Then there was yet another message from WD. I had to hand it to him or her. No, it had to be a guy—he knew too much music and movie trivia. He was as loyal as it got. And as regular. Three times a week for the past two months. I had foolishly made a commitment on my Web site to reply to every message, so I'd kept the correspondence going. But WD had a solicitous way with words and I'd made my feelings about some of the issues he raised clear enough. In short, I'd given him a glimpse of the real me.
I double-clicked on the inbox icon and went into the file I'd made for WD—giving all my correspondents their own file was another displacement activity that had kept me going for days.
I ran down the messages, opening some of them. They had started off as standard fan stuff— Dear Matt (hope first name terms are acceptable!), Really enjoyed your Sir Tertius series. Great depictions of Jacobean London. Squalor and splendor, wealth and violence. My favorite is The Revenger's Comedy. When's there going to be another one? To which I'd replied, with the deliberate vagueness that I used to cultivate when I had a publishing contract, Who knows, my friend? When the Muse takes me. Dickhead.
WD was also one of the few people who liked my second series. After writing three novels set in 1620s London featuring "the resourceful rake" Sir Tertius Greville, I'd decided to pull the plug on him. The books had done pretty well—good reviews (sarcasm and irony, always my strong suits, turned a lot of reviewers on); The Italian Tragedy had won an award from a specialist magazine for best first novel; I'd had plenty of radio and TV exposure (admittedly mostly on local channels) and I'd done dozens of bookshop events.
Then, for reasons I still didn't fully understand, I had decided that "A Trilogy of Tertius" was enough. I wanted to jump on the bandwagon of crime fiction set in foreign countries. I didn't know it at the time, but jumping on bandwagons is a talent possessed only by the very brave or the very lucky. I was neither. My choice of country probably didn't help. WD wrote, Your private eye Zog Hadzhi is a superb creation. Who would have thought that a detective would prosper in the anarchy of post-communist Albania? I particularly enjoyed Tirana Blues. Very violent, though. I suppose you must have seen some terrible things on your research trips out there. I didn't tell him that I'd never been near the benighted country and that all I knew I'd learned in the local library. No one seemed to realize. The critics were still approving (apart from a scumbag called Alexander Drys who called Zog "an underwear-sniffer"), but sales plummeted from the start. By the time my intrepid hero had defeated the Albanian Mafia in the second novel, Red Sun Over Durres, they were down to a couple of thousand and my overworked editor had declined any further offerings from me.
I'd known the series was in trouble from the start. There was a strong correlation between falling sales and the number of e-mails from fans. But I hadn't expected my publishers to deposit me in the dustbin of unwanted authors with such alacrity. After all, they'd invested in me for five books and I was already planning a new departure to get myself back on track. But they were more interested in twentysomethings with pretty faces and, if at all possible, blond hair, rather than a thirty-eight-year-old former music journalist whose looks could at best be described as rugged and whose author photograph had scared more than one sensitive child.
Never mind, Matt, WD had said. You have so much talent that I know you'll be back in print soon. James Lee Burke went unpublished for years. And look at Brian Wilson. Decades of silence and then a great new album. He was trying to help, but he didn't succeed. I didn't have five percent of Burke's talent and, besides, I'd never liked the Beach Boys' warblings.
Normally authors who have been dropped by their publishers do their best to keep that fact from their readers. Not me. In what my ex-wife described as "a career-terminating act that Kurt Cobain would have been proud of," I decided to air my grievances in the columns of a broadsheet newspaper. I'd met the literary editor at a party and I thought he'd be interested in an insightful piece on the cutthroat nature of the modern publishing business. He was, but not for the reasons I'd assumed. I bitched about how much money my publishers had invested in me only to cut their losses before I made the big time, I whined about how the author's appearance was more important than a skilled turn of phrase, and I looked back nostalgically to the weeks I'd spent on the road chatting up booksellers—all thrown away at the whim of a callous managing director. Controversy flowed for almost a week, and then the literary world moved on to more pressing issues (the next bald footballer's ghosted biography, the kiss-and-tell story of a large-bosomed singer).
And, too late, I realized that, by deploying my cannon as loosely as a blind-drunk pirate captain, I'd made myself unpublishable. Smart move. It got worse. A few days later my agent, a rapacious old dandy called Christian Fels, sent me an e-mail in which he graciously relinquished his representation of me. I had hit rock bottom. No publisher, no agent, no income.
At least WD remained supportive. Loved your piece in the paper, Matt. Such a shame the people running publishi...
Book Condition: New
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