Today's Reading

Madeleine laughed. "No, I think his family is dead," she said. "An accident of some sort. The story will work better if he's alone in the world."

"Why?"

"I don't know...there's something alluring about the lonely hero."

"He can't be too lonely. He'll need a love interest of some sort."

"Why?"

"Because he's a man. It's what we do."

Madeleine groaned. "If he has a love interest, I'll have to write a sex scene."

"Well, that's to be avoided at all costs," Hugh agreed.

"She could be dead too—the love interest, I mean," he said helpfully. "He could be a grieving husband."

"Maybe..." Madeleine considered the idea. The death of Edward McGinnity's family was probably grief enough. She didn't want her hero to be completely withdrawn and bitter. "What if he loves someone who doesn't love him back, but who might one day?" she said. "That way I won't have to write a sex scene because she won't have him. Perhaps Edward is so in love with her that he can't move on."

"Won't that make him look pathetic?"

"It'll make him look deep."

"I don't know, I'm thinking pathetic."

"If I hadn't married you, you would have pined forever."

"Hmmm...yes...forever. Or at least a week. What time will you get home?"

"Should be back before lunch tomorrow."

"Grab some milk on the way in, will you?"

***

Madeleine spent the evening in the familiar, generic solitude of a hotel room. She discarded her board reports onto the small table by the window and heaved her bag onto one of the twin beds. Changing into pyjamas, she ordered room service, settled into the other bed, and opened her laptop.

The novel would begin with him. It had to. That was how crime fiction worked—subplots, clues, red herrings all channelled through a single literary device: the protagonist. The reader would have to know him and trust him for the story to work. So she would open with him and worry about the murder later.

Madeleine closed her eyes. She could see him: sitting on the open deck of his expensive beach house, oblivious to the ocean view as he worked on the great Australian novel. She smiled. Of course he would write longhand, every word chosen after consideration, deliberation, and requisite suffering. The man she saw was handsome. For a moment she wondered when she'd decided that. His hair was dark, blown wild by the salt breeze against which his collar was turned up. The sky and the sea were both grey and turbulent. And yet he continued to write, muttering to himself as he tapped the pen against his chin. It was not until the first fat drops fell that he seemed to notice. Cursing, he closed his notebook against the rain and stepped through the French doors into the house.

The house itself would be tastefully furnished. Modern designer pieces complemented by what might be called sentimental junk. A large basin made of kilned glass was filled with old matchbox cars in anything but collectible condition. An assortment of old cameras—Box Brownies, AGFA Isolettes, leather-cased Kodaks—took up several bookshelves. A professional-quality digital SLR sat on the kitchen bench beside the wine rack.

There was no dust—because, of course, he would have a housekeeper. A quietly spoken, motherly woman called Mrs. Jesmond. Madeleine paused, pleased by the detail. Jill Jesmond had worked with Madeleine at Morrison McArthur. She was anything but quietly spoken, but she'd love being in Edward's story, even as his housekeeper.

There were several picture frames on the sideboard—an eclectic collection of the kind of beautiful frames bought as particular gifts: silver, etched glass, tooled leather. Only one contained a picture, a family photo from the decade before. That must have been his family—parents, brother, little sister—all now gone. Madeleine lingered over that photo, the anguish of losing everybody at once, the loneliness of it. The rest of the frames were empty, blank. He was a man: Perhaps he had just not got around to filling them. Perhaps it was something else.
...

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