This is chapter three of the crime thriller ‘Blood Read (Publish And Be Dead)’, which is officially ‘coming soon’. Chapter one is here and chapter two is here. Needless to say, you should read those chapters first.
Blood Read (Publish And Be Dead)
Inveterate book blogger Charlotte MacInnes ran a spell check through her latest review. She proofed it by reading right to left, left to right, upside down, roundabout and backwards, determined to eliminate all possibility of typos. She hated small mistakes and castigated authors and publishers alike for letting them slip through. How dare they send her a book that wasn’t perfect? How could they be so slipshod?
She had not yet dressed for the day though her husband had set out for the office three hours before. He toiled in the offices of a real estate firm in the centre of Pittsburgh. He didn’t earn much, which was one of the great disappointments of her life, but it was enough that she didn’t have to work herself. Which left her free to read.
Her eleven-year-old daughter was home sick from school and Charlotte had spent most of the morning making breakfast and fussing over her child. At last she had found time to update her website. Then she could get down to the real business of the day: reading a book, a whole book, immersing herself in the experience and the fantasy. And the love.
Though she hadn’t yet chosen what to read. A large pile of hardbacks stood stacked against the wall near her desk. An even larger stack of paperbacks had been moved out to the garage. She had long ago refused to accept ebooks. Hard copy only. The books brought in a steady stream of revenue off eBay, even if they didn’t all merit a review.
Once she was certain there were no errors in her article – no missing words or misplaced letters (though she was, it must be said, less of a perfectionist when it came to having ideas of her own) she pressed ‘publish’ and turned her attention to the comments section. Time for pruning. There were always authors hitting back at her reviews. Usually she let her army of commenters deal with the dissenters, but occasionally a disgruntled writer would whinge too much or overstep the mark and she’d stamp them like a bug with her delete button.
She shuffled in her chair, leaning forward, her face close to the screen, eyes shielded by thick lenses held in place by an even thicker, bright pink plastic frame. She wore a pink dressing gown over a white and pink striped t-shirt and pink pyjama bottoms, with pink slippers to keep her toes cosy.
Mostly, Charlotte MacInnes read romance. But she also enjoyed, and often reviewed, a good mystery with a murder and a detective and a villain who was hard to spot but obvious all along. Provided there was a love interest to spice things up, ideally with restrained yet kinky sex on the side.
She heard a van pull up outside, footsteps heading for the porch. The bell rang. She glanced over her shoulder towards her daughter but Amy was wearing headphones and hadn’t stirred. Charlotte pushed back her chair and lumbered towards the door.
A courier stood on the step. He handed her a parcel. “Got to sign the customs form. It’s from the UK.”
She scribbled her name and took the parcel. Another book, it was plain from the size, the shape and the weight of the thing. Around four hundred and fifty pages. Probably not a romance.
Amy hadn’t moved or even looked up from her computer game. Charlotte put the parcel unopened on her desk and went back to her blog maintenance. Twenty minutes later, happy that her online world was in order, she took a pair of scissors to the string.
She held the book in her hand, beaming a smile. A new Arthur Middleton novel: that was funny. Hilarious. Did his publishers not know? Had they forgotten to strike her from the mailing list?
She had torn into his previous two novels with withering bile. They were terrible – badly plotted, poorly written, lame and unemotional. What’s worse, they contained typos. That was unforgivable, even among the great unwashed of the self-publishing brigade. But these were supposed to be proper books.
Her last review had upset Middleton personally, so effectively that he’d started a flame war. Big mistake. She had her allies, people who stood by a book blogger and their right to say what they wanted. Middleton had been run out of her corner of the internet with his tail between his legs.
Now, here, fat and juicy, was another mid-list muddle she could tear into with glee. This would be fun. This would be a riot.
Charlotte tucked the book under her arm and settled onto the sofa next to her daughter. She flicked through the opening pages, licking her index finger for traction, until she reached the first chapter and began to read, a smirk on her face.
The prose was lumpen and stilted. The ideas, the setup, the story, it all seemed so familiar. Just like all of Middleton’s other books. But worse. Tired and flat and lacking the charm, energy and humour of his earlier stuff. He’d lost it, completely, gone off the rails. As though the skill of it had deserted him entirely. Even the cover was blotchy and lame.
She moistened her index finger and turned another page, only vaguely aware of a bitter taste on her tongue. Still the prose stuttered and failed to ignite. She kept going, delighting in how bad it was and how scabrous her review would be. She glanced at her hand, wiped it on her dressing gown. Was that talc?
She licked her finger and turned another page.