Murder by the Book

Free Murder by the Book by Eric Brown

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Authors: Eric Brown
shacking up with another writer … no offence meant. What I mean is, I use Sam Brooke in my next book, and you use my detective, Sergeant Hamm? They make guest appearances, as it were. Work together on a case.’
    Langham felt relieved. He considered the idea, and it had mileage. The publicity would do his sales no end of good. That was, of course, if Lassiter really meant what he was saying and it wasn’t just some drunken notion forgotten with the onset of his hangover in the morning.
    â€˜I like the idea, Nigel. I think it’d work.’
    â€˜You do? Excellent. Let’s meet up later this week, over lunch – and I’ll try to go easy on the old booze.’
    Langham raised his glass. ‘Let’s do that.’
    â€˜Capital, Donald! I think this calls for a celebratory drink.’ He swayed to his feet and bought another round.
    When he eased his bulk back down, Lassiter said, ‘Must admit I’ve been hitting the old bottle of late. The last novel was a bastard, and then yesterday I heard about old Sidley.’
    Langham nodded. ‘As I was telling Grenville, he was my very first editor.’
    â€˜I worked with him just before the war,’ Lassiter reminisced. ‘Douglas and Dearing bought the three collaborations I did with Frank Pearson. Remember old Frankie?’
    â€˜I met him a few times. Wasn’t he with Charles Elder for a few books in the thirties? Prickly customer, I recall. He rather fell out with me over a review I did of one of his books.’ It was one of the acerbic reviews Grenville had alluded to earlier.
    â€˜â€œPrickly” hardly describes the man,’ Lassiter said. ‘We got on fine in the early days – the mid-thirties, that’d be. We were both youngish, ambitious, interested in the same kind of fiction.’
    â€˜How did you come to collaborate?’
    â€˜Don’t get me started!’ Lassiter laughed and took a gulp of whisky. ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time – like many a marriage, and look how most of them end up!’ He fell silent, gazing into his glass. ‘I liked Frankie, back then – before we fell out.’
    â€˜What happened?’
    Lassiter shrugged. ‘Frankie had energy. Came up with ideas ten a penny, and they were often good ones. What he lacked was human empathy. His characters were cardboard cut-outs totally subservient to his convoluted plots. He thought that plot, twists, cliffhangers … he thought they alone kept the reader hooked.’ He belched. ‘’Scuse me … My argument was that readers would … would only engage with a story if they believed in the characters, if they empathized with the human element. Make your characters real, believable, sympathetic, and you’ve got the reader. They’ll keep turning the pages.’
    â€˜Let me guess. It was his idea to collaborate, right?’
    Lassiter nodded. ‘I was doing reasonably well. I’d sold three books to Hutchinson’s and they were selling OK. Frankie … well, he’d sold a few to Hubert and Shale, a third-rate outfit whose books went straight into the lending libraries. They sank without a trace and Frankie was despondent. Over a few pints one night I tried to tell him, tactfully, where I thought he was going wrong. The upshot was that he suggested we write a crime novel together. He’d do the plot, I’d do the character sketches and we’d take it in turns to do the writing.’
    Langham took a mouthful of Guinness. ‘It worked?’
    Lassiter puckered his liverish lips. ‘Up to a point. The novel – though I say so myself – was better than anything he could have done alone, but not up to what I’d been doing until then. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. Wasn’t meant to.’ He shrugged. ‘But it’s true. It was a second-rate book. I was amazed when Max Sidley took it for Douglas and

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