Murder by the Book

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Authors: Eric Brown
    â€˜Frankie must have been pleased. How did it do?’
    â€˜He was, and the book did well enough for Sidley to want two more … Which I was loath to commit to. Truth be told, I did it for Frankie. He needed the money and the kudos the books gave him in the publishing world. So we did two more, each one worse than the last.’
    â€˜Let me guess – Douglas and Dearing didn’t want a fourth?’
    Lassiter shook his head, a distant look in his eyes. ‘That’s just the thing, they did. The books sold reasonably well and Sidley approached us for another one. I’ll never forget the meeting with Frankie when I told him I didn’t want to do another collaboration. He looked like a puppy I’d just kicked in the balls.’ He shrugged. ‘Fact was, my own books were taking off, the advances on the collabs weren’t that great, and career-wise it just wasn’t a good move for me to churn out these potboilers.’
    â€˜How did Frankie react?’
    â€˜How do you think? Distraught, then angry. He got raging drunk and it would’ve ended in a fight if I hadn’t legged it.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘I saw him once or twice after that, just before the war. He did the fourth book alone. Apparently it was appalling.’
    Langham said, ‘I think that might have been the one I slated in the Herald .’
    â€˜Well, Douglas and Dearing dropped him like a hot coal after that one. He did a dozen or so crime novels for some fly-by-night outfit … even scribbled during the war – he was exempt from military service on account of his eyesight or something. Wrote romances and school stories to keep body and soul together.’
    â€˜What’s he doing these days?’
    â€˜Still scribbling, would you believe? He does westerns for the people he started with in the thirties, Hubert and Shale. Potboilers, believe me.’ He fell silent, then looked at Langham as if wondering whether to tell him something. ‘I bumped into him about three, four years ago in a pub in Camden. Didn’t look well. He’d hit the bottle in a big way. Made my drinking look amateur by comparison. I tried to be friendly, offered to buy him a drink for old times’ sake. But he wasn’t having any of it. Would’ve attacked me if he hadn’t been legless.’
    â€˜Poor Frankie …’
    â€˜And then yesterday … hearing about old Max Sidley, it brought it all back. Jesus!’ he exclaimed. ‘The damned thing is, Donald, the stupid thing is, I feel so damned guilty.’
    â€˜About Frankie?’ He started to reassure Lassiter that he shouldn’t burden himself with guilt over something he had done – with all justification – almost twenty years ago, but Lassiter interrupted: ‘No, not about Frankie, damn him! About old Max.’
    â€˜Max Sidley? I don’t see …’
    Lassiter sighed, drained his whisky and said, ‘Do you know how he did it? How he killed himself?’
    â€˜Grenville didn’t say.’
    â€˜The poor man took a hand-held electric drill and pressed …’ He mimed holding the tool to his ear.
    Langham winced. ‘Good God,’ he said, then shrugged. ‘But why the guilt?’
    â€˜Because,’ Lassiter said, ‘that was exactly the method I devised in Murder Will Out , the first book I did with Frankie. We needed to get rid of one of the minor characters, so I thought up a gory suicide. How the hell was I to know old Max would remember it and use it twenty years later?’
    â€˜Exactly,’ Langham said forcefully. ‘You weren’t to know. Nothing could have stopped Max from killing himself, if that’s what he wanted. If he hadn’t done it in the way you described, he would have found another way. Nigel, every time we put pen to paper we can’t worry that people might copy whatever death we describe. We’d never

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