“Well, do you see what I mean?” Eleanor asked, impatiently. She had been pacing up and down the room for the last hour.
Felix, sitting in the big green armchair where the light was good, glanced over the top of the book.
“I haven’t finished reading it yet,” he replied.
Eleanor was exasperated.
“You were on the last page five minutes ago,” she pointed out. “I saw you.”
“I had skipped ahead. Now I’m wondering who this Col. Nesmith is—I don’t remember him at all. I’m re-reading …”
“Col. Nesmith?” Eleanor made like she was strangling Felix. “Who cares about Col. Nesmith. He’s just a character. I’m asking you …”
“Well, he’s not just a character, El—according to the detective, he murdered …”
“Yes, yes, he’s the murderer,” Eleanor interrupted. “Yes, he did it—that was obvious fifty pages ago—but who cares?” Eleanor knew she sounded hysterical, and tried to calm herself down. “I’m saying that Lily Fontaine didn’t write this book. Everything is different about it—the whole style is fundamentally different from everything else she’s ever written. Do you see what I mean? There’s something about the writing that’s … I don’t know, almost distasteful. It’s like drinking milk gone bad or eating a bruised apple.”
Lily Fontaine was Eleanor’s favourite author. Eleanor was first in the bookstore for every new release, she had signed first editions, she attended her public readings, she’d even joined a fan club (though mostly for the promised discounts). Felix had read all the books, too, though with less enthusiasm—he preferred history. But it gave them something to talk about.
“Hortense couldn’t be guilty—she was left-handed,” one of them might say half-way through the latest Fontaine.
“But what if she was hanging upside-down from the rafter,” the other might add. “Remember, they found rope.”
And so it went on with each new mystery.
But the latest by Lily Fontaine, titled A Small World, purchased through the fan club in a special pre-sale a week before it would appear in stores (and at a discount, no less), drew Eleanor’s suspicions almost from the start.
“It’s like a discount version of one of her novels,” she reported to Felix after the first sit, bookmark left at the beginning of chapter five. “Like walking through a wax museum.”
By the mid-way point, Eleanor was struggling to turn the pages, wrinkling her nose in distaste, finding other things to do. She complained to Felix at various times—heading to the grocery store, finishing up the dishes, getting ready for bed—that all the characters in this new book were like melting ice, the plot was an old pair of sneakers, and the mystery itself a flickering light on the back porch threatening to go out. Felix, who was just finishing a new tome on The War of 1812, was hardly looking forward to reading it.
“It’s fake—that’s what it is,” Eleanor concluded. “Fake as its namesake.”
“Namesake?” Felix asked. “I don’t understand,”
“You know, the ride at Disney World. It’s a Small World After All (she sang). Disney World is altogether a terrible place. There’s a fake castle, fake animals, fake happiness. My aunt took me when I was six. I threw up on one of the princesses.”
“Maybe it’s a ghost writer,” Felix countered. “Maybe Lily Fontaine has made her millions and now employs a ghost writer. All the famous writers do it, I’m sure. Maybe that explains it.”
“That’s just it,” Eleanor replied, exasperated, exhausted, collapsing in a chair. “If there was a ghost writer, we wouldn’t notice, would we? I mean, you can’t see ghosts, can you?”
“Lily Fontaine was murdered.”
Eleanor came to this conclusion the next morning, Felix suspecting that she’d been up all night thinking about it.
“Murdered? My God, El, that’s a big jump.”
Felix poured his usual two teaspoons of sugar into his morning coffee.