The Nightspinners

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“Without so much as a motion or a sound, Marina and I are weaving words. We are sliding them along the bar of light from the hall that filters under the door. We are sending phrases, paragraphs, laughter, faster and faster, like flights of moths across the dark space of the room. Braiding the strands of our secret cocoon, we are nightspinning.”
Growing up in rural Georgia, Susannah and her twin sister, Marina, silently communicated in a secret language they called “nightspinning.” But as they grew older, Susannah...
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“Without so much as a motion or a sound, Marina and I are weaving words. We are sliding them along the bar of light from the hall that filters under the door. We are sending phrases, paragraphs, laughter, faster and faster, like flights of moths across the dark space of the room. Braiding the strands of our secret cocoon, we are nightspinning.”
Growing up in rural Georgia, Susannah and her twin sister, Marina, silently communicated in a secret language they called “nightspinning.” But as they grew older, Susannah tired of having a doppelgänger, particularly one who could read her every thought. After college, when their mother died, Susannah made her escape.
Years later, now an up-and-coming restaurant designer living in a handsome Philadelphia brownstone, Susannah has left the past safely behind her. But in doing so, she’s also left Marina behind, and this betrayal fills her with guilt. Then Marina is brutally murdered, and Susannah is haunted by inexplicable events: a funereal flower arrangement arrives from an anonymous admirer; she recognizes a song, not heard since childhood, emanating from the dark silence of her basement; she awakens one morning to find that a lock of her hair has been snipped off and taped to her bathroom mirror.
Terrified to learn that similar events preceded Marina’s murder, Susannah is forced to ask herself: Is her sister’s killer now coming after her? Is she imagining a conspiracy where only coincidence exists? Or is Marina nightspinning from beyond the grave? Desperate to uncover the truth and escape her sister’s fate, Susannah grimly sets out to investigate on her own, fleeing her carefullyorchestrated life and returning to an abandoned Georgia farmhouse to reveal the long-buried secrets that created a killer. A chilling, hypnotic read, The Nightspinners is psychological suspense at its best.

Author Biography:

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A set of identical twins who communicate telepathically are at the center of journalist Grindle's fine debut thriller. Susannah and Marina deBreem grew up in rural Georgia, raised by a hardworking single mother. While they were children, they became adept at "nightspinning"-sharing their thoughts and emotions without speaking. This closeness faded as Susannah became determined to escape their working-class background; she went off to college in Chapel Hill, N.C., and became a restaurant designer, while Marina stayed closer to home and became romantically involved with some shady locals. Living in Philadelphia, Susannah has virtually cut off all communication with her sister when a burst of horrifying nightspinning tells her that Marina is dying violently, the victim of a murder that will go unsolved. More than a year later, someone with intimate knowledge of the twins' history appears to be stalking Susannah. The dramatic tension spikes when Susannah learns that her sister was stalked the same way shortly before her death. Grindle is an accomplished writer who effectively conveys the eerie, largely one-sided relationship between the two girls ("Marina would send entire paragraphs into my head, whether I wanted them or not. Permanently set to receive, I was a fax machine that never ran out of paper"). Though there are more red herrings than necessary (virtually every new character seems a possible killer), the stalking mystery is taut and suspenseful, and the resolution satisfying. Grindle clearly has the goods for a promising future in the psychological suspense genre. (Mar. 18) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
As identical twins Susannah and Marina DeBreem grew up in rural Georgia, they communicated telepathically and called it "nightspinning." Susannah pursued college and a restaurant design career, while Marina stayed close to home. In this slow-paced psychological thriller, the details of Marina's murder 18 months ago come to light as a similar set of events unfold for Susannah in her Philadelphia apartment building. Plenty of suspects, along with romantic interest Beau; nosy neighbors like George, Sean, and Kathy; and Susannah's dog, Duke. Isabel Keating's reading seems as if Susannah is telling the story, but her male voices all sound the same and not quite masculine. A marginal purchase.-Sandy Glover, West Linn P.L., OR Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British author Grindle debuts in hardcover with this slow-to-ignite, if serviceably suspenseful, tale about twin sisters who grow up in rural Georgia sharing a telepathic kinship and the same besotted serial killer. Red-headed twins Marina and Susannah "Shoo Fly" DeBreem, children of a single working mother, recognize that they are "nightspinners," that is, they can communicate directly into each other's heads without speaking. Close when young, they grow estranged in adulthood, mostly because Susannah chooses to forge her own identity as a designer of restaurants in Philadelphia, despite Marina's desire to move back to Georgia together after their mother dies. Marina, however, is brutally murdered, stalked by a killer who learns her every move. And a year and a half later Susannah begins to receive the same troubling treatment: the word "bitch" is gouged into her car door; a mysterious intruder clips a lock of her hair while she's sleeping and pastes it to her bathroom window; flowers are sent with cryptic messages. By patient increments, paperback-mystery novelist Grindle builds her story, drawing on childhood memories shared by the two sisters and gradually introducing suspects in the form of old boyfriends and Marina's startling, jealous female lover. Susannah, whose refusal to talk to her sister over 15 years receives scant explanation, elicits the reader's sympathy nonetheless: the surviving twin is a woman in her mid-30s, still reeling from the breakup with her fiancé and finding lonely comfort in walking her dog and sharing Chinese take-out with an ambiguous love interest, Beau. The story gravitates around the residents of her Victorian apartment building-developing personalitiesand motivations-while eventually returning to the locus of the twins' past, their mother's farmhouse in Georgia. Grindle is a thorough writer who covers all the bases (nosy southern neighbors, well-meaning colleagues and mechanics, incompetent detectives), though, overall, Nightspinners feels formulaic and cozily generic. A well-fashioned if unsurprising tale of psychological terror.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792728641
  • Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 7
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 8.76 (h) x 2.35 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
shoo fly. that was what my mother called me. shoo Fly Pie. Shoo,Flyódon't bother me, I belong to somebody. I can hear her still in the southern nights of my childhood, nights that never seemed clear and clean like they do farther north but were instead heavy and alive with fireflies, and nightjars, and all of the things that move and wind through the dark.
When I think of those nights now, I hear my mother's voice. She is standing in the kitchen, the soles of her Keds firmly planted on the linoleum floor. Her hands, narrow and long-fingered, move rhythmically and without thought, like something programmed. She is canning. She ladles whole peaches, squishy and bright yellow, into jars, pours syrup that will stick to you and burn if it spills. She spoons piccalilli that is red and green and hot with peppercorns. And while she does this, she sings.
Her thin, hopeful soprano threads its way through our house. Sharp and not quite right, her voice is out of harmony with Georgia. It does not match the long green fields of the farm, the road, red with dust, the sun-blistered walls of the sheds, or the slow creak of our screen door. It is not some slow, rolling bass, nor the sweet arc and swoop of a Baptist hymn, nor a sad, slow sax note of the South. Her voice is not a knife wound. It is just something present and unseriously painful, like a paper cut that stings and cannot be forgotten.
"Shoo, fly," my mother sings, and sometimes in the night I feel that she's calling my special name. My mother didn't have a special name for Marina. I'm not sure why, perhaps because it was enough of a name in itself, enough of a distinction for Petamill, Georgia.
Welonged to be called Sue-Ellen. Carla-Louise. Mary. Daisy. Or best of all, Elizabeth-Anne. But no, there we were in that town with those names, Marina and Susannah, the living evidence of our mother's optimism, of her double-dog dare that in the face of circumstance we would "become something." It was as if, in naming us as she had, our mother had given us something grandiose, something to make up for the fact that we had no father. Or, to put it more accurately, that she had probably never been quite certain of who he was.
Not that our mother was wild anymore. Our birth must have cured her of that. With her bobbed dark hair and her pressed white blouses, the tiny gold earrings from the five-and-dime, and the midheight heels that she wore to work, our mother's wildness was a thing of the past. It clung to her only in half-remembered stories and hovered about her fine-boned beauty like a memory. I dream of my mother as a young girl, and when I do she is always wearing a candy-red dress with a wide skirt and little flat shoes that are black and have bows on the toes. Her waist is tiny. Her hair is a glossy cap. And I can hear her laughing. I dream of her in roadhouses, in those places by the side of secondary highways where the parking lot is crowded with pickup trucks and lit by a neon sign, and where the noise from the bar and the jukebox lifts everything up and floats it out onto the heavy dark.
But that is only my dream. I do not know what the reality was, and my mother never told me. As I have grown older, I have come to suspect that it had more to do with the backseats of Chevrolets, with beer cans and bottled cocktails. With truckers pulling through town. There was, of course, our hair, which was a color unlike any known in our family and distinctive enough to have been something of a clue, if we had been looking for clues. But, now that I think of it, Marina and I were peculiarly uninterested in the possibilities of our parentage. We had very little, if any, interest in who our father was. Our world was closed and complete. Night after night we spun the threads of a cocoon around ourselves while, upstairs in our room, we listened to our mother's song.
We lie stretched and still in our twin beds, and if our mother was to climb the stairs and look in on us, as she so often does, she could assume, from the sweet tilt of our heads and the motionlessness of our hands, that we are sleeping. But she would be wrong. On those nights Marina and I are not drifting high above the farm on a cloud of dreams. We are not sinking and innocently lost in sleep. Oh, no. We are busy.
Without so much as a motion or a sound, Marina and I are weaving words. We are sliding them along the bar of light from the hall that filters under the door. We are sending phrases, paragraphs, laughter, faster and faster, like flights of moths across the dark space of the room. Braiding the strands of our secret cocoon, we are nightspinning.
Not that our mother would know this. Not that anyone would know it. It is our secret. No one guesses that we are nightspinners. No one knows how much we talk, or about the web of secret words we stretch between us. We work in silence. And when our mother eases the door open, she rewards us for what she assumes is our sleep. She whispers, "You are such a good girl." She says it just once, to both of us, as if we were one. Which, in fact, we are. We are two peas in a pod, Marina and me. We are bright as buttons. Cute as pie. Mirror images. We are twins.
By the time we were nine or ten, Marina and I could carry on complete conversations without speaking. Our nightspinning that had begun in the dark had long since grown strong enough to withstand the light of day. I would feel a prickle on the back of my neck, a subtle rising of the tiny, soft hairs that grew there, and I didn't even have to look at her to know what she was saying. Marina would send entire paragraphs into my head, whether I wanted them or not. Permanently set to receive, I was a fax machine that never ran out of paper. My mind was a blank slate, and Marina could write on it any time she chose.
Mostly, when she was nightspinning, she would not meet my eye. She would look in another direction, her gaze fixed on the wall or the fields, her chin set stubborn. And the tiniest smile of triumph would flicker across her face because I could not stop her, could not turn her away if I tried.
To be honest, most of the time I did not try. And neither, insofar as I know, did she. For I used my privilege as a nightspinner, too. I sent my share of messages across our private airway. But I do not know if the back of Marina's neck prickled, or if she came to resent me for my uninvited presence in her head. I presume that was what she felt, if only because it was what I felt. But I do not know, and since I never asked her, I will never know. My sister is dead. She was murdered eighteen months ago in Alexandria, Virginia. Now she is just a case number, an unsolved homicide. One of many.
It is going to rain, i can smell it. the high sashed window that opens onto the balcony of my apartment is raised, and the sounds and the smells of the city drift into my room. There is not much traffic in this part of Philadelphia. Popular wisdom says the city is dying, and so perhaps that explains the quiet of it. It is only occasionally that I hear footsteps on the sidewalks below, or shouted laughter, or the rush of a car in the street like a great exhaled breath.
In the corner beyond the fireplace, the dog moves restlessly. He is a German shepherd, a leggy, two-toned wolf, black and tan with a bearlike snout and golden eyes. As I watch, he rises from his bed, stretches, and regards me seriously. It is almost midnight, and we are due to be abroad, to make our final patrol of the empty streets. He paces in front of me through the hallway and waits while I reach for my sweater and his leash.
We open the door and pause outside my apartment. Only five of us live in this building, and it is possible to imagine that the other three apartments do not exist, that the dog and I are completely alone, and that in stepping through the door and out onto the landing, we have crossed back over time, fallen through a hundred years.
The house is a brownstone, a dowager duchess of the Victorian past modified only slightly in order to greet the modern age. The wall sconces, once lit by gas, are flame-shaped buds of glass. A brass chandelier, adapted uneasily to electricity, hangs in the stairwell. One story above me, a great skylight glows faintly, its smoky panes suggesting an eternal blanket of snow or a Holmesian fog. The stairs, thick-carpeted in crimson, wind down four flights to the parquet floors below. The banisters are huge and ornately carved and far too wide for me to wrap my hand around. This late at night, in the quiet, I feel that I am a small child and the grown-ups are asleep.
The heavy doors swing shut behind us as the dog and I come down the front steps and onto the sidewalk. We pause to sniff the air, to listen, and then begin our walk, turning left and, a block later, left again. We have a routine, and it never varies. Along Delancey Place, the dog inspects each set of iron railings, considers each ginkgo tree. He stops to peer intently at several sets of the wide front steps that lead to glossy black doors with knockers of polished brass in the shape of claws or lions' heads. One particularly ornate lintel is supported by a pair of caryatids. The dog gives them a conspiratorial glance in passing, and they look benignly down on us, as if their thoughts have room to wander while they hold the house on their heads. Even in the coldest wind, or in the powdery pinpricks of the snow, the dog never hurries this ritual. Sometimes his leisurely pace, his lack of urgency, makes me impatient, but not tonight. We are having an Indian summer, and even though it is late September, the breeze is a warm breath that puffs in from the Delaware, bearing the promise of soft, overblown drops of rain.
On nights like this, I sometimes think I can smell the sea. The ports of Philadelphia are a long way from open water. Nevertheless, I like the idea enough that I often insist on it.
"You are lying!" George would say when I claimed that I could taste the ocean, could roll its salt along the back of my tongue. He would smile, reach for my hand, raise his eyebrows at the horror of it, and exclaim, "You are such a liar, Susannah!" Born and raised among the small towns of the Midwest, George found mendacity both incorrigible and faintly erotic. Now I wonder about him, and whether he misses the idea of the sea, and my lies. Then I remind myself sharply that George is no longer my business. He has decamped to Paris, and I am not to wonder about him, not to indulge in fruitless speculation. I have given up keeping track of French weather and calculating time changes. That way lies the road to ruin. The dog turns left, and left again, and we are on the home stretch.
As I lock the door behind us, the clock in the entryway strikes twelve. I slip the dog's leash off and let him run ahead of me up the stairs. He is on the landing when the phone begins to ring. He cocks his head and looks at me, and I look back at him and shrug as I fit my key into the lock. He noses the door open, and I wipe my feet and drop his leash on the table and follow him into the living room, past my desk where the phone rings and rings.
At first I used to answer it. "Hello, hello," I would say obligingly over and over again. But there was never anyone there. I even dialed *69 a couple of times, but all I got was a beeping tone that the operator informed me meant my caller had "blocked" the line. Now I no longer bother about the calls. I have become used to them. Like the walk, this midnight call has become part of our routine. The phone will ring exactly five times, and then, just before my answering machine clicks in, it will stop. Even as I think this, the noise ceases, and the first splats of rain hit the balcony window.
The dog makes a quick patrol of the apartment and returns to his bed in the living room. He does not sleep in my bedroom; he likes to keep his distance. He is aloof in his devotion and not especially made to cuddle. His purpose is more serious, and he has chosen it for himself. He is the watcher at my door.
His yellow eyes follow me. I can feel his cool regard as I stop in front of the hall mirror, caught by my own reflection. I am the only one left now, and I think that I look both the same and not the same. It is as if, now that Marina is gone, I am more concentrated. I am both of us, doubled up, distilled.
I reach up to unclip my hair and stop in midaction as my hand moves in the mirror. It is my mother's hand, exactly. Bony and long-fingered, it reaches into the air, a blank space on the finger where she wore her ring. It is spooky and yet momentarily familiar, the claustrophobic way in which my mother and Marina have arrived to dwell in me. It is as if they have quit the game and left me the family representative on earth. I shake myself, push them away, and finish the gesture they have arrested me in. I remove the large clip and let the hair fall down around my shoulders. I am not a vain woman, but it is true that this lion's mane of bronze and red is my pride and joy.

Copyright© 2003 by Lucretia Grindle
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Lucretia Grindle
What is it about mystery writing that appeals to you?
I have always liked puzzles and initially I was drawn to mysteries because of the discipline they impose. In order to construct a good puzzle, you have to be certain that the pieces fit, and this forces you to think carefully about plotting and not wander around on the page, or pages, forever. I also like mysteries because I am interested in what happens to relatively ordinary people when they are thrown into extraordinary circumstances, which are, by definition, the essence of mysteries.
Who are your favorite writers, mystery or otherwise?
Faulkner, Faulkner and Faulkner again! I was also very influenced by Joan Didion --both her fiction and essays. My favorite book is probably Wuthering Heights simply because it’s amazing, and Jane Eyre, because, although it is less raw and powerful, it is an almost perfectly constructed novel. Poets and playwrights have influenced me a lot too --especially Yeats, John Donne, and of course Shakespeare. Then David Mamet and John Millington Synge. For mystery writers, James Lee Burke is utterly amazing.
What are your writing habits? Do you keep a strict schedule?
I write for at least three hours a day, 5 days a week unless I'm late on a deadline in which case I go to work on weekends and do as many sessions as I can. My concentration span is about 3 hours a shot, so typically I work from 9 in the morning until noon. Then, if I feel like it, I'll often put in another two hours from 4 to 6 pm just in time to break for the news, which is glass of wine time and the end of my working day. One thing I alwaysdo is re-write and re-write, and I read all my prose out loud to myself which makes me sound bats, but helps a lot.
In terms of your writing process. Do you develop character or plot first?
That depends. Sometimes a character just pops up in my head but usually they're already in some kind of situation when they appear so it's more premise than plot. Both characters and plot develop over time and may change out of all recognition!
Is the process of writing mysteries different from writing other kinds of fiction?
Not really, except that you have to be very precise in your plotting. It's like designing a cross word. You have make sure that everything makes sense and that you didn't leave anything out. It's cheating if you do.
Do you always know where a piece will end or do you wait to see where the characters take you?
I think I know where it ends... but that doesn't mean I'm right. I have virtually never written a book that ended where I thought it was going to, or for that matter, how I thought it was going to. So the plot and characters evolve as it goes on, sometimes things just happen, and it's crucial that you let them happen, even if, at first, you don't think you like it. If you try to force characters and stories where they don't want to go, then they'll be just that, forced.
How long does it take you to finish a book?
On average, a year. Although it might be nine months or so. That doesn't include the time I spend thinking of and developing the plots and characters in my head. Almost everything I've ever written I've been thinking about for at least a year before I put a word on paper.
Where do you get your ideas, especially for THE NIGHTSPINNERS?
It's not helpful to say this, but a lot of the time I have no idea where my ideas come from! Sometimes it’s just a moment, a feeling, or something I see on the street or overhear in an airport. For THE NIGHTSPINNERS, I remember that the initial idea sort of came from the fact that a girl who looked a lot like me was murdered a few blocks away and I started thinking about how disturbing that was and from there jumped to the idea of the twins, and so on.
What kind of research did you do for THE NIGHTSPINNERS?
I did a lot of research on identical twins including the physical side of it such as that their heart graphs are the same, but their finger prints aren't, etc. I also researched how they relate to each other. Beyond that, I did a lot of research on stalking and the psychology behind it.
What are you working on next?
I've just finished a novel about a Southern family, a murder, love, the unintended effects of kindness and the secret lives we all live.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2005

    Great Read!

    I read the hardback years ago and this is what I thought: I loved this book. I am not sure of the technical term...but the book jumps from present to past...normally in this type of book I speed read the past to get to the present because it's usually where the action is. I had no problem w/ this book the past was as interesting and exciting as the mystery in the present. The book sends Susannah on a hunt for the person who murdered her twin sister...I felt I could feel for Susannah and her situation. I loved her dog! I won't give away anything but I was in suspense until the end. The closing of the book was good. I love a book that gives all the detailed endings to the characters. Way to go Lucretia!

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