Unsigned (Booklover's Mystery Series #5)

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Overview

The life of the party was just found dead....

It was billed as the biggest literary event of the season. McKinley Montague, the handsome, enigmatic author of sensational serial-killer novels, was to make a rare book-signing appearance at the grand opening of London's newest superbookstore.

But the author never arrives -- and word quickly spreads that Montague is dead, the victim of a mysterious boating ...

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Overview

The life of the party was just found dead....

It was billed as the biggest literary event of the season. McKinley Montague, the handsome, enigmatic author of sensational serial-killer novels, was to make a rare book-signing appearance at the grand opening of London's newest superbookstore.

But the author never arrives -- and word quickly spreads that Montague is dead, the victim of a mysterious boating accident.

Publisher Alex Plumtree is shocked by McKinley's sudden passing. Yet even more disturbing is the encounter Alex has in a local coffee shop with a reporter that very night. First the scribe reveals he received a tip that McKinley's own publishers had him murdered to boost his sales. Seconds later, a bullet shatters the cafe's window, missing the pair by inches.

The shooting is only the first of many bizarre incidents, unexplained deaths, and troubling phone calls. And with his own life hanging in the balance, Alex wonders if McKinley's demise was just the opening chapter in London's deadliest literary season ever....

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for the Booklover's Series:

"As always, absorbing and enlightening."
-- Rendezvous

"A treat for booklovers."
-- Tales From a Red Herring

Don't miss these other mysteries by Julie Kaewert:

Unsolicited
Unbound
Unprintable
Untitled

And coming soon:
Uncatalogued

Available from Bantam Books

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Publisher Alex Plumtree's plans to attend a book-signing by one of his most noted writers suddenly change when it is announced that the writer has been killed in a boating accident. To complicate matters, a journalist insists on having coffee with PlumtreeDostensibly to tell him that he knows something about the author's deathDbut then gunfire breaks out. When Plumtree runs outside to find out what's going on, he is certain that he spots his fianc e, whom he believed was killed recently while traveling. Over the next few daysDwhich happen to precede the Frankfurt Book FairDPlumtree receives two unsolicited bids to buy his company, and his landlord insists on taking back the building in which Plumtree's company is housed. While simultaneously managing his company and dealing with authors, staff and colleagues, Plumtree turns into super-sleuth and discovers a sinister plot by some corporate giants to take over the publishing business in England. Kaewart, author of four other Booklover's Mystery series, knows the book world well, but she has burdened this novel with too many plot elements. Further, although Plumtree is an appealing character, Kaewart does not flesh him out enough to keep readers interested. Mystery fans who work in publishing might find this novel slightly amusing but, overall, it's too muddled for most readers to enjoy. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553582192
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Booklover's Mystery Series , #5
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,350,813
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Now there lived overseas
In the land of the Geats a youth of valiance abounding,
Mightiest yet mildest of men, his name Beowulf,
Who, hearing of Grendel [was] minded to destroy him...
Beowulf

The moment before the bullet struck, I was glaring at a journalist I didn't like over a cup of coffee I didn't want. At eleven o'clock on this Saturday night,I was meant to be sipping champagne next door at the literary event of the year; instead, I had just burnt my tongue. The lights of the Meridien Hotel opposite twinkled gaily, illuminating this stretch of Piccadilly as its flags flapped to and fro in the October gale. It was the opening night of National Book Week, and it wasn't supposed to happen this way.

"Let me get this straight, Nathan," I said, replacing my cup on its saucer with studied composure. "You expect me to believe that Trevor Gravesend -- owner of Britain's most eminent publishing company and president of the Publishers Association — had his star author murdered to increase sales?"

Before answering, Nathan Griffith sucked hard on a cigarette, his fingers shaking, and cast suspicious glances at the few others populating the coffee bar. Nate, a staff writer for Britain's publishing and bookselling organ, the Bookseller, looked more gaunt than usual. The twenty-something journalist was cursed with an old man's body: his prematurely wrinkled face, ashen from frightening excesses of nicotine and alcohol, was sadly consistent with his balding pate and cadaverous frame. With the hand holding the cigarette he raked a few tenacious hairs across the top of his head and blew smoke to one side.

"I don't like it any more than you do, Plumtree. But that anonymous caller was very serious indeed. It could have happened as he said. Think about it: Gravesend was quite concerned about Montague's book, between the obscene advance he had to pay, and its wandering nature. You saw the reviews. And the title! I mean, really — Beowulf's Blood? What could Gravesend have been thinking of?" Out of habit, Nate fingered the terrifically tattered and grimy notebook he dragged with him everywhere for recording industry secrets.

I stifled my irritation, vowing to give Nate a badly needed lesson in literature — and no more than three minutes of my time. It was beyond me why Nate had chosen me as his father confessor. "Actually, Beowulf strikes me as a rather nice association for a novel about a monstrous serial killer — noble Beowulf versus the hideous Grendel, the timeless battle of good versus evil. You're an avid Trekkie — don't you discuss this very sort of thing at your Star Trek sci-fi conferences? Use your common sense, Nate. McKinley Montague's signing takes place in less than an hour. Why haven't we heard anything about the author's tragic death? Besides, to make such an accusation about Trevor Gravesend — of all people — on the basis of an anonymous caller ... really, Nathan, you should be more careful. Perhaps your libel law needs swotting up."

"Plumtree, listen to me." Nathan looked ready to jump out of his skin in his desperation to convince me. "Please! Try for once to expect the worst in someone. Someone who stands to lose a hell of a lot if he doesn't have a best-seller in his pocket on his way to the Frankfurt Book Fair and Merger Mania. Someone who cares about money more than—"

Crack! Instinctively, I raised my arm to shield my face from the cascade of glass that rained down next to me. The deafening collapse of the window seemed to carry on and on, as if all the glass in Piccadilly had just shattered at my elbow. Sheets and shards exploded into a million pieces, flying in all directions and tinkling endlessly onto the marble floor of the small establishment.

In the next moment, all was eerily quiet. I looked across at Nathan, who appeared stunned but unhurt.

A bullet. Through the window. I knew the sound all too well.

Reaching across the table, I shoved Nathan down by his shoulder. We scrambled down on our hands and knees, unsuccessfully avoiding the sharp shards of glass as we sought protection beneath the absurdly small table. Nate reached up and groped for his precious notebook; he found it and clutched it to his chest.

I caught Nate's eye. If the bullet had been intended to silence him, then perhaps it was true: England's most respected publishing house had literally killed to sell books. Good Lord.

But how had they got on to Nate? Someone must have followed us. ... Quickly, I thought back over the rather extraordinary few minutes that had preceded Nate's appearance that evening.

The excitement had begun as Nicola Beauchamp, my trade editor, and I were making our way through the windy night to a bookshop grand opening and signing party. Bang in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, a vicious October gale whipped Nicola's skirt up round her waist and held it there. She'd whooped in surprise and fought to clamp it down again, but not before I'd caught a glimpse of her rather stunning legs (and equally noteworthy knickers). Though I failed to stifle a smile, I did avert my eyes — only to see an approaching cluster of yobbos gesturing lewdly at poor Nicola and calling out surprisingly creative compliments. I'd reached down to put an arm round my diminutive employee's shoulders, drawing her close as the louts passed.

When the danger was gone, I dropped my arm again and tried to alleviate her embarrassment. "I'm curious to see what Wellbrook's Books has made of the old Simpson's building. Bit of a challenge to imagine New Fiction in men's haberdashery."

"I'll say. But all that white marble and glass should set off the books nicely. What I find hard to imagine is the idea of a midnight signing. What sort of a turnout can they possibly expect?" My dignified, petite, very literary editor and I were on our way to a coveted champagne reception celebrating the official opening of the grandest new bookshop in Britain — a superstore on the American model, complete with gourmet coffee bar. Everyone was desperately curious to see the transformation of the elegant institution formerly known as Simpson's, where Britain's upper classes had purchased their clothes for generations, into the Wellbrook chain's flagship store.

But the real highlight of the evening was to be a signing by McKinley Montague, the most sensational novelist in Britain and author of a new serial-killer chiller. Wellbrook's had thoughtfully timed both its opening and Montague's signing to coincide with the launch of National Book Week, now moved to autumn from spring. Personally, I thought it should be moved right back again, because it was too close to the Frankfurt Book Fair, beginning at the very end of this same week. Bit of a cock-up in the NBW planning department.

At the same moment I'd heard Nate's high-pitched voice calling from behind us — Plumtree! Wait! — Nicola and I found ourselves caught in the vortex of a small tornado of dried leaves and dust. We stopped in our tracks, Nicola clamping her arms round her thighs prudently as I shut my eyes against a hail of grit. In retrospect, as a publisher of books, I see that dirty little whirlwind as a bit of foreshadowing by the Omniscient Narrator in the Sky — the rather obvious sort used by the gooseflesh-generating McKinley Montague. A dirty little whirlwind was about to sweep away British publishing as we knew it . . . but who'd have suspected that such malignant and unsuspected forces would be at work in our gentle world of books?

Quite right — I should have suspected.

When the whirlwind subsided I blinked half of London out of my contact lenses and glimpsed Nathan Griffith jogging toward us, famous notebook in hand ... Nathan, who never jogged anywhere, and who had written a rather flattering profile of Plumtree Press for the most recent issue of the Bookseller. He caught us up with a disturbing gasp for breath.

"Nathan! You know Nicola Beauchamp, don't you?" They nodded at one another in greeting and we continued to battle our way down Piccadilly. Between the short, intense young journalist panting on my right and tiny Nicola, I felt a veritable giant. At six foot four, I tower over most people and often worry that it is intimidating.

"Big night for bookselling news," I shouted cheerfully to Nathan. Ahead of us, the rabble queued for entry to the daringly innovative midnight signing while the bigwigs of the book world walked past them through the door, presenting their invitations to the reception.

"You don't know the half of it," Nate wheezed. "Alex, I need to talk to you. Alone," he added pointedly, with an obvious glance at Nicola. And so, though I wasn't eager to hear Nathan's latest conspiracy theory regarding the acquisition of publishing companies, I'd agreed to a quick chat. Given his recent complimentary profile of the Press, I felt it would be rude not to do as he asked.

I left Nicola at the Simpson's — I mean Wellbrook's — glowing glass front, which shone like the sun onto Piccadilly and revealed acres of white marble floor within. It was disconcerting, as I'd suspected, to look through the doors and see a table of books labelled "New Fiction" where there had always, as long as I could remember, been a mannequin sporting a mackintosh and a brolly. A bit wistfully, I followed Nate as he oozed down the street, gliding away from the party with a liquid motion that always made me feel he was trying to slip away from someone.

Drawing up next to him, I teased, "Okay, Nate — what is it now?" Privately, I was amused by his perpetual assumption that something sinister lurked behind every publishing deal, and every bookcase in the corner shop. But he glanced back as if convinced we were being watched, and without answering did a swift double-take before thrusting me through the door of the coffee bar.

Was that it, I thought now, under the table with Nate? Had someone followed us from Wellbrook's?

No fusillade of bullets had followed the single shot over our table; no gun-toting assassins lurked in the street outside. The rotund, mustachioed coffee shop proprietor seemed stunned, gaping out from behind his massive stainless steel Italian coffee machine. His young washer-up, however, sporting rings through every conceivable (and inconceivable, no doubt) bit of flesh, seemed to instantly assess the situation and take charge.

Voices began to surge around us, and the ultrahip dishwasher shouted at the half-dozen dazed patrons to stay down as he rushed from behind the worktop to the phone. I saw that the bullet had lodged in a framed photograph of Piccadilly at the turn of the century, a site uncannily close to where the coffee bar now stood. With a creeping certainty I felt the attack had not been a random act of violence. That bullet had been intended for Nathan ... or perhaps for me. Heaven knew I'd been involved in enough political and publishing intrigue to last a lifetime. Either way, we had to get out of there fast. Someone knew where we were, and we were very exposed indeed.

"Come on," I hissed to Nathan. We slipped and slid on the glass, which skated along under us as we struggled to our feet. Everyone seemed too distracted to pay much attention as I pulled him to the rear of the shop. I opened the exit door and glanced both ways down the narrow, pungent alley. "Let's get you out of here," I breathed, and tugged him past polyethylene bags full of rubbish down to the corner and into Jermyn Street, utterly deserted at this hour. I kept moving past the dark shops of antiquated tailors into St James's Square, past the London Library, and down towards Pall Mall. At last I ducked into the shadows of a recessed doorway, the offices of a well-known software company, and Nathan stumbled up to me. His face was grey.

"So," he said, wheezing horribly. "They're after me" — gasp — "at last." His feeble attempt at humour was tragic; his chuckle ended in a frightening coughing fit. "Always thought this might happen — " Wheeze. "Bound to." Gasp. "My career — " Wheeze. "Built on other people's dirt." He glanced up at me and winced. "You've blood — on your face — Plumtree. Bits — of window glass."

"You, too, I'm afraid." As we stood huddled in the doorway collecting ourselves, Nathan reached inside his pocket and drew out a folded tissue. He began to wipe at his face with one hand, while reaching for his packet of cigarettes with the other. Odd, I reflected, how we resort to routine activities — clean the face, light the cigarette — to escape the terror of more disconcerting thoughts. I suddenly felt simultaneously sweaty and cold. Concentrate, Alex....

I latched on to the possibility that the shot was not deliberately targetted at Nathan. It would be much less disturbing — and perhaps more reasonable — to believe that it had been a random act of violence. Sadly, those were not as uncommon as they used to be. But try as I might, I couldn't persuade myself the shot hadn't been intentional. As I folded Nathan's tissue over to a clean surface and began to wipe the blood off my face, I felt sharp stabs of pain where tiny bits of glass had lodged in my skin. I brushed them off and counted myself lucky indeed.

Though he still hadn't caught his breath, I watched in amazement as Nathan groped for a lighter. "Alex," he said around the fag, stuffing the rest of the packet away again.

"Mmm?"

The cigarette trembled so violently in his hand that I felt a wave of pity for him. "Watch yourself," he said. "They know I was talking to you."

They. "Nate, who are 'they'? And come to think of it, why did you tell me?"

He took a greedy drag of his cigarette, then lifted it out of his mouth. A wry, shaky smile began at one corner. "Because you're a bloody superman, Plumtree, aren't you? I mean, look at you, for heaven's sake. You're known for getting to the bottom of this sort of thing."

"Hardly. But I do think we should ring the police. After that call you received—"

"You wouldn't do that to me, would you? 'Nate Griffith is helping the police with their enquiries, as the only person with information pertaining to the murder of McKinley Montague?' Come on, Alex."

"Nathan, you received a tip about a murder. And someone might have just tried to kill you!"

"I know it. But I have my reasons, and I'm not ringing the police."

I sighed. Strictly speaking, after gunfire one is obliged to call the police ... but I supposed the omni-pierced dishwasher had done that. Meanwhile, time was creeping on ... not only was Nicola waiting for me at the party, but I wanted to find out what would happen at Wellbrook's. Would McKinley Montague appear or not?

First I'd have to find a safe place to leave Nathan — if I could persuade him to stay away.

"You will agree that it's too dangerous for you to appear at Wellbrook's?"

He exhaled a cloud of smoke and nodded. "I'd dearly love to go and investigate. But ... you're right. That bullet was close enough."

"Come with me, then. I've an idea." I hailed a taxi on the Mall, enduring the driver's curious glances at our imperfectly cleaned faces, and climbed out at a rather special place just off Berkeley Square in Curzon Street.

"Botkin's?!" Nate exclaimed, turning to me with an incredulous frown. "What on earth are we doing at Botkin's?"

I unlocked the door to the narrow little building, one of London's finest jewels of a bookshop — an institution, in fact — and let him in. I switched on the lights, and we took in the lovely wooden round table in the hallway, piled with contemporary fiction. Beyond that was a seating area in front of the large and elegantly fronted fireplace, where Botkin's customers used to come for tea — or something stronger — and a chat. This had ensured that the smell of the place was a mixture of old ashes, aromatic tea, and the inevitable mustiness of hundreds and hundreds of very old books. The walls were lined with them, from front to back, and two charming little alcoves were recessed halfway back. One of the alcoves held my favourite bit of the entire shop: an entire wall of a bookcase, perhaps five feet wide by six feet high, pertaining solely to the writing, printing, binding, publishing, and selling of books.

"Welcome to my new shop. Sleep here, if you like — Botkin used to live upstairs, you know. It's been thoroughly cleared out up there, but I've left the furniture. There are clean linens and flannels and things, and you can always ring out to have food delivered. You should be safe enough here for a bit."

"What?" He was staring at me incredulously, as if I were joking. "You? Own Botkin's?"

"I said the same thing to my accountant. Bookshops aren't exactly known for making money, as you know all too well. But weeks before Nottingham Botkin died in a nasty fall down his cellar stairs, when word got round that he was selling, my accountant insisted it was the thing to do. And you know about Botkin's collection. That alone would have made the purchase worthwhile."

"Of course." Nathan, deep in thought, sank into one of Botkin's famous overstuffed chairs. "I wrote a feature on him two years ago. He was the only antiquarian bookseller to also sell contemporary blockbusters — and to greet every customer by name. But you—"

I knew it was unusual for Plumtree Press to have purchased a bookshop, but I didn't understand why Nathan should be quite so shocked by the fact. I had, after all, told him when he'd interviewed me about the shop my grandfather had owned in Paternoster Row, near St Paul's, in the 1920's. From everything I'd heard about my father's father, he was more a bookseller at heart than a publisher.

"You know, Nathan, I still think it might be wise to ring the police and tell them about all of this — the phone call and the gunshot. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think we're obliged to tell them."

He fixed me with a cynical eye. "I told you, I can't go to the police. I'd be their first suspect where Montague's concerned. Besides, what shall I say? That an anonymous caller told me McKinley Montague had been murdered to increase sales of his book? And that a bullet nearly missed me in a coffee bar tonight?"

I saw his point; the police were unlikely to come to any vital conclusion from those bits of information. It wasn't as if he had actual evidence, such as a tape recording of the call or a glimpse of his assailant. "Well, then, you might at least try to get away for a bit for your own sake. Whoever shot at you seemed quite serious."

Nathan didn't seem to be listening; as best I could tell, he was still pondering the impenetrable mystery of my owning Botkin's. He thumbed distractedly through a copy of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love on a round Victorian table piled high with contemporary fiction. I went upstairs and washed my face; with satisfaction I noticed in Botkin's old splotched mirror that my white shirt and tie had escaped unscathed. When I returned to the shop downstairs, I don't think poor beleaguered Nate had even realised I'd gone.

"Nathan?"

"Hmm?" He looked up from the book. "Oh, right. Yes. Thanks, Alex."

"Feel free to look around ... plenty to keep you entertained, I should think." Only London's finest collection of comfortable, thumbable antiquarian books, I thought, as I watched him sink into a chair near the empty fireplace. Botkin had collected and stocked books that people liked to actually read, and not merely collect to sit on their shelves. I turned on a lamp near Nate, feeling rather protective of him. "The shop's not open these days, so soon after Botkin's untimely death, so no one should be coming in tomorrow. If you do go out, use the back door; it doesn't have to be locked from the outside. The spare key's under the tea caddy."

He didn't answer. I promised I'd be back to check on him, and left a very thoughtful Bookseller reporter behind, crumpled in one of Botkin's armchairs with the light of one ancient lamp shining over his shoulder.

I locked the front door behind me and was lucky to catch a taxi back to Wellbrook's, more curious than ever about McKinley Montague's signing. The shining white marble, brilliantly illuminated bookshop was full to overflowing; the queue from outside had been allowed to enter. Still, hundreds of bibliophiles desperate for a glimpse of the desperately handsome Montague gently competed for admittance, clustered round the doorway. Seeing that it would take much too long to work my way inside from the front, I moved round to the back door, showed my engraved invitation to the guard, and simply stepped inside.

Fascinating, what makes an author the object of such adoration: In Montague's case, his chiselled good looks, complete with aquiline nose and thick shock of black hair, didn't hurt. But the reclusiveness that kept him from appearing on chat shows and even in the pages of the Bookseller made him all the more appealing. Women couldn't get enough of him because they never did get him on the radio or telly, and that alluring photo on his dust jackets teased them mercilessly.

What they didn't know, I thought, was that he was reclusive because there really wasn't much to McKinley Montague, behind those prominent cheekbones and that plentiful hair. Just as he wrote his series to a strict formula, one grisly suspense thriller following another with remarkable regularity for twelve years, Montague was a predictable commodity — and a rather prosaic disappointment. Still, it worked for the great British public and, increasingly, for the world.

I found myself in a quiet, plush backwater of an alcove and saw at eye level a shelf labelled "People—M." Biographies ... I caught sight of the biography of John Murray, the present-day incarnation of one of London's early publishers and booksellers, and vowed to read it one day soon. Murray's empire was the only independent publishing firm in London to have endured for more generations than the Plumtrees', and the current John Murray had just finished his term as chairman of the Publishers Association board several years before.

Sinking practically to my ankles in plush carpeting, the scent of which still permeated the air, I was very much impressed by the mammoth, elegantly appointed new shop. A sweeping circular staircase ascended from the middle of the ground floor, as I well knew from my childhood visits to Simpson's. Wellbrook's had added a gallery with overstuffed chairs on the far side of the first floor level; this was encased by glass to waist level, overlooking the ground floor. Perhaps fifty people from the champagne party had found their way onto it, looking hugely pleased with themselves for having achieved their vantage point.

A huge golden "W" had been painted on the glass on the far side from Piccadilly — all rather unusual, and quite breathtaking, for a bookshop. The lighting was tastefully recessed, focussed and subdued, and the shop carried out the Wellbrook's theme of black and gold. Against all the white marble and plush white carpeting, the effect was brilliant ... and I couldn't help but wonder at the massive debt Wellbrooks' must have incurred.

Flowing with the teeming masses towards the staircase, I noted with approval a table of independent publishers' fiction in pride of place. Thoughtful touch, that; a number of our Plumtree Press books would be featured there if I could be bothered to fight through the crowd for a look. I climbed to the first floor, where I knew from the noise level the party must be. Chairs and tables had been cleared from a coffee bar half the size of a football pitch to make room for the party-goers; the remainder of the large area had been allocated to portable chairs, hundreds of them, for Montague's fans.

As I reached the buzzing crowd of fellow publishers, journalists, and booksellers, I saw Nicola with her champagne flute. I raised my hand and she waved; she was chatting to Sabera Khan, my old friend who'd been named manager of the new store. I was relieved to see him; I wanted to tell him the extraordinary news I'd heard in the last hour.

Sabera smiled, and gestured that I should join them. He was short, like Nicola, but as broad, strong, and dark as she was narrow, swanlike, and fair. Sabera had heavy, inky hair that fell flat against his head, which always seemed to be inclined to one side or the other as he decided which book to recommend or how to answer a question. He was always intense, though he'd learned how to put people at ease with a smile. Above all, he was scrupulously honest, which I appreciated more than all his literary knowledge.

As I made my way over, I reflected on how far Sabera had come, and how quickly. We'd met at Cambridge, where he'd worked at a small bookshop near my college, Magdalene. His was the only shop I patronised during my time as a postgraduate, because I found that the quiet, Iranian-born Sabera knew far more than anyone I'd ever met about new books, and never failed to recommend winners for pleasure reading as well.

After I'd been sucked into the publishing business, an old friend at Hatchards — the prestigious grandfather of all London bookshops — had asked if I knew of anyone legendary to take the post of assistant manager at his venerable store (he'd had a string of disappointments from his up-and-coming employees). I'd recommended Sabera, and he'd always been grateful; there was no more prestigious pedigree than Hatchards, even now that it was owned by Wellbrook's.

I reached Sabera and Nicola just as Ferdinand Worth, an aesthete known for his Fu Manchu beard as much as for being Trevor Gravesend's head of publicity at Hanford Banner Publishers Ltd, gestured wildly for Sabera to join him.

"Sabera, I must tell you—"

"I'm so sorry, Alex. It's time," Sabera said in his soft accent. His brilliant white teeth flashed against his dark face. "They need me. I must go."

"But you don't understand," I said, catching his arm. "It's McKinley Montague, Sabera. He might be—"

"Late, I know. He's been held up in traffic, and couldn't make the reception. Fairly typical, actually. But he is on his way. I'll see you afterwards, Alex? Nicola?" With a swift glance he saw that the rabble was being let upstairs for the signing. "I'd grab a seat now, before it's too late." With a friendly wave he was gone.

"What's happened to you?" Nicola was frowning at my face. "Is that tomato sauce? Or blood? Alex, are you all right?"

I took her to a seat near the front of the empty rows of portable chairs. In hushed tones, I told her about Nathan's and my far-from-quiet coffee. She listened in amazement as she did her best to cleanse a spot of "tomato sauce" I'd missed with a tissue and some lotion from her handbag. "Nothing's been said about McKinley Montague not being here, except for the traffic delay that kept him from the party. Just look at the crowds." Indeed, it appeared that fans were pouring in to see the best-selling author in remarkable numbers.

"I know. I'm not sure what to make of it all, but that bullet was real."

The noise level around us soared to new heights as the crowd from outside reached the top of the staircase and swooped in to claim seats. Nicola and I fell silent and watched the spectacle around us. Although admittedly this was an unusual signing, because of the hour and the grand opening, I found myself touched and encouraged by the atmosphere of excitement that Montague and his books had created. This was why we published books; this was the thrill of it, putting great (well, enjoyable, at least) novels in people's hands for their benefit and pleasure. The hushed anticipation in the room was palpable: National Book Week was the only week of the year that Montague showed his handsome face in public.

If the feted author, I speculated with a stab of dread, were still alive to show his face.... I searched the cherry-wood panelled area at the rear of the coffee bar/party/signing floor for a glimpse of Montague, but couldn't spot him. Seeing these crowds, it was very difficult to believe that Montague could be dead, much less murdered. If he were — and surely he hadn't been, so I could afford to be cynical about it — I couldn't wait to see how the publicity ploy was handled.

The startlingly loud clonk of a finger tapping on a live microphone intruded on my speculations. The crowd, silenced, strained for a glimpse of McKinley Montague, but it was not he who stood before us. Instead, the calmly competent Sabera appeared under the oh-so-subtle lights of Wellbrook's. "May I have your attention, please. I'm afraid I have some bad news."

Suddenly I was all ears. "I regret to inform you that there's been an accident — a tragic accident." Sabera met my eyes as if he might have remembered that I'd tried to tell him something; I saw them flick to Nicola next to me. Another pause as he licked his lips. "McKinley Montague is dead."

McKinley Montague is dead echoed in the unnatural silence that fell over the room so deafeningly filled with chatter mere moments ago. Sabera gazed grimly at his audience, discharging this difficult job with dignity and poise. "He was lost from his yacht forty-eight hours ago in a squall off Portsmouth. After a lengthy search, he is presumed dead. Evidently the conditions have been quite harsh at sea, and the authorities claim he cannot have survived."

In the next moment a hum rose from the crowd that sent gooseflesh rippling up my back. The collective response of Montague's fans was nearly as powerful as the news itself — an undulating torrent of sound that rose and fell, punctuated by horrified exclamations of disbelief.

Sabera raised his hands; the crowd went quiet. "Wellbrook's will remain open for one hour. I am very sorry that McKinley's books must go unsigned tonight ... and always," he finished softly. You could have heard a bookmark drop, so complete was the silence. Sabera left the podium, and I could almost feel the realisation dawning on the crowd that they would somehow have to rouse themselves to go home.

Nicola turned to me with that intent look so characteristic of her. My own response astonished me.

"I must find Trevor," I said, "and get to Sabera. Come with me?"

We were some of the first to get to our feet. As we walked past the stunned crowd, I noticed that people were clutching Beowulf's Blood as if it were sacred literature, holding the A-format hardcover close to their chests. The novel had acquired the status of a holy relic since its author was now, like Beowulf himself, a lost hero.

I watched as several customers reached for more books from an Everest-sized display, and realised I was witnessing the start of a buying frenzy. A conservative, British buying frenzy, mind you, but an uncharacteristically acquisitive spate nonetheless — especially considering that these were hardcovers at £24.99 apiece. Montague's untimely death had indeed done a world of good for his sales.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 27, 2009

    far fetched

    alex was beat up a lot and nearly blinded but i never found out who done it!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2002

    AN EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT MYSTERY

    Perhaps one of the best written Plumtree mysteries, Unsigned is very good. It kept me up all night trying to find out what was going to happen. And it has a very interesting ending...

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent amateur sleuth tale

    One would think that being the owner of a small publishing house and an antiquarian bookstore in England would lead to a sedate existence. However, Alex Plumtree has a sideline, investigating homicides that make life a bit spicy for the book lover. On the night of a gala bookstore opening and accompanied book signing, Alex expects an exciting but relatively quiet evening. Included in the festivities is reclusive author McKinley Montauge, known for his serial killer thrillers. He is signing his latest book, Beowulf's Blood. <P>Before the party, a reporter from the bookseller newspaper jokingly tells Alex that his publisher plans to have Montauge killed to boost sales. While laughing about this in a coffee shop, a bullet is shot through the window giving credence to the journalist's story. In the following days, other horrible things occur to Alex. His landlord wants Plumtree Publishing to vacate their premises within thirty days. Someone breaks into Alex's bookstore. Someone kills a Beowulf scholar along with the murder of the publisher of the dead author. Worse, yet, Alex keeps seeing glimpses of his deceased fiancée. The compulsive Alex decides to make sense of everything by doing a bit of sleuthing. <P> Any bibliophile, fan of a good cerebral mystery, or a romantic will want to read Julie Kaewert's latest 'Booklover's Mystery', UNSIGNED. Familiar characters reappear, picking up threads from earlier stories, and provide a warm and cozy sense of homecoming. The well-done mystery is finely detailed so that if a reader blinks they may miss a critical clue. Ms. Kaewert has written another winner in this entertaining series. <P>Harriet Klausner

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