Call Me Star Girl

Call Me Star Girl

by Louise Beech

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Overview


A taut, emotive, devastating dark and all-consuming psychological thriller, reminiscent of Play Misty for Me … from the critically acclaimed author of Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost…
 
WINNER of Best magazine’s BIG Book of the Year 2019
 
LONGLISTED for Guardian‘s NOT THE BOOKER PRIZE

'A complex and layered tale that charmed me as a much as it traumatised me. An atmospheric, haunting and beautifully written page turner!’ C L Taylor

‘Noirish psychological thriller with fascinating, disturbing characters. Compelling, twisty, and seriously addictive. EXCELLENT’ Will Dean

'As twisty and deadly as barbed wire, this book will leave you breathless’ Erin Kelly

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

With echoes of the Play Misty for Me, Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

‘It's a slow burn at first until it twists and turns at a head-staggering rate to a devastating climax. Original, moody and totally gripping’ Claire Allan

‘Louise Beech blasts into the world of thriller writing with this moody and tense tale. With secrets, lies and plenty of twisty turns, it’s story is dark and it’s setting eerie and evocative. Definitely one where you might look over your shoulder more than once while reading!’ Fionnuala Kearney

‘An original story and beautifully written, so atmospheric … Dark, mesmerising and utterly devastating' SJI Holliday

‘Beech has used her unique flair and constructed a crime fiction story that will have you frantically turning the pages until you get to the end’ Michael Wood

‘It’s EXTRAORDINARY – tense, twisted and utterly compelling, written with such raw beauty and unflinching honesty’ Miranda Dickinson

’A thriller with heart, passion and twists that will surprise even the most astute readers’ John Marrs

‘With Call Me Star Girl, Louise proves that she can blow us all away with her writing powers – in whatever genre she chooses’ Jack Jordan

‘A Smart, complex and beautifully written psychological thriller, with a raw intensity at it’s heart. Twisty, addictive and completely compelling, this powerful story will keep you hooked and leave you haunted’ Best Magazine

Call Me Star Girl is a unique psychological thriller which is packed with tension and suspense … A Dark and atmospheric read which sends shivers down your spine’ Margaret Madden, Irish Independent

‘Part psychological thriller, part literary noir and part tragic family drama, its multiple strands slowly merge to reveal a captivating truth’ Heat Magazine

‘MUST READ’ Daily Express

‘An elegant and powerful writer who uses language in all its unique glory … Beech’s novels will stand out in any crowd’ Crime Squad

‘Psychologically unsettling and with a sting in the tail, it's another cracker published by Orenda Books’ Russel McLean

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781912374632
Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 11/01/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 300
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author


Louise Beech's debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015, and The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. 

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

STELLA

THEN

Before they found the girl in the alley, I found a book in the foyer at work.

The girl would be found dead, her neck bloody, her body covered with a red coat, and with no obvious clues as to who had left her that way. The book was brand new, unopened, wrapped in brown paper, and had a single clue as to who had left it there.

A note inside the first page: Stella, this will tell you everything.

After I had picked up the package, unwrapped it carefully and read those words, I looked around the silent radio station, nervous. I'd been about to leave after my show; about to turn off the last light. The nights can be lonely there with just you and the music, and an audience you can't see. Between songs and commercials, every sound seems to echo along the empty corridors. Every shadow flickers under the cheap fluorescent lights. I don't scare easily – if anything I love the isolation, the thrill of doing things no one can see – but the book being on that foyer table, where it hadn't been an hour ago, unnerved me.

Because no one had been in the building since the start of my show.

I looked at the front cover, all smoke greys and silvers; intriguing. The man's face – half in shadow, half in light – was an interesting one. The eye that was visible was intense – its eyebrow arched, villain-like; and the damp hair was slicked back. The title said Harland: The Man, The Movie, The Madness.

It was Harland Grey. I vaguely remembered the name from news stories. A murderer. Hadn't he killed a girl on camera, in a movie? Yes. When she disappeared, no one even realised the last scene she filmed had been her death, at the hands of Grey in a cameo as her killer.

I read the blurb, standing alone in the foyer, but it told me little more than I already knew.

What did it mean? Who the hell had left it there?

Why?

Stella, this will tell you everything.

Presenters often receive weird things in the post, but someone had been in the building and delivered this by hand. Tonight. How had they got in? I hadn't heard the door slam. You need a code to enter the building. Maybe it was just one of the other presenters messing around? But why would they?

The lights buzzed and flickered. I held my breath. Exhaled when they settled. I would not be spooked by a trickster.

Stella, this will tell you everything.

How did they know what I wanted to know?

What was everything?

I opened the main door, book held tight to my hammering chest. The carpark was empty, a weed-logged expanse edged with dying trees. It's always quiet at this hour of the night. I waited, not sure what I expected to happen – maybe some stranger loitering, hunched over and menacing. They would not scare me.

'I'm not afraid,' I said aloud.

Who was I trying to convince?

I set off for home. I usually walk, enjoying the night air after a stuffy studio. I'm not sure why – though now it seems profound – but I paused at the alley that separates the allotment from the Fortune Bingo hall. Bramble bushes tangle there like sweet barbed wire. It's a long but narrow cut-through that kids ride their bikes too fast along and drunks stagger down when the pub shuts. I rarely walk down there, even though it would make my journey home quicker. The place disturbs me, so I always hurry past, take the long way around, without glancing into the shadows.

I did that night too.

But I looked back. Just once, the strange book pressed against my chest.

It was two weeks before they found the girl there.

Two weeks before I started getting the phone calls.

I didn't know any of that then. If I had, I might have walked a little faster.

CHAPTER 2

STELLA

NOW

People listen to music in their cars, in kitchens, in bed, in the bath, at work, and it takes them somewhere else. A familiar tune might return them to the day they first heard it; to a lover who thrilled them beyond words, to a reunion; to a night when their whole life changed.

I play these songs for people; you could say I play their lives. But tonight is the last time I ever will. It's my final Stella McKeever Show. I began by telling listeners what they could expect for the next three hours. I didn't tell them I was leaving though.

Instead I said, 'Tonight I want to hear your secrets.'

I felt devilish. I felt like having some fun, mixing things up. I imagine that what I said came as a surprise to my listeners. It did to me. My late-night audience usually get a variety of hits from all decades, dull requests and tame discussion.

'That's the theme tonight,' I said, and then I listed all the ways they could contact me. 'Don't be shy. I'll keep it anonymous. But I'd love to talk about all the things we don't usually mention ...'

Now I'm fifteen minutes into the show and I'm restless. No one has been in touch yet. Rihanna's voice fills the studio. I push my wheeled chair away from the desk, shove the microphone towards the mixer and close my eyes.

My sandwiches have curled already and smell warm; the unappetising odour joins the dusty hum of heat from the equipment. The coffee I bought half an hour ago is so cold its aroma has died.

I'm alone in the WLCR (We Love Community Radio) building. It's just me until Stephen Sainty arrives before midnight to read the news. I run repeats from his noon bulletin on the hour. Social media means information gets old fast. Community radio can't compete with up-to-the-minute tweets, though it's rare our mostly older listeners object to the reheated news. Maybe they like the safety of information that only changes twice a day.

Sometimes I lock the studio door. Most female presenters do on late shifts. They do it to feel safe. I turn the key to put up an impenetrable barrier between the world and me. Gilly Morgan, who does the 3am insomniac slot, said that at least if a killer somehow got in the building he couldn't get in here because the door is so thick. And by the time he'd figured out a way in, she'd have called the police, her boyfriend, and her mum. Maeve Lynch, the Irish beauty who presents the Late-Night Love Affair between 1 and 3am, said she'd just call the police.

I'd call my boyfriend, Tom.

But tonight, I've left the studio door open. What's supposed to happen will happen. I'm not afraid. If I say it enough, it will be true. I know the girls would say I'm reckless, that there's a killer out there. They'd say, 'Think of that poor girl in the alley.' I am; I have. It's hard not to when I hear the news every hour, her name every evening. But I've always believed that if something's going to happen it will, lock or no lock.

Someone has been waiting for me after work. For weeks now. Since I found the Harland Grey book but before the girl in the alley was killed. It's not every night. Usually a Tuesday and a Friday, when I finish just after one. He – it could be a she, I suppose, but it looks like a man – is waiting near the tree in the carpark, hood pulled over head. He pretends to be on his phone, and never looks at me.

The first time, I went back into the building, locked the door and called Tom to come and walk me home. Since then I've shouted, 'I see you there! I've got a key that could cut you up a treat!' Once I cried, 'Did you get in here, leave me a book?' But he disappeared.

I'm sure I've sensed someone following me home a few times. When I turn there's no one there. I sometimes think I hear a voice, but strangely it's soft and not very male-sounding. Stella, it says. Whatare you trying to escape from? Then I refuse to walk faster, to let anyone scare me, even though my feet are itching to run, thrilled that I might be chased.

I shiver.

The cool draught from the open door reminds me of Tom's breath when he puts an ice cube in his mouth and blows on my skin. I close my eyes, imagine it softly clinking against his teeth, his low curse at the chill, my whispery yes. I run a hand over my neck as though it is his. How easily he wanders into my thoughts. How fast my body responds.

I open my eyes and check emails to distract myself. My heart mimics the drumbeat of the song that's playing. My hand waits; it knows instinctively where to go when the song dies. I think I'd be able to do my show in the dark. I'd be able to play the reheated news on the hour.

I remember the headlines the night my show first started. A new factory meant hundreds of jobs. Football fans celebrated a big win. Nightclub shut after massive blaze. Police questioned teacher about missing schoolboy. And there were no new leads on the dead girl. It's been three weeks since they found her in that alley, and still mostly speculation.

I check my phone for messages.

Nothing.

Then I play 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' for Buddy because it's Friday. Buddy is a sixty-two-year-old man who rings every week and requests the song for his wife, Elma. She died six years ago. During one call, he told me they slow-danced for the first time to this song; that he held her so tightly she coughed for five minutes after. They were married thirty-five years.

How do people manage it? What's their secret? Do they still tear one another's clothes off?

I slide the microphone fader up and tell the world this one's for Buddy and his beloved wife. Then I stare at the wall. It's pale green, chipped where old posters were once tacked, with faded, picture-shaped squares. On a board are photos of Christmas nights out, our trips to the races, interviews with Z-list local celebrities and politicians. I've looked at them so many times that our smiles look tired.

I stand, stretch, my socked feet sinking into the carpet. Radio studios need low noise levels and a high standard of acoustic isolation, so the carpet is fat, the walls thick and the ceiling corked. We're small, can't afford the best, but we make do; we improvise. A tiny window allows light in during the day, something I rarely see on my shift.

Instead, I've only the stars.

Suddenly, the phone illuminates the studio with supernatural sparks. They don't ring aloud here; they flash blue like tiny immobile police cars. This is in case a listener calls while a presenter is talking live. They ring so infrequently now, once or twice during my three-hour show, that I wonder why anyone bothers muting them at all.

I sit back down and answer the phone. It's a woman called Chloe. I know her; not in a relationship sense of knowing, but because I spoke to her twice this month and once the previous month. Each time she couldn't sleep and wanted 'that song about Van Gogh'. I have six minutes to speak with her before the record and following batch of commercials finish and I must talk to our listeners again.

Tonight she says, 'I keep thinking about the girl they found in the alley.'

I wonder if she's going to request a song for her.

'I suppose people get nervous when things like that happen so close to where they live,' I say.

'Maybe.' Chloe pauses. 'Makes you scared to go out alone. It was three weeks ago, wasn't it, but you still wonder if the killer will strike again. Is he biding his time? I carry an alarm with me now and always let my husband know where I'm going.'

'Understandable,' I say.

'They said in the paper that it was personal. How did they know that? Because of stuff we don't know? And surely murder is always personal? Even a serial killer has feelings about what he does.'

'Maybe.'

'I don't know why your newsreader, that Stephen Thingy, reports the details so coldly,' she snaps suddenly. 'He sounds like he's just talking about the weather or what's coming up later.'

As well as reading the news, Stephen Sainty runs the station, and he does it closely, often messaging during our shows to tell us what is or isn't working.

'I don't think it's that he doesn't care,' I say. 'He reads things like that every day. In large doses tragedy is mundane.' I suppose I sound cold too, but the things we say are not always what we feel. The mouth doesn't always follow the heart. 'If he gets too upset he won't be able to do his job. He won't be able to be objective and give us the news fairly.'

'I suppose.' She doesn't sound convinced.

'Did you want me to tell him?'

'What?'

'That his tone is cold.'

'Oh, no, don't do that. I was only thinking aloud.'

'"Vincent"?' I ask her.

'Sorry?'

'The song. About Van Gogh. Should I play it?'

'Yes, please,' she says. 'Tonight, play it for the poor girl in the alley. Say you're playing it for Vicky, because no one says her name like that. They either say her full name or call her the girl.'

'And how about your secret?' I ask.

She pauses.

'Weren't you listening earlier?'

She hangs up. I line up her song for later.

I'm not a big talker. Friends ask why I work in radio, and I tell them it's about listening a lot of the time; listening for the beats, to the tunes, to the in-betweens, with the people, in the dark. Listening to the backing vocals in a song to find clues in those blended words. Listening to and counting the chorus repeats, timing the end of one song and the start of another. Talking on the radio isn't the same as chatting with friends, family or a boyfriend. Even though I'm entertaining listeners, I'm talking to myself.

Tonight, I imagine locking the studio door and saying aloud all the things that never normally leave my mouth. Tell them, Stella. These words come to me and I'm not even sure they're mine. I frown. Then I picture shocking our sleepy audience, inciting a barrage of complaints, then someone unplugging the power because I won't stop. I feel anxious, as if I just might do that. I've been anxious for weeks.

So much has happened.

And it's my last show; they can't sack me.

There's too much time during the songs to think. I slide the microphone fader up and tell listeners they can expect the weather sponsored by Graham's Haemorrhoid Cream in five minutes, followed by a classic from The Beatles, then 'Vincent', and that Maeve Lynch will be here later with some songs for all the lovers out there. And in the meantime, if they have anything at all they want to reveal, they can call the usual number.

'Come on,' I say, 'you can tell me anything. You don't have to give me your name. And just to be fair, I'll share something no one knows about me every half hour.' I pause. 'How about this?' I pause again. 'Tonight's my final show.' I wait to feel sad about it, but it doesn't happen. 'Yes, my very last one; so how about calling in and making it extra special ...'

Then I play the music.

I nibble on my warm sandwich but can't finish it. I should make fresh coffee; there's time, but I never drink it all. I'll make a pot before Maeve arrives for the Late-Night Love Affair. I often wonder why love songs are given precedence in a late-night slot. Is romance only for the hard of sleeping, the owls? What if someone is frisky at breakfast? Sentimental at lunch?

I think of Tom again.

He's never far from my thoughts, like he's standing behind an open door in my head, ready to leap on me every time I close my eyes. Once, when neither of us could sleep, he asked what I was doing in 1991. I reminded him that I was hardly born, that for some of the year I resided in my mother's womb, lying crossways, according to her grumble about my stretching her in all the wrong places. Tom lit a cigarette as we talked, and I took a long drag and asked what he was doing in 1991. Why was he interested in that year, since he'd only been two then?

He didn't answer that question; instead he said he preferred the years with odd endings, like 2007 and 2017. 'Those seem to be the years that have meant the most,' he said. 'When I left home and came here and started university. When I met you.'

I thought about it. 'Maybe,' I said. 'My mum left in 2003. I met her again this year – 2017. A month before I met you.'

'Odd years, odd stuff,' he said. 'Good odd.'

I can listen to Tom talk forever; it means I don't have to. It means I can lean back, and all my thoughts go to sleep. I'm at peace. If he ever bored me, I don't know what I'd do. I'm not tired of him yet, but he does scare me sometimes. Is that the thrill of being with him? But how much fear is too much?

The radio never used to bore me. Every shift was different. The commercials were repetitive, like a heartbeat between songs, and they sustained the show. But the music varied; the beats changed. Recently it's begun to feel samey. Like I've run out of words. People have been saying that radio is dying for years, but it's only the way that people listen that has changed. Thanks to apps and streaming we're actually more accessible.

Accessible: the thought of that depresses me. I like difficult to reach. Challenging.

The music ends, and I talk about what's happening on the local roads, about the schedule for tomorrow, and say the next song will be 'Love Yourself' by Justin Bieber because no one has asked for it. I could talk about the murdered girl. I could say her name, unlike the tweeters, where she's #thegirlinthealley. It's late enough for dark musings, just as it's late enough for romance.

No one has responded to my open invitation yet, but I know one person will. Because he has called every Friday for the last three weeks, and one random Tuesday.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Call Me Star Girl"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Louise Beech.
Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

TITLE PAGE,
DEDICATION,
EPIGRAPH,
1 STELLA,
2 STELLA,
3 STELLA,
4 STELLA,
5 ELIZABETH,
6 STELLA,
7 STELLA,
8 STELLA,
9 ELIZABETH,
10 STELLA,
11 STELLA,
12 STELLA,
13 ELIZABETH,
14 STELLA,
15 STELLA,
16 STELLA,
17 STELLA,
18 STELLA,
19 ELIZABETH,
20 STELLA,
21 STELLA,
22 STELLA,
23 STELLA,
24 ELIZABETH,
25 STELLA,
26 STELLA,
27 ELIZABETH,
28 STELLA,
29 STELLA,
30 ELIZABETH,
31 STELLA,
32 STELLA,
33 ELIZABETH,
34 STELLA,
35 ELIZABETH,
36 STELLA,
37 STELLA,
38 ELIZABETH,
39 STELLA,
40 STELLA,
41 STELLA,
42 ELIZABETH,
43 ELIZABETH,
44 BOB FRACKLEHURST,
45 ELIZABETH,
46 BOB FRACKLEHURST,
47 ELIZABETH,
48 BOB FRACKLEHURST,
49 ELIZABETH,
50 ELIZABETH,
51 STAR GIRL,
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
COPYRIGHT,

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