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Kill All Your Darlings

Kill All Your Darlings

by David Bell

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Overview

A Most Anticipated Summer Read by SheReads * Motherly * Palm Beach Daily News * Frolic * Crime Reads and more!

"Fans of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot may want to check this one out."—Publishers Weekly

 
"With hints of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, this is a riveting thriller."—Palm Beach Daily News
 
"Grabs you by the throat and never lets go...with a twist you’ll never see coming.” 
—Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish

"Sounds like Wonder Boys times Patricia Highsmith. Yes please!"—Crime Reads

When a student disappears and is presumed dead, her professor passes off her manuscript as his own—only to find out it implicates him in an unsolved murder in this new thriller from the USA Today bestselling author of The Request.   

After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman.    

There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him.    

Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder from two years ago. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma—admit he didn’t write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.  

This is a suspenseful, provocative novel about the sexual harassment that still runs rampant in academia—and the lengths those in power will go to cover it up.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593198674
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 119,128
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Bell is a USA Today bestselling, award-winning author whose work has been translated into multiple foreign languages. He's currently a professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he directs the MFA program.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Connor

Present

Grendel doesn't bark when my key hits the lock.

That's when I know something is wrong.

Grendel, an eleven-year-old beagle mix, still barks at the mailman, the neighbors, squirrels, cats-any strangers at all, despite his age and flagging energy. And I can count on him barking with joy when I come in the back door every evening. If not for him, I'd always be greeted by stone-cold silence.

And that's what I hear tonight.

I toss my keys onto the kitchen counter and slip my coat off.

"Grendel?"

Everything looks normal. Grendel's food bowl is nearly empty, which means he's eaten while I was out at the library. I usually manage to keep the kitchen clean, mainly because I don't cook. The appliances are here, and everything appears to be in order.

But something  feels wrong.

Without Grendel's barking, the house seems unsettled.

Off.

A chill flash-freezes up my spine. I feel like an intruder in my own home, like I've walked in on something.

I move toward the front of the house, stepping carefully. The ancient floorboards squeak, each one sounding like a gunshot.

Grendel typically spends his time on the couch when I'm gone. When he hears something outside, he likes to lift his head and look out the picture window. He lets out a series of barks that make him sound much more vicious than he really is, and once that's out of his system, he flops back down as though he's just run twenty miles.

By now I should hear his collar jingling, his nails on the hardwood.

He's an old dog, I tell myself. Old dogs don't live forever.

"Grendel?"

When I reach the entrance to the living room, I freeze in place.

Everything is where it's supposed to be. The lamp I always leave on is on. The furniture is arranged the way it's been arranged for years. Nothing is disturbed. Nothing is broken.

And Grendel sits on the floor, his tail flopping back and forth when he sees me.

Everything is where it's supposed to be except that someone is sitting in the recliner, legs crossed, hand gently scratching Grendel between the ears.

"Hello," she says.

My mind is slower than my body. My body reacts instantly. My muscles tense. My hands clench. My knees bend into a defensive crouch, and adrenaline shoots through me like rocket fuel.

But my mind is still trying to make sense of this scene before me. A young woman with long hair dyed an unnatural shade of red sits in my recliner petting my dog. And she greets me like she's supposed to be there, like I've asked her to wait for me to come home this evening. She wears a red coat, black jeans, and heavy boots, and her face is mostly obscured by large owllike glasses.

"Who the hell are you? You need to get out of here-"

The woman lifts her hand from Grendel's head and holds it up, cutting off my words. Grendel bounds over, sniffs my shoes. He would have barked when she first came in, because he always barks the first time he meets someone. Then he gets used to them. He looks happy to see me.

"You know who I am, Connor," she says, "and once you remember who I am, I think you're going to know why I'm here."

"I don't know who you are," I say. "But I am going to call the police if you don't get out. If you didn't take anything and didn't hurt my dog, you can just leave, and I won't press charges."

She ignores my threat. With a slow theatricality, she lifts the glasses off her face and folds them, placing them carefully in her lap. She blinks a couple of times but remains quiet.

"If you want food, you can take it. Or money. I'll give it to you. But you have to go."

"Connor."

And then I finally see it. Her face is suddenly familiar. The eyes are bright blue. The shape of her face. Thinner. Much thinner. But recognizable.

She must realize that I'm starting to really see her because she smiles knowingly, like a chess master who has just outfoxed a lesser opponent.

"No," I say. "No. You're not supposed to . . . I mean, you're supposed to be . . ."

She lifts her eyebrows. "You mean, I'm supposed to be dead? Is that it? I'm supposed to be dead."

"Not dead," I say, my voice lower. "Not exactly dead."

But she's nodding. "Oh, yes. I'm supposed to be dead. I'm supposed to be written off. Forgotten. Erased. Tossed in a ditch or a river or a forest, my bones scattered to the winds and slowly returning

to the earth. Dust to dust and all that. Isn't that where I'm supposed to be?"

"Yes," I say. "That's what we all thought. I'm glad that's not true, but I'm . . . This is all very disconcerting. You're here. . . ."

She leans forward and reaches behind her. She brings out a familiar-looking object and holds it up between us. She looks like she's on television, presenting something to the viewing audience.

"Isn't this what we need to talk about, Connor?"

It's my book. The book that was published today by a major New York publisher. The one I was at the library reading from and signing. The one that represents a dream come true for me.

I don't answer her question.

I come all the way into the room and sit on the couch across from Madeline O'Brien. I sit across from my former student, the young woman who disappeared almost two years ago, just months before she was supposed to graduate.

Chapter Two

"Madeline, are you okay?" I ask. "Are you hurt? Do you need me to call someone? My God, does your mother know you're okay? Do the police?"

She turns the book around and studies the front. She runs her hand over the cover in a small circle, her skin against the paper making a rustling noise. "We can discuss all that in a minute. I want to talk about this book first."

"How can we talk about anything except why and how you're here? People have been looking for you. They're worried about you. This is all a shock."

"All in good time."

Grendel has come back into the room, and he yawns and stretches out by my feet. He's already bored by the rare appearance of a visitor in the house.

"My Best Friend's Murder," she says. "That's a great title. Did you think of it yourself, or did the publisher come up with it?"

"It's my title."

"I remember you saying in class once that most writers don't get to use the titles they want. The publisher always rejects them or changes them, so good on you getting this one in."

"Do the police know you're . . . here? Alive."

"I've been following this," she says, tapping the book. "Just because I was gone doesn't mean I didn't know what everyone in Gatewood was doing. If you can get to a computer, you can visit social media. I could keep track of my friends and family. What's left of them. You. Other professors. You sure posted about this a lot on social media. Almost every day for the last six months. You must really want this book to sell. You used to tell us not to spend our time online, that social media is ruining us. I guess that all changes when you have a book coming out and you want to pimp it."

"That's part of a writer's job," I say. Like any teacher, I hate having my own words used against me.

"I guess so. Social media can be used for a lot of things. Promoting books. Searching for missing people."

When she speaks and gestures, I see the Madeline I once knew. One of my best undergraduate students. Bright. Talented. Elusive. She talked a lot in class and wrote raw, vivid stories about troubled families with absent fathers, and the mothers were always calling the police on their lousy new boyfriends. It was hard for me not to assume they were autobiographical. In our conversations outside of class, she hinted at a difficult home life but never provided any details.

She looks like she's lost about twenty pounds, and I wonder what she's been doing for the past two years. Has she been in danger? Sleeping on the streets?

She also does one of the things I remember most about her, a nervous tic she occasionally resorted to in class. She did it only on rare occasions, usually when one of her stories was being discussed. Madeline reaches up and rubs her index finger across her right eyebrow and then pinches her thumb and index finger together, plucking a single tiny hair out of her skin.

"I bought a copy of the book this morning," she says, lowering her hand from her forehead as though she's just done the most normal thing in the world. "At Target. That's pretty sweet to get your book there. I started reading it in the parking lot, and I've been reading it all day. Except when I went to the library to hear you speak."

I thought so. She was standing in the back of the room, obscured by the people I knew and many who I didn't. I remember seeing the slim young woman with the bright red hair.

It turns out I did know the woman. She was Madeline.

"You left before the book signing," I say.

"I don't like crowds. And there were a lot of familiar faces there. I needed to be careful."

"How did you get in here?"

"The basement. You should get a dead bolt down there."

"It's Gatewood. Most people don't even lock their doors."

"That's a mistake," she says. "You never know who will come in."

It's strange. When Madeline disappeared at the age of twenty-two, I was anguished. Scared. Confused. Devastated that someone so young could fall victim to a seemingly random and horrible crime. Her disappearance-and apparent death-during her senior year of college brought back a lot of feelings I'd been working to move past, feelings that lingered from the losses I'd unexpectedly suffered when my wife and son died. For weeks after Madeline disappeared, I wandered around in a haze. And so did my colleagues on campus and my students. We were all shocked.

But I don't feel relief with Madeline sitting in my living room. Her reemergence is so abrupt, so disconcerting, that I scramble to think of ways to get her out of the house. If she doesn't want my help, if she won't let me call the police, then I'm not sure I want her here at all.

I don't want her here because I know what she really wants.

"I told you I started reading this book earlier today," she says. "And I haven't stopped. I haven't stopped even though I know every single thing that's going to happen."

Chapter Three

Madeline

Spring, Two Years Earlier

Dubliners billed itself as an authentic Irish pub.

Madeline had never been to Ireland, had never been anywhere, really, but she felt certain the bar wasn't close to authentic. Posters on the wall showed foamy crashing waves and lush green fields. Or else ads for Guinness. The bartender sometimes spoke with an accent, although he once told her he grew up two hours away in Lexington, Kentucky. And that was about it for authenticity.

But the students didn't care about authenticity. The beer was cheap, and the pub was close enough to campus to walk.

Sometimes, when business was slow, the bartender didn't bother to card. It didn't matter to Madeline, who was twenty-two, or to her classmates in advanced fiction writing since everyone was a senior and old enough to drink legally. But it sure made Dubliners appealing to a lot of students, even though the place smelled like stale beer and fried food. And your shoes stuck to the floor pretty much everywhere you walked. Step-stick. Step-stick.

Dr. Nye-or "Connor" as he let them call him on those occasions when they all went out drinking-said anyone who was over twenty-one and wanted to go out for a beer should gather at Dubliners after their senior fiction-writing seminar. His treat. No student was going to pass up that chance. When professors offered to drink with students-and to pay-students showed up. Madeline had learned-from hard experience-there were professors she didn't mind being around when they were drinking and professors she knew she needed to avoid when they were drinking.

Madeline ordered a pint of Harp and stood at the end of the bar, tapping her foot to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song a guy in a red flannel shirt had played on the jukebox. She had been hoping to speak with Dr. Nye after class anyway. No, not just hoped to speak with him. She needed to speak with him. She needed his advice. That was why she had come to Dubliners more than anything else. Not for the free beer-although she certainly didn't mind that. But for his wisdom and knowledge.

Connor met her eye once but was surrounded by the three or four neediest students in the class. They were the ones who laughed loudest at his jokes, spent the most time in his office hours, wrote stories not because they wanted to write them but because they thought Connor would like them. Madeline felt certain he was smart enough to see through it. She gave him credit for being able to cut through the bullshit.

But she hung back, waiting. She wanted to talk to Dr. Nye, wanted to talk to him about her thesis.

She wanted to talk to him about so much more. But the thesis she'd turned in the day before was at the front of her mind. Almost the second she'd handed it over to him and walked out of his office, she regretted it.

She wished she hadn't written about things that were so real and raw, even though that was exactly what Nye always told them to do.

But Madeline feared she'd been just a little too real and raw. . . .

And it was going to bite her in the ass. Hard. And she was doing what she always did, what she'd been taught to do since she was a child-look for the exit. Find the fastest way out. Don't wait for trouble to pin you down.

No, she told herself. Try to stay for a change. Try not to run. . . .

Someone slipped up next to her, a guy she'd taken a few classes with over the years, Isaac Frank. Isaac wrote science fiction stories riddled with grammatical errors. Madeline wanted to pull her hair out when she read them. But he was a nice enough guy, someone she liked to talk to before class. Isaac was trying to convince his parents to pay for him to travel abroad over the summer before he went to graduate school. Not study abroad. Travel abroad. Travel. As in . . . just for fun. But Isaac had told her just the other day his parents were willing to pay for only three weeks of travel instead of the four he wanted. Madeline listened, pretending she could in any way relate to Isaac's first-world problems.

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