Members of a mystery book club find that the events from their favorite murder mysteries are coming true in their own quiet Winnipeg neighborhood, in Catherine Hunter's The Dead of Midnight
Members of the Mystery au Lait Café book club can't get enough of the Midnight Mystery Series--until the books' terrifying crimes begin to happen for real in the quiet town where the club meets. Someone is imitating the Midnight Mystery murders and killing off the book club, one member at a time. Meanwhile, sales of the series skyrocket as attention is drawn to the books and to the club where the craze began.
When both the ex-wife and current girlfriend of local musician Peter Petursson are terrorized, many conclude that Peter's is the cruel hand behind the reenactments. But there are still leads to follow and evidence to be gathered . . .
Perhaps one of the book club members has a twisted side that just hasn't shown itself over coffee and cookies at the meetings. Maybe the café owner is willing to lose a few loyal customers in exchange for a flurry of new ones. Or maybe the publisher simply knows good publicity when he sees it.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||429 KB|
About the Author
Catherine Hunter is a poet who teaches English at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. Her poetry collections include Lunar Wake and Latent Heat. Her novels include The First Early Days of My Death and Queen of Diamonds.
Catherine Hunter is a poet who teaches English at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. Her poetry collections include Lunar Wake and Latent Heat. Her novels include The Dead of Midnight, The First Early Days of My Death and Queen of Diamonds.
Read an Excerpt
The Dead of Midnight
By Catherine Hunter
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Catherine Hunter
All rights reserved.
Perhaps it was merely the book she was reading, but Sarah Petursson felt uneasy. She turned a page and tried to ignore the sensation that she was being watched. She didn't usually let her imagination get the best of her like this, but sometimes the cracking floorboards and rattling window frames in this hundred-year-old house set her nerves on edge, especially when she was into a good thriller like the one she was reading now. Tonight, every irritating creak and moan seemed magnified. And there was a peculiar little scritching sound from upstairs, or was it outside — what was that? Sarah sighed. For what seemed like the tenth time, she rose from her comfortable chair and peered out the window into the darkness of her back yard. What was making those noises?
Nothing unusual out there. Just a cool night in May with a slight wind from the south. The white blossoms of the crabapple tree bobbed delicately in the breeze, and the bedsheets on the clothesline swayed back and forth. Otherwise, all was still. The bedsheets reminded Sarah of the loads of laundry still unwashed and waiting for her in the basement, but she was certainly in no mood to venture down there tonight.
From the corner of her eye she saw a swift movement in the alley, and she swung her head quickly to see what it was. A cat. It was only a cat, leaping up onto the trash cans, looking for a midnight snack. Sarah smiled and returned to her chair. The presence of the cat comforted her. It was the cat, of course, or cats, making those bothersome scrapes and scratches out there. She thought briefly and with sorrow of her own cat, Max, who had died this past winter, Max who had consoled her after her marriage disintegrated last summer, Max who had been the one and only other living creature in this big old house. Now she wandered around in it all alone, and every sound made her jumpy.
She twisted in the chair, seeking a more comfortable position. The whole point of taking a vacation, she reminded herself, was to relax. She opened the book again. Where was she? Oh yes. The hero was trailing his suspect through a deserted amusement park, but Sarah knew he was following the wrong man. The amusement park was a red herring. Had to be. There were still a hundred pages left in the novel, so the hero couldn't possibly have solved the mystery yet.
It was a gruesome story about a serial killer who stalked his female victims for weeks, sending them a series of expensive presents in the mail — emerald necklaces, jeweled combs, and finally a diamond ring. The ring was the ultimate mark of doom. After that, he would sneak into their houses when they were alone, cut the telephone line with a pair of pinking shears, and throw the switches on the fuse box, plunging the hapless women into utter terror. Then he would play a game of cat and mouse in the dark house — before brutally murdering them. At the stroke of midnight. With a silver letter opener, of all things.
Sarah knew there would be some psychological explanation for all these weird details. She couldn't wait to analyze the killer's motivation tomorrow night with her cousin Morgan and the other members of her book club. But so far she hadn't figured out who the killer could be. All she knew was that he must be somebody wealthy; he had sent thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry to his victims. But there were numerous wealthy characters in the novel. It could be any one of a number of them.
She began a new chapter: The full moon was rising over the abandoned park, illuminating the silhouette of the roller coaster tracks that loomed like the skeletal spine of some monstrous —
Suddenly the entire room went black. Sarah froze in her chair, clutching the book. Her eyes were wide open, staring into the darkness. Her mouth was open, too, but she was too surprised to scream.
* * *
The new chief of police in Winnipeg had instituted several changes to the way things were done in this town, and one of his most popular innovations was to restore the presence of a cop on the beat in every neighborhood.
Morgan Wakeford thought this was an excellent idea, and she admired the new chief's initiative more and more every time she saw the handsome blond officer assigned to her own Wolseley neighborhood. He was walking past her right now as she sat at the window of Zina's Mystery Au Lait Café. Morgan checked her reflection in the dark glass of the windowpane. She tugged at the embroidered neckline of her peasant blouse and swept her thick, auburn hair off her bare shoulders. Then she raised her fist and knocked lightly on the glass.
The cop turned in her direction. Morgan waved at him, and his serious expression brightened when he saw her. He waved back and tipped his cap. His deep blue eyes were strikingly luminous in the light from the café. Morgan smiled warmly, then returned to the novel she was reading. It wouldn't do to pay too much attention to him. She grinned to herself behind the cover of the book.
"Who are you waving at?" Zina asked. "Is that Alfred coming in?" Zina stood behind Morgan's chair with a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other. Her Mystery Au Lait Café, a combination bookstore and restaurant, had been busy tonight, but now it was quarter past eleven, and the customers were long gone, except for her friend Morgan and, naturally, the ever-present Byron Hunt, who had left his notebook and papers scattered across his table while he went to make a phone call.
"No. It's that new cop," Morgan said.
"Oh, wait till you see him," Morgan said. "He can serve and protect me any time."
Zina laughed. "You're incorrigible." She shook her head, tossing her silver-streaked braids and making her long earrings jangle. "Almost thirty and you're still a teenager at heart."
"Well, at least I'm still alive. Look at you — forty-two and acting like it's all over," Morgan teased.
"Hey," Zina said. "When it's over, it's over."
"You should take a look in the mirror sometime," Morgan told her. "It is far from over, my dear."
Despite the hectic evening, Zina still looked great, Morgan thought, and Morgan took most of the credit for that herself. She congratulated herself on her exquisite taste. Tonight Zina was wearing a choice treasure from Morgan's vintage clothing store. An original flower-print sundress, circa 1967, in mint condition, and a red fringed gypsy shawl from the same era — the summer of love. Morgan had chosen it for her, knowing it was perfect for Zina's role as hostess to the second-generation hippies of the Wolseley neighborhood, the "granola belt" of Winnipeg.
Zina rolled her eyes and returned to her sweeping. Long ago, she had painted the hardwood floor like a night sky, deep blue, with white and yellow stars scattered across it. This theme was repeated on the curtains that hung at the large windows set deep into the red brick walls, and repeated again on the tablecloths that graced the twelve small tables at the front of the café near the windows, where Morgan was sitting. Pine bookshelves, packed with hundreds of mystery novels, were crowded into the back of the café, along with a couple of cosy chairs for reading and an antique wooden telephone booth, from which Byron Hunt was now emerging. He returned to his table and surveyed his papers with a serious air. Under his frizzy curls, his round, freckled face glowed with exertion, though he hadn't done anything all day, Morgan thought, except scribble and sigh.
"Closin' time," Zina told him.
"I know." Byron made a notation with his pencil, then frowned and crossed it out.
Zina turned her attention to the large display shelf by the front counter. Every Saturday night, she changed the display to feature a new thriller for the Sunday night Mystery Book Club meeting. She picked up a felt marker and printed the words "NEWCOMERS ALWAYS WELCOME" at the top of a sign advertising the Mystery Book Club. Summer was the season for selling mystery novels, and Zina didn't want any new customers to think the club was exclusive. She wanted it to be an informal gathering, with no distinctions made between casual members and the die-hard regulars.
Morgan, like her cousin Sarah, was a die-hard regular, and she awaited the new books every Saturday night with eager anticipation.
"Where's the new book of the week?" Morgan asked. "Aren't you going to put it out?"
"I don't even know what it is yet," Zina said. "Alfred was supposed to bring it by tonight." She held up the two remaining copies of Bloody Midnight, which would be discussed tomorrow. "This one was sure popular," she said.
"Oh yeah." Morgan held up her own copy. "It's a real page-turner. I'll be finished it tonight."
"I couldn't get into it myself," Zina admitted. "I was so busy this week, and the book was a bit too —"
"Too stupid," Byron interrupted, as he plunked his empty coffee cup on the counter. "I don't know how you can read that garbage."
"This is a good one," Morgan told him. "It's more — I don't know — it's better than the usual ones. More description. And it's Canadian. It's set right here in Manitoba. In the Whiteshell."
"It's Canadian?" Byron picked up the book and examined it. "Walter White? I never heard of him."
"If you like that one, you'll like the next one," Zina told Morgan. "It's by the same guy. Alfred convinced me to take the whole series."
There were five books in the series. Five weeks of Walter White. Zina knew she was taking a risk, but Alfred had offered such a huge discount, she couldn't resist.
"Canadian, eh?" Byron muttered. He opened the book and began to read.
* * *
In Sarah's house, the sudden darkness was not complete, only relative. She realized after a few seconds that she could still see the glow from the desk lamp in her office across the hall. So the electricity was still functioning. She slumped in her chair for a second, as the tension left her body. Then she pulled the switch on the lamp beside her chair. Once. Twice. Three times. No light. The bulb must have simply burned out.
She rose and unscrewed it. There were fresh lightbulbs in her office drawer, and she went to retrieve one. "What a fool you are," she said, and she laughed out loud. But the effort was feeble, and the result was hollow.
Why in the world, her husband Peter used to ask, would an intelligent girl like Sarah indulge in mystery novels to the point of near hysteria? When Peter and Sarah first met in college, Peter assumed she was high-minded and artistically inclined. After all, Sarah's grandfather had been a well-known sculptor and her mother had been a poet with a small but loyal following. This made Sarah a minor celebrity in Peter's eyes. He always introduced her to his friends as the daughter of Carolyn Yeats. Sarah was surprised to learn that this impressed many of them, especially Peter's best friend, Byron Hunt, who was an aspiring poet himself. But Sarah was not interested in art or poetry. As far as she was concerned, poetry had ruined her mother's life. Peter and Byron thought Carolyn's life was terribly romantic. But Sarah took a different view. Carolyn had never married. She'd raised Sarah on her own, out on Persephone Island, trying to make ends meet with the pitiful earnings from her poetry. Then, when Sarah was only a little girl, Carolyn had died in an act of carelessness that Sarah still couldn't forgive. No, there was nothing romantic about Carolyn's life. It was a reckless, foolhardy life, and by the time Sarah reached college, she'd succeeded in forgetting almost everything about it. She studied accounting and joined the track team to keep in shape. After graduation, she started her own business and buried herself in her work. She kept a tight rein on her imagination and prided herself on her practical nature. Her only diversion from routine was reading mystery novels, a habit she'd picked up from Morgan and managed to conceal from Peter until after their wedding.
At first, Peter had tolerated Sarah's love of mysteries as an endearing quirk. When his usually calm young wife let herself get unnerved by an exciting thriller, he would merely shake his head in fond amusement. But near the end of the marriage, when his music career was failing, his mean streak started to show. He began to torment her whenever she was reading a scary book. He took advantage of the huge house, exploiting the fact that she couldn't always tell exactly where he was hiding. Sometimes he'd wait around a corner, the kitchen was his favorite spot, and wait until she was deep into her reading. Then he'd jump out at her, yelling boo! just to hear her shriek.
But it was his phony ghost story that had been the last straw for Sarah. One day, when she was in the middle of reading a novel about a haunted house, she found Peter standing stock still on the third floor, his face pale as a cake of soap. He had seen a woman, he told her, walking up the stairs toward the attic, a woman in a white, old-fashioned dress, carrying a large book in her hands. She had floated right through the closed attic door. Peter was mocking her, she knew. Gaslighting her. Taking childish pleasure in her fear. He was a bully, she realized now, a bit sadistic.
Yet his face had been convincingly white, and when she touched his arm, he was cold as snow. Sarah shivered, remembering. Don't let him get to you, she reminded herself. He's out of your life now, and it's for the best.
She entered her office and found the lightbulbs easily. The office was excessively tidy at the moment. Sarah had suspended her home accounting business for the summer, taking her first vacation in three whole years. Tax season had been no more hectic than usual this April, but it had left her feeling stressed and exhausted, and she'd resolved not to take on any more work until she felt better. She planned to read and relax and most of all to run. The Manitoba Marathon was only a month away, and Sarah was in serious training, running ten miles a day and planning to break her personal record this year.
She tossed the burned-out lightbulb in the wastebasket and carried the new one into the hall. She paused at the bottom of the stairs, listening. What was that scratching sound? It sounded for all the world as though someone was up there. Way up there. It was probably water in the rusty pipes. Or the wind tugging at the loose shingles. Or a hundred other possible problems. The paint peeling off the walls.
Sometimes Sarah hated this ancient house. Not that she believed Peter's ghost story. It was just that the place was too big and burdensome. What did she need with three storeys, six bedrooms, three baths, and a front and back staircase? She had wanted to sell it ever since she first learned, at the age of eighteen, that she'd inherited it from her grandfather's estate. But her cousins, Morgan and Sam, had made her promise to keep it in the family. Although there were three grandchildren, Sarah had inherited everything. No serious money, but a lot of real estate — this house and the place where she grew up on Lake of the Woods. She now owned the whole of Persephone Island and all its property — or what was left of it — though she'd never go back there.
It was Peter who'd convinced her to live in this house. Sometimes Sarah wondered if it was the house that made Peter propose to her in the first place. When she'd first inherited it, she'd taken Peter and Byron to see it, and they had been captivated. Byron had wandered about the rooms in awe, touching her grandfather's sculptures and her mother's books with a reverence that Sarah found ridiculous. Peter marveled at the architecture, the gables and quaint shuttered windows, the spacious rooms full of family heirlooms. Sarah argued that the house was too big and drafty and in need of repairs, but Peter had taken her aside and whispered in her ear. If she would only marry him, he would take care of the repairs, he promised. The house wasn't too big. Someday they would fill it with children, and besides, he needed to roam about freely while he was composing in his head. He was a hopeless dreamer, Sarah realized now. She should have known better than to marry a musician. But Peter had convinced her. She'd wanted to make him happy.
Now, of course, Peter wanted her to sell the house. Now that they were talking about a divorce agreement, now that it was time to split up their assets legally, he'd suddenly changed his tune and was advising her to sell, citing all her own complaints about the upkeep, using all her own old arguments against her.
Sarah screwed in the new bulb, turned on the lamp and settled back in her chair, adjusting the pillows for maximum comfort. There was no need to think about her real-estate problems tonight — not when she had a good mystery to get into. She found her place once again and began to read.
In her back yard, the upper branches of the crabapple tree tapped and squeaked against the upstairs bathroom window. Sarah deliberately ignored the sound. She was determined to get lost again in her story.
Excerpted from The Dead of Midnight by Catherine Hunter. Copyright © 2001 Catherine Hunter. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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