Crime Scene: SULARI GENTILL Crossing the Lines. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm
Known for her Rowland Sinclair historical crime series and her YA Hero trilogy, Sulari Gentill delivers something very different with this new novel.
What if you wrote of someone writing of you?
In the end, which of you would be real?
Crossing the Lines is an intricate dance of mystery and psychological suspense, blurring the lines between the real and the fictional, sanity and insanity, obsession and love.
There are echoes of the Chinese Philosopher Zhūangzi (c369BC – c286BC, translated by Lin Yutang):
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither … Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Chuang Chou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man …
Edward McGinnity appears to lawyer-turned-writer Madeleine d’Leon as a character in her next novel. Stepping away from her light-hearted historical series, a favourite of her publishers and fans alike, she’s drawn to the complicated story of her creation: McGinnity is a serious writer, not one to stoop to reading crime fiction.
Meanwhile, McGinnity creates a Madeleine d’Leon, who is both a literary device and a writer of crime fiction, for his own work in progress.
The storylines of the two real people and the two fictional characters they have created intertwine as their respective novels are written. Each becomes part of both reality and fiction:
The man she saw was handsome. For a moment she wondered when she’d decided that. His hair was dark, blown wild by the salt breeze against which his collar was turned up. The sky and the sea were both grey and turbulent. And yet he continued to write, muttering to himself as he tapped the pen against his chin. It was not until the first fat drops fell that he seemed to notice. Cursing, he closed his notebook against the rain and stepped through the French doors into the house.
To provide more details about the plot would be unfair to readers, as the journey through these intersecting lives is the point of the novel. It’s intricate, immersive and elegantly delivered with switching viewpoints that are seamless, and often effected, as in the above quotation, mid-paragraph. There’s nothing jolting about this device, though, the prose is light and captivating and the movement segues so beautifully that you don’t see it, and really don’t care.
Everything about Edward and Madeline and their multiple guises is believable and engaging. The intertwining of their real lives and events and people flows from Edward’s dearest friend Willow (whom he would rather was his intimate companion), through Madeline’s doctor husband (seemingly well-intentioned and loving, yet a little distant) to a shared relationship with agent and therapist Leith, leading into scenarios of everyday life, community, art and writing. People deftly move between their real and fictional lives, with no pause or reset required on the part of the reader:
He yawned. It was two in the morning and he hadn’t yet had his turn in the office being used as an interview room. Fleetingly, he wondered what his Madeleine would think of this … his protagonist was a crime writer after all. The death of Vogel was probably the stuff of plot and dreams.
He could see her behind the wheel of that old Mercedes she drove, her eyes bright, her lips twitching occasionally into furtive smiles as story came to her.
She pulled into the drive. Smoke wafted out of the chimney – like a flag announcing that Hugh was at home. She turned the engine off eager to tell him, to talk about the murder in her mind.
The layers here are complicated without being confusing and they constantly reflect and reimagine each other. While Madeleine is writing Edward’s story, and Edward is writing hers, Madeleine lives a life of relative financial security, with an overarching sadness due to numerous miscarriages, and a fundamental inability to trust. Edward also has a life of financial privilege, blighted by a car accident that left him an orphan and unrequited love for his dearest friend Willow.
Interwoven into this are name checks from within Gentill’s own life in the Australian crime fiction scene. There’s the old Mercedes, the death of which many of us mourned alongside Gentill via social media; the country house and the garden that we’ve followed through the seasons. At no stage does this insider knowledge stand out or have any possibility of making readers feel like there’s something here that they are missing out on. Gentill is too generous and assured a writer to allow that to happen.
Crossing the Lines isn’t strictly crime fiction – it’s a book about a writer writing a crime story that turns into something else completely, describing writers who unleash their characters into a fictional world and go where they are led. It reads like a story dictated completely by Madeleine and Edward, with Gentill there as an acute observer.
The final twist, however, is always in the hands of the author – and there’s an increasing sense while reading that the outcomes in Crossing the Lines might not be all sunshine and roses, despite the variety of paths that the characters have to choose from.
Sulari Gentill Crossing the Lines Pantera Press 2017 PB 278pp $29.99
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.
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