Saturday, October 31, 2015

"A Line of Blood"

Ben McPherson is a television producer, director, and writer and for more than ten years worked for the BBC, among other outlets. He is currently a columnist for Aftenposten, Norway's leading quality daily, and lives in Oslo with his wife and two children.

McPherson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Line of Blood, and reported the following:
An uneasy morning calm hangs over the dirty streets of the worst neighbourhood in North London. In cramped little house on a cramped little road a man wakes up alone and hung over. Yesterday the police removed a body from the identical house next door.

Alex Mercer is not a suspicious man. He’s a happily married father of one. The fact that his American wife Millicent is not in bed with him doesn’t trouble him — not yet, at least — because he doesn’t know how well Millicent knew the dead neighbour.

Millicent has sent Alex a text message:
Twice I tried to wake you, you beautiful lame-assed drunken fool. And yes, I know we have to speak, and yes, you should call me when you wake up.
Given what he’s about to unearth, given the destruction it’s about to wreak on his life, Alex begins page 69 with remarkably tender feelings towards his wife; he realises that she has taken care of him while he slept, drunk on top of the bed, that last night she must have undressed him and slid him gently into bed:
That’s love, I thought, in that one tiny action: my nakedness is proof of Millicent’s love. I wondered whether she had slept.
Alex was with his eleven-year-old son Max when together they discovered the corpse, naked in the bath of the house next door. But Max seems to be OK; he really does. He has even made coffee for his father (though of course the coffee is undrinkable because Max is eleven):
Max came back in with the sugar. I put four spoonfuls into the cup and stirred.

“Want me to open the blind?”


“No what, Dad?”

“No thanks, Max. And thank you for making coffee for me.”

“That’s OK. Mum said you might want some.”

“She out?”

This is a problem for Alex, whose tender feelings for his wife are being tested by the fact that once again she is “out, thinking”. It’s been happening too much lately, when she should be talking to him. How are they going to protect Max from what he saw? Who was the man next door? And what is Millicent up to?
“Say where she was going?”

“No. Do you like the coffee?”

“I love the fact that you made it for me.”

Max left the room.
Alex needs to ask his wife about her bracelet. The police found it in the house next door, under the neighbour’s bed. How did it get there? That question is going to drive the first act; and Alex’s suspicion that his wife is not the woman he thought is going to push the book towards its final conclusion.
I rang Millicent. She sounded lousy from lack of sleep.

“You get my text, Alex?”


“Meet me at the Swedish?”

The Swedish is their local coffee house. There’s a confrontation coming, and Alex will find it hard to reconcile his role as loving father and husband with the role of the jilted lover.
Max and I left the house at the same time and walked the first couple of blocks together. He hugged me when we parted, then set off toward school at a dogtrot.
And that’s it: a last moment of domestic calm before everything breaks apart. But don’t go thinking this is all about Millicent. Max has seen things that no eleven-year-old boy should see, and he knows things about his parents that no child should ever know.
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--Marshal Zeringue