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Bookends: Writing Groups Can be Murder February 3, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Writing Groups Can be Murder

By Dan Davidson

December 28, 2011        Star, Dec. 30/11

– 829 words –

The Killing Circle

By Andrew Pyper

Seal Books

391 pages


Berton House alumnus Andrew Pyper (1997) has been quite prolific and successful since his stint here in Dawson City back in the early days of the residency program. His latest in print is The Guardians, which he described to Shelagh Rogers as a mixture of mystery and hockey story.

According to his website he’s just recently turned in the first draft of his latest book (no title given). It’s not finished yet, but he describes himself as being “a little terrified, a little exhausted, a little sentimental at soon having to say farewell to the characters who came to me this time around. Though of course I’ll be seeing them all again soon enough in the Second Draft.  And the Third.  And the Fourth…”

Meantime, I’m catching up with his latest paperback, The Killing Circle, a mystery which is, as much as anything else, about the act of creation.

When I interviewed Pyper a few years ago, he said that a lot of his central characters are based on people he has been terrified he might turn into. Patrick Rush is a widowed newspaper hack who would really like to be a novelist, but hasn’t got a story to tell. So, after returning to work from his bereavement leave, he’s moved from covering events and actual news to writing a column about television shows called “The Couch Potato”.

To make things worse, his newspaper is part of a syndicate that owns a lot of television shows that he really really doesn’t like, and he’s not allowed to be honest about that.

So Patrick joins a writers’ group, hoping to be stimulated into finding a story. What he finds instead is a group of people quite diverse from himself who have in common the fact that they think they want to write. Only one of them actually has a story, a compelling tale or murder and childhood terror that grips every member of the group, especially when it seems to some of them that they are being shadowed by a person not unlike the villain in Angela’s story.

We get to read Angela’s story because Patrick, who gets himself fired from the newspaper during these weeks, has secretly recorded the writing group’s sessions and they are part of this book. And a few months after these events, when it appears that Angela and their writing tutor, Conrad White, have died in a car accident, Patrick succumbs to the temptation to transcribe the recording, pad it out to novel length, tack on an ending and turn it into a lucrative bestseller, complete with movie options. Four years later he is wealthy, but feeling very guilty.

Of course, that’s when Angela reappears. Oddly she doesn’t seem to want anything from him other than a relationship, which is fine because he had been mildly (guiltily) infatuated with her before he thought she was dead.

Her reappearance coincides with the return of the Sandman. This was both the name of the killer in her story, and the name that Patrick has come to associate with the rhyming serial killer who had been active in 2003, but has not been heard of for four years. Suddenly all the members of the writing group begin dying, and the killer starts leaving clues which point to the other members. Angela gets a baseball cap belonging to one murder victim. Patrick gets an entire corpse.

It’s not spoiling the story to tell you it’s not long after this that Patrick’s son is kidnapped by the killer. The reason it’s not is because that’s where the novel begins, and after that prologue Pyper (using Patrick’s voice) takes us back through the years to the material I’ve just outlined. Pages 15 to 318 cover the events that lead up to Sam’s disappearance at the outdoor drive-in theatre, where father and son have gone to watch the movie version of The Sandman, Patrick’s novel that he swiped from Angela.

This brings up the question of endings, which is referred to elsewhere in the book. One of Patrick’s fans at a book signing makes specific mention of the fact that she didn’t like the ending of The Sandman. I don’t like the ending of The Killing Circle because it violates one of the two rules that I always gave my students in creative writing. One of them is the “Alice in Wonderland” ending (okay for that book but a dismal failure on, say, for instance, on “Dallas” when Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower), but that’s not the one I’m thinking of. Number two leaves you with no one to tell the story, especially when your narrator is in the first person. I’m choosing to think that Pyper did that on purpose to show us Patrick’s flaws as a writer.

Other than that, I quite enjoyed the book.






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