Madeleine d’Leon is a crime fiction writer who is taking a break from her successful series of mystery novels to write a whodunit with a brand new character – Edward McGinnity, a literary author who has found himself embroiled in the murder of art critic Geoffrey Vogel.
Edward McGinnity is writing a story about Madeleine d’Leon, lawyer and crime fiction writer whose marriage to doctor Hugh Lamond is waning after several miscarriages.
While this may sound confusing, Crossing the Lines cleverly explores how a writer’s obsession with her fictional character evolves to a point where he literally comes to life. And although there is a whodunit, this is much more than just a mystery novel. In fact, the identity of who killed Geoffrey Vogel is deliberately not as compelling as the developing relationship between Madeleine and Edward and the concept of a writer completely absorbed by her fictional story.
The pair begin by simply observing each other – Edward envisages Madeleine in cloud print pyjamas, tapping away at her laptop, and ordering takeaway for dinner. Madeline imagines Edward writing long hand in his expensive beach house; a typical crime fiction hero with a troubling backstory – his family was killed in a car accident. He’s in love with best friend Willow who is married and cannot return his love; deliberately written so Madeleine doesn’t have to write a sex scene, and of whom she becomes envious as her passion for Edward intensifies. The viewpoints alternate seamlessly, as it appears both simultaneously occupy the same space, leading the reader to doubt who is really real.
They are startled to discover they can converse with one another – bantering about the conventions of their differing writing styles – crime fiction and literary fiction. Madeleine tells Edward something has to “actually happen” in the stuff she writes and Edward accuses her of being obsessed with “guns and masked bandits.” When Madeleine tells her father she could never be a literary writer as the women must be stick thin, Edward realises he cannot think of any fat female literary writer of note. Before long, their relationship crosses imaginary lines, progressing to physical contact, with Madeleine preferring Edward’s company to Hugh’s.
Crossing the Lines is an intricate metanarrative with Gentill, also a crime fiction author and former attorney, using “a familiar baseline” from which to develop the character of Madeleine. In April, I attended a seminar at Supanova where Sulari Gentill said she writes her mysteries without necessarily knowing where they will lead. And like Gentill, Madeline is also a ‘pantser’ rather than a ‘plotter’ – writing plot points without knowing where they will lead, including a sudden and brutal attack on Edward and a frantic car chase. And the reader of Crossing the Lines will wonder at Madeleine’s inevitable fate as she allows herself to sink deeper into her own imagination, separating herself from reality and descending into delusion.
Crossing the Lines is a must read novel, especially for writers who will relate to the concept of feeling real emotions for fictional characters and the consequences of what they make happen to them. As Madeleine’s psychiatrist asks her: “Do you like that, Madeleine, deciding questions of life and death, having the power to take or give such things?” In this case, the authorial power is in the able hands of Sulari Gentill, who has crafted an intelligent and insightful story that will leave you contemplating the bounds of your own imagination.
Crossing the Lines by Sulari Gentill is published in Australia by Pantera Press.
Lillian laughed. But scorn was cut into the mirth like some bitter essence folded into whipped cream.