Shelf Life: The Book of Better Endings
by Rob Gregson
Young bookseller Cathy Finn is having a bad day. First, there's the assassin's bullet. Then comes the realisation that she's been living in a work of fiction. Worse, she wasn't even the main character.
Cathy's quiet, bit-part life may be over, but her troubles are only beginning. Her last day on Earth is also her first as a citizen of New Tybet. For over four hundred years, its people have been rescuing those destined to die in other narratives, but now the system is faltering. A saboteur is at work and Cathy will have to stop him if she’s ever going to find a way home. Failure could maroon her forever and spark a revolution that sets all the worlds of literature ablaze.
Fantasy, Comedy, 338 pages
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Yesterday had seemed endless but, in the early evening, an earnest-looking detective inspector had recommended she take herself far away for a while. His presence, his very title had seemed absurd - like something that belonged on the other side of a television screen - but still she'd taken it for sound advice.
So here she was, just twenty-four hours later, fleeing organised criminals in a green Fiat Panda; abandoning her flat, her friends, and her business in exchange for a period of safe anonymity somewhere in the Pentland Hills.
First though, she had to make things safe. Her mum and Chrissie had seen nothing of the killer, but who could say what he'd seen? His eyes had met hers - that she knew - but would he recognise her again? Had he seen enough to track her down? Had he noticed she'd had company?
Probably not. Real life was messy and hurried. All-knowing super-villains were the stuff of cheap fiction. But then, the formidable D.I. Holland had considered the risk serious enough to express his concern, and if there was indeed a credible threat to her, then it might also extend to those closest to her. She wouldn't rest easy in her Scottish bolthole knowing there was still an address book on her shop counter listing the whereabouts of all her family and friends.
Turning at the next junction, she saw the unlit frontage of her little bookshop, its darkness conspicuous amongst the bright facades of the newsagents and the betting shops around it.
Stopping the car, she slipped out and remote-locked the door as she stepped up onto the kerb. Another key set the metal shutters rising.
She scanned the street as the grey panels wound noisily into their housing. Few pedestrians were abroad - a scattering of early-leaving office workers making for bus stops and the taxi rank; nothing untoward. Seconds later, she was turning on the lights.
She knew that last bit wasn't textbook. Experienced international spies would probably use night-vision goggles or something, but that wasn't the sort of kit that most young booksellers had lying about in their handbags. Besides, she needed to see clearly if she was going to find what she'd come for. The quicker she found it, the quicker she could be away.
She hurried to her counter, expecting the rattle of glass that would tell her the door had settled shut behind her. Instead, there came a man's voice, jovial and strong.
"Hello there. Good evening."
For an instant she froze, then forced herself to turn.
The voice fitted the man. He was tall, well-dressed, and spreading into the roundedness of late middle age. A three-piece suit and gleaming brogues spoke of better neighbourhoods than this.
"Can I help you?" She smiled her shopkeeper's smile; an ordinary response to mask a mind contemplating extraordinary possibilities.
He returned a salesman's grin. "Miss Finn? The proprietor?"
It was a familiar overture. She saw a lot of speculative calls to the shop; offers of anything from public liability insurance to supermarket surplus.
"Yeah, hi." She turned away, feeling vainly for the precious notebook. "And you are?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. My name's Marcus. I'm a personal injury consultant."
Terrific: an ambulance-chaser. She turned back to face him. "Oh right. So that's… what? A sort of paralegal thing?"
The man chuckled, shook his head and reached into his jacket.
"You know, it's funny," he said. "A lot of people make that mistake."
He was still smiling as he took out a pistol, pointed it at her chest, and fired.
About the author:
Rob Gregson spent much of his youth reading fantasy novels, immersing himself in role playing games and generally doing everything possible to avoid the real world. In his defence, we’re talking about the late 1980s – a time when ridiculous hair, hateful pop music and soaring unemployment were all very popular – so it wasn’t altogether a bad decision. However, had he abandoned the realms of wizardry at an earlier age, he might have developed one or two useful life skills and he would almost certainly have found it easier to get a girlfriend. Rob lives in Lancashire and has two children, although he has absolutely no idea why anyone should find that interesting.