Imagine yourself a successful, published author. You have had at least one book that soared to the top and you liked the feeling of being number one. Money is no longer a problem; you have an upper-class lifestyle that includes people who work for you so that you don’t have to do routine stuff. Others buy and prepare food, make appointments, and plan your daily schedule. There are not many helpers and you don’t want many. Margaret is one important helper acting as both an agent and a close friend. Your lawyer plays an important legal role but is also a friend. Your editor is your fiercest critic but is also a friend; she criticizes your writing, not you. Other people are not important, and you prefer the company of self. Your only need is to write another best-selling novel. The muse is arriving less frequently these days. One day Margaret arrives with the muse in human form, Alex. He is perfect.
When a Stranger Comes … by Karen S. Bell begins with a conflicted author. This entire novel will appeal to the budding novice writer, perhaps even to more polished veteran writers. Alexa’s angst over rewrites, the state of the publishing industry, and her vow never to descend to the level of offering her works for free will resonate with present-day indie authors. For this novel. Alex will supply the needed inspiration for Alexa’s next novel. Alexa (notice the name play) is initially annoyed. She didn’t ask Margaret to bring anyone for a visit. She retreated to a bedroom but reemerged naked to find only Alex, no Margaret. How annoying! This is almost, but not quite, how the novel begins with chapter one. There is a violent prologue with a stark description of physical violence toward Jodie in a prologue but that doesn’t seem to include Alexa, so the reader doesn’t care for the moment. It will interest many to see how this foreshadowing of violence ties into the story of Alexa.
In the immediate present, the reader wants to know what the near naked Alexa is going to do with the Adonis-like figure of Alex, a person present in her living room. A first, vague feeling of something wrong, confronts the reader. Alex is perfect physically and has a perfect personality that meshes completely and satisfies Alexa. And then there is the sex which, although perfect and incessant, is described in very modest, non-offensive language. The problem (there must be one) is that Alex looks and acts exactly like the protagonist of one of Alexa’s novels. Cue the scary music, but at a low level.
Alex is there to present an opportunity for Alexa to work for his boss, King. As the name implies, King is a nearly omnipotent businessman occupying many fields, one of which is book publishing. Alexa’s writing has attracted King’s attention. Alex is one of King’s agents employed to convince Alexa to join Trinity Publishing. Alex will be as accommodating as possible toward Alexa and give her his personal attention to influence her to sign with King. Eventually, there will be meetings with King. There will be lavish parties during which Alexa worries a bit about losing control over anything she might do. But Alex is there for her protection, nothing bad can happen. Alexa is surprised, however, by the fact that she seems to have signed a contract during one of these parties, a contract that sounds good but gives Trinity Publishing, and King, virtually one hundred percent control over her creative life. In return, she has assurances that she will be a success, that everything she does will receive unbelievably high rewards. Does this sound like a deal with the devil?
As the reader encounters even odder situations, it seems that the Devil may have an active presence in this agreement. First, there is Trinity Publishing, the “trinity” is given in a shorthand, “666.” Alexa also notes that everyone she meets from King’s enterprises mirrors a character in one of her novels. Some are so similar physically that Alexa is shocked, others have personalities that could have been lifted from her novels. Even their physical appearances serve to suggest and support characters from her books. Alexa had been warned not to sign a contract without advice from her lawyer; he had mentioned there were some provisions that needed clarification. But he had died in an accident before she could discuss the advice and now the contract was signed. Alexa’s sense of creepiness caused her to attempt to get out of the contract. She discovered the contract was ironclad, breaking the contract would result in her financial ruin. She felt she had been tricked. But there was Alex and she felt good enough to go with the flow for a while. She could at least wait until she contacted her close friend Margaret. But Margaret also died in a very freakish accident. Alexa was on her own.
Then a series of odd events begins. As if the similarity of appearance to her novel’s characters wasn’t bad enough, she found herself physically manipulated, and not just by Alex. There was an invitation to a party on King’s island that appeared to be more an order than an invitation. Arriving at the island, she found there were places she could not go. When she tried to explore a nearby village, she was almost attacked and then warned never to go to the village again. No explanations. There were things she saw and heard such as occasional screams in the night. No explanations. The house where she was virtually confined, although luxurious, had secrets. Sometimes the house would reveal some secrets. Walls and a basement would appear and reappear. No explanations. The basement strongly resembled the basement of her childhood, complete with toys and clothing from her youth. Was this a drug trip or something more sinister?
It is the careful layering of strange and creepy events that led me to give this five Amazon stars. There is an interesting psychological component in which some of the look-alike characters try to explain to Alexa why she thinks so many characters look like those in her novel. There is the third element, one in which the Devil, or evil, is an active player in our everyday lives. The language describing the sexual component, necessary for Alexa’s initial entrapment, is not graphically offensive. This is an entertaining novel with big surprises in the final few chapters. The reader interprets what the final ending is. Bell provides incidents that have consequences, but it is up to the reader to determine what might be true and what can’t be true.
This novel sells on Amazon for USD 2.99 but I read it for free on Kindle Unlimited. It was a find that made KU worth the subscription price. Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans
One of my favorite types of novels, I don’t consider this a genre, is a novel written by an author writing about being an author. This is one of those and it is only after reading the final chapter that I highly recommended it. Before the final chapter, the novel is superior. Giving the reader a part to play interpreting information to form an ending satisfactory to the reader makes it superior “plus.”