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The Fiction Writer


The Fiction Writer

Jillian Cantor, the bestselling author of BEAUTIFUL LITTLE FOOLS (a reimagining of THE GREAT GATSBY), takes on another beloved classic in THE FICTION WRITER.

Once a literary darling whose debut was an Indie Next pick that went on to sell thousands of copies, Olivia Fitzgerald is now in a writerly rut. Becky, a retelling of REBECCA from the perspective of the titular character’s ghost, was ridiculed by trade reviews and ignored by the public, leaving her third novel destined for no more than a dusty drawer. But then Olivia gets a call from her agent, asking her to sign an NDA so she can learn about a write-for-hire gig that promises $50,000 on signing, with more to come. She says yes before she can even recognize the red flags…like many of us would.

With the NDA signed, Olivia learns the scope of the project: Henry Asherwood III --- heir to a massive Asherwood store chain (think Costco meets Target) and twice-named People's Sexiest Man Alive --- wants her to write a book for him. He won’t share any details until they meet. Before she can blink, Olivia is on a plane to Malibu for what is sure to be the biggest book of her career.

"Cantor does her source material, her own protagonist and her seriously thought-provoking theme great justice, dealing out twists, turns and revelations with care and verve."

Ash, as he asks Olivia to call him, explains that he loved Becky and has a bombshell connection to Daphne du Maurier himself: he claims that his grandmother, Emilia, was the original author of REBECCA and that du Maurier stole the idea from her. Apparently, the plot wasn’t just fiction to Emilia, but her actual life story. It’s stranger than fiction, Olivia knows, but all the best true stories are. Why is it impossible to believe that a glamorous, wealthy family would have a few skeletons in their closet and ties to one of the most famous and beloved authors of all time?

Ash believes that Olivia is the expert on all things du Maurier and REBECCA. Although he has very few guidelines of what he wants the book to be --- an unmasking of a famous plagiarist, a fictionalized biography of his own grandmother, or something in between --- he feels certain that only Olivia can write it. He’s so eager for her to start that he invites her to his massive oceanfront Malibu mansion daily, cooking her extravagant meals and gifting her with clothes, car rides and wine.

There are just a few red flags. As eager as he is for her to start, Ash can never seem to produce the diaries he claims will prove that his grandmother wrote REBECCA first. When Olivia tries to ask reasonable, logical questions about his family history and possible connections to du Maurier, he clams up. And then there’s the little detail about his own wife, who died tragically and mysteriously, but internet message boards claim she is still very much alive.

If the story of Ash’s wife is sounding a bit, well, REBECCA to you, you’re not alone. Even Olivia must admit that she’s living in a meta version of the book. But she shrugs off these very real warning signs as her “writer brain” going into overdrive, even when a library search for sources on the Asherwood family reveals a theft of all materials relating to them. Furthermore, a copy of Becky shows up in Ash’s guest room with the word "THIEF" penned in bold, black ink just below her name.

All of these mysteries and inconsistencies fall away when Olivia thinks of the $50,000 paycheck, and they disappear entirely when she looks into gorgeous, charming Ash’s eyes. But something is not right in Malibu. With dead wives and unfriendly housekeepers around every corner, Olivia soon starts to feel like she’s living in her own novel. If she doesn’t unpack the mystery of Ash’s family and his own marriage, she has a dark, deadly end coming her way.

Olivia’s story is interspersed with extracts from another novel, The Wife, penned by an unnamed author whose story clearly mimics that of Emilia. These chapters add to the overarching mystery and push THE FICTION WRITER along at a strong, breakneck pace. The connections to REBECCA can be a bit heavy-handed at times, but even then, fans of the classic will delight in the Easter eggs and creepy comparisons. Those less well-versed in du Maurier will be enthralled by the thriller feel and the will-they-or won’t-they dynamic between Olivia and Ash.

Overall, this is a well-crafted, stylish novel with a serious theme at its core: At what point does literary admiration and imitation become theft, and who has the right to tell which stories? Cantor does her source material, her own protagonist and her seriously thought-provoking theme great justice, dealing out twists, turns and revelations with care and verve. Juicy, sexy and mesmerizing, THE FICTION WRITER is a hit for thriller fans and lovers of the classics alike.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on December 1, 2023

The Fiction Writer
by Jillian Cantor

  • Publication Date: November 28, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Mystery
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Park Row
  • ISBN-10: 077833418X
  • ISBN-13: 9780778334187