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Unhanged Arthur: The Rhymester by Valerie A. Drego

This week, we are publishing excerpts from the five manuscripts up for this year’s Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel, presented by the Crime Writers of Canada. 

In today’s excerpt… we’re introduced to Detective Gilardi as he hunts for a serial killer in the dim stillness of a Middle Eastern restaurant. 

A excerpt from The Rhymester, by Valerie A. Drego

Gilardi clicked off and slid the car into traffic. Briefly, he was glad he was not in charge of the investigation any longer because he should have been heading back to the precinct and the Incident Room. Instead his goal was the dim quietness of Al Wadi. It was a little restaurant that he had stumbled upon several years before. A hole in the wall eatery, small and plain, not the sort you take a girl to—but Gilardi had gone back. He could recommend the food. And, today, the atmosphere too. The building was drab brick on an unfrequented side road and Gilardi found parking directly outside the unimpressive entrance. Inside, behind a bead curtain, was a long room with slatted tables and plain wood benches, a fixed six seats to a table. There were no shaded lamps, no napery, no frills. And, so early in the evening, no customers either. The place was empty except for an old man with a tobacco stained beard reading an Arabic newspaper and two younger men playing chess, tiny cups of thick coffee beside them. 

Gilardi sat down at the nearest table and placed his order. 

Then he sat back and reviewed the case.  

What troubled Gilardi most was the lack of a pattern. Serial killers typically had a phobia which drove them and from which one could extrapolate a victim profile. But not here. They now had three victims. […] Three people very different from each other yet tied in death by a jingle on a disk. 

Three down and no pattern. 

Nothing to guide them but a mix of numbers and letters. 

Who was the Rhymester? A man whose motives were hidden in madness. What drove his paranoia? What drove his choice of victim? Where was he? Lurking in the shadows, gloating at having pulled another one off… laughing at them? Seth had made that suggestion long ago, Gilardi remembered—that to get his jollies the lunatic had to be out there watching them. 

Falafel and shish-taouk arrived with a dipping bowl of hummus. The skewered kebabs were fat and juicy, the pita bread freshly baked, the falafel spicy, the hummus blended to perfection. Gilardi ate, not tasting the meal, plagued by his thoughts. Through his mind paraded other serial killers who had taunted the police with letters and messages. Jack the Ripper. Berkowitz, Son of Sam. Rader, the BTK strangler. And Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire murderer who had killed at will for years. 

Would the Rhymester do the same?

God forbid—and yet, that was the threat in the jingle. The final threat. Their killer would skip ‘merrily’ through the lines and then go back. 

Back to the start for one more round…

He had warned them. 


Read excerpts from the other finalists:

Valerie Drego holds a doctorate in English Literature and a post graduate diploma in Business Management. Her work experience has been as a purchase and materials control manager in the pharmaceutical industry. She currently resides in Montreal.  

Photo by Victoria Drego

Established in 2007, the Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel is one of the prestigious Arthur Ellis Awards. Bestowed each year by the Crime Writers of Canada, this year’s winner will be announced at the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet held on May 31 in Toronto.

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