Opening Lines: The Last Treasure Hunt
Jane Alexander's debut novel asks what is the cost of fame?
There's nothing more exciting than discovering a new voice, writing at the start of their career. That's why we're highlighting our favourite debut authors of the year so far.
Dubbed as a 'a modern media morality tale with bite' Jane Alexadner's The Last Treasure Hunt introduces us to Campbell Johnstone, who at the age of thirty, deems his life as a failure. His friends are all a success, including his childhood friend Eve Sadler, who just so happens to be a Hollywood star.
After rekindling their friendship one shocking night changes everything, in ways he could never have predicted. When the dust settles, Campbell's life is transformed and the recognition he'd given up on is within reach. But at what cost? Read an extract below.
‘There.’ Roddy tipped his head: three o’clock.
I followed his gaze. The girl coming out of the house, the one he was carefully not pointing to, wore a long, white dress, like first communion.
‘Is it...?’ I narrowed my eyes against the sun. The girl was laughing, looking up at a broad-shouldered man in a morning suit. Her laughter carried towards us and instinctively I took a step back, sidling behind Roddy. A breeze curled across the forecourt, caught her dress like a flag, so white in the sun it made my eyes water. I blinked, and stared: Eve at work. Here was the glamour I’d hoped for.
Eve stopped laughing. She looked around, raised her hand, and within seconds a young man was at her side. She must have asked him to fetch her a drink: he set off at a jog, straight towards us and the catering truck.
‘Now’s your chance,’ said Roddy, ‘if you want to say hello.’
‘We’re not talking to her! How sad do you think I am?’
He raised his eyebrows. For a minute, neither of us spoke.
‘Anyway, what would we say.’ I crushed my empty cup in my fist, let it drop.
Roddy’s disapproval was genuine. ‘That’s a disgrace.’
‘It’s keeping someone in a job.’ Eve’s runner climbed down from the truck, a triangle of cups balanced in both hands. ‘Him, probably. Come on. Let’s go before they bust us.’
That was us: we were done. Walking away. But Eve must have turned to see where her coffee had got to and seen us. Maybe she turned back to her co-star, picked up their conversation, before her subconscious told her we didn’t fit: that we were familiar, and wrong. We’d almost reached the gate by the time the past coloured itself in around us, and our names – my name – arrived in her mouth.
‘Campbell! Campbell Johnstone!’
‘Oh, shit,’ I said to Roddy. Eve was walking towards us, coffee forgotten. Down the left side of her white dress was a shocking splash of red; her face was powdery-pale. She looked like a haunting, headed straight for me. I straightened my shoulders, stepped out to meet her halfway.
‘Campbell, I can’t believe it. What are you doing here?’
Straightaway, I began to lie.
‘Just passing, actually. We had no idea all this was... We’re often down this way.’ She couldn’t possibly believe that. ‘Me and Roddy, remember Roddy?’ I turned to where Roddy was gawping, halfway along the drive. He lifted a hand, and Eve waved back.
‘Of course I remember Roddy... Wow.’ Through her pale make-up, the smile she gave me had red carpet right the way through. ‘It’s lovely to see you Campbell. So...’
My mother’s phrase spilled from my mouth. ‘So, you’re doing well for yourself.’
She pulled a face that said, Oh don’t. ‘Well, I’m working pretty solidly,’ she said, ‘which is nice. Tiring, but nice. And you, are you living here, then, in Glasgow?’ She pronounced it with a long aah, Glaahs-gow, and I remembered how her posh voice used to have me digging my fingernails into my palms.
‘Aye, me and Roddy share a flat.’ I knew she was going to ask what I was up to these days, and to head her off I started blethering. ‘Actually, Roddy’s about to move to the States. You live over there, don’t you? I mean, I don’t know but I’m presuming...’
‘Oh well, he should come and stay, if he’s in LA. You too, Campbell.’
The impossibility of her actually meaning this left me floundering. In my imagination, I saw Roddy turning up at her massive security gates, suitcase in hand... Of course, there was the small matter of an address.
‘Nice outfit,’ I managed, feebly. ‘Looks like you’ve spilt something, though...’
‘Oh. Ha. Yes, I’m all bloody. I could tell you why, but then–’
‘You’d have to kill me, fair enough. No, God, don’t spoil it for me. What’s it called, by the way?’
‘So it’s called Never Setting Sun, though that might change. It’ll come out – actually, not sure, over here. Late autumn, I should think.’
‘Oh well, I’ll look out for it. Is it going to be any good?’
She let a silence stretch between us; held my gaze, her eyes huge, reproachful, shadowed with violet paint. ‘Doubt it,’ she said, eventually. ‘I only do films that I’m confident will be really, really bad.’
I drew breath to apologise, but she cut me off. ‘Look, I’m afraid I’ve got to go, we’re so behind.’ She tilted her head, looked up at me with a sidelong smile. ‘Don’t want to keep Morgan waiting.’
‘Sure, of course.’ While I’d been talking to her, other sounds had faded out: suddenly the volume slammed up again, birdsong piercing my brain. ‘Look,’ I said, too loud. ‘Are you staying in town? I just... if you wanted to see a bit of the city, you know, I’d be happy to show you round. Though you might have to wear a disguise or something.’
She hesitated. Thinking of a way to fob me off, without being rude. Then: ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you call me. At the Metcalfe: I’ll tell them to put you on the list, and they’ll put you through.’
‘The Metcalfe. Great. Okay, I will, I’ll give you a call.’ I felt like we should be shaking on it. Instead I shoved my hands into my pockets. ‘Take you out and show you the sights!’
‘I’ll look forward to it.’ She gave me that red-carpet smile again; lifted her bloodied skirts and strode off, back to work.
Roddy’s face was like good news that couldn’t be kept in.
‘So, Mr Johnstone: what was it that first attracted you to the world-famous, filthy-rich film star Eve Sadler?’
‘Very funny.’ I kept my voice casual, kept my hands in my pockets. The ground felt springy underfoot. ‘She said you can come and stay at her pad in LA, man… hang out with your good friend Eve Sadler.’ I nudged my elbow against his arm.
‘I don’t know if you’ve ever considered the impressive scale of the United States, and the relative positions of Atlanta and LA on said land-mass...’
She’d remembered my name; was pleased to see me. Roddy’s voice was a stream in the background. Of course – Eve was an actress. An Oscar-nominated best supporting actress, no less. If she wanted to look pleased, it would hardly be stretching her capabilities. And the way she asked about me, if I was living in Glasgow: I ran it back in my head. Yes, there was just something about it that sounded – what? Like she was the Queen and I was a commoner. Like I was a fan.
‘She didn’t hang about,’ I heard Roddy say. ‘Busy being famous, was she?’
‘Something like that. Said she didn’t want to keep Morgan waiting.’
‘Freeman, to you and I.’
Roddy’s face creased with laughter. ‘Morgan!’
And then I was laughing, too. It shouldn’t have been funny. She wasn’t name-dropping, not really. It’s just, he was her colleague; that was her life. Poor soul.
At the age of thirty, Campbell Johnstone is a failure. When he tries to rekindle a relationship with childhood friend and rising Hollywood star Eve Sadler, he longs for the glitter of her success to rub off on him - but a single shocking night changes everything. When the dust settles, Cam's life is transformed.