In Wilson’s A Different Kind of Evil (Atria, Mar.), Agatha Christie solves a series of baffling murders on one of the Canary Islands.
What led you to think of fictionalizing Christie’s life?
I’d always been a fan. She was a transition between the reading of my childhood and more adult literature. I’d also been fascinated by the circumstances surrounding her real-life disappearance in 1926, when she went missing for 11 days before she was discovered at a hotel. Christie never mentions the disappearance in her autobiography, and I thought this was ripe for fictional exploration.
How much did you fictionalize her?
In A Talent for Murder, the first book in the series, I used the facts of the case to anchor Agatha Christie in reality. So, for instance, we know that on Dec. 3, 1926, Agatha disappeared from her home in Berkshire and that the next day her abandoned car was discovered in Surrey. Agatha checked herself into the Swan Hydropathic Hotel under the same surname as her husband’s mistress. Readers seem so surprised to learn how much of the story is true. This book starts in January 1927 with Agatha sailing on the SS Gelria. We know from passenger records that, on January 23rd, the author embarked on that ship, bound for the Canary Islands, with her secretary, and her seven-year-old daughter, Rosalind. We know that Agatha spent a number of weeks on the island of Tenerife and that she stayed in the Taoro Hotel. The deaths and the intrigue on the ship and on the island were imagined by me.
Are there elements of Patricia Highsmith in your Christie novels?
Inevitably. I spent five years working on Beautiful Shadow, the first biography of Highsmith. I am a great fan of the way that she explores the darker aspects of human psychology. I didn’t want to write a pastiche or a parody of a Christie novel; neither did I want to slavishly imitate Highsmith. But hopefully, I’ve been inspired by these two very different crime writers to create something of my own.
What appeals to you about crime fiction?
I’m interested in the stains of a crime, the way a murder can spread out and pollute those around it. Agatha often wrote how old sins cast long shadows, and it’s something Highsmith was interested in too, although she would never have used the word sin. Although Highsmith said she did not care for the work of Christie, I think she probably had not read some of Agatha’s darker novels, which explored concepts such as repressed memories and the psychological impact of violent crime.