Read­ing room

A mys­tery imag­in­ing what hap­pened when Agatha Christie dis­ap­peared for 10 days in 1926 is wor­thy of the crime queen her­self,

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - writes Juliet Rieden.

A Tal­ent for Mur­der by An­drew Wil­son, Si­mon & Schus­ter.

Long be­fore do­mes­tic noir and “Scandi crime”, Agatha Christie ex­plored what English au­thor and bi­og­ra­pher An­drew Wil­son calls “the murky re­al­ity of hu­man na­ture” and be­came one of the best-sell­ing crime writ­ers of all time. In­deed, 40 years af­ter her death, barely a month goes by with­out a new TV or film adap­ta­tion of a Christie mas­ter­piece.

Wil­son has been in her thrall since the age of 12 when, for a school as­sign­ment, he wrote his first homage to Christie. The 46-page story, which he con­fesses was “a child­ish ef­fort”, was a twist­ing mur­der mys­tery in­spired by Death on the Nile and The Mur­der of Roger Ack­royd. Christie, claims Wil­son, is any­thing but cosy; she has “a rad­i­cal spirit of sub­ver­sion that runs through the pages like a dark poi­son”.

In A Tal­ent for Mur­der, the au­thor has con­cocted his own poi­son and writ­ten an in­tox­i­cat­ing lit­er­ary ser­e­nade to his men­tor while also il­lu­mi­nat­ing a cu­ri­ous chap­ter in her life when Agatha, age 36, dis­ap­peared for 10 days. No one has man­aged to ex­plain what re­ally hap­pened and here Wil­son lets his Christi­eschooled imag­i­na­tion run wild.

It was De­cem­ber 1926, when Agatha Christie left her home in the English county of Berk­shire, aban­doned her car – con­tain­ing her driv­ing li­cence and a fur coat – in the dead of night at a local beauty spot and van­ished, leav­ing her hus­band and daugh­ter with­out a word. Agatha had re­cently lost her mother and learned that her hus­band had been hav­ing an af­fair and it was thought by po­lice that he may have mur­dered his wife. She later turned up in a ho­tel in the north of Eng­land where she had checked in un­der the name of her hus­band’s lover.

“The crime writer never talked about the scan­dal,” Wil­son tells The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly. “I thought the sub­ject was ripe for fic­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The re­sult­ing novel, based on the key facts, is de­light­ful and dark and, yes, could al­most have been penned by the queen of crime her­self. In fact, a fair chunk of the nar­ra­tive is told through Agatha’s eyes as she is cru­elly ma­nip­u­lated by a shady doc­tor who is him­self in­spired by that Christie classic which came out in 1926, The Mur­der of Roger

Ack­royd. Wil­son’s mur­der mys­tery is im­pec­ca­bly con­structed; a thor­oughly en­joy­able read with a plot that sur­prises at every turn. In truth, he’s out-Christied Christie with a plot drip­ping with mal­ice and dan­ger and fe­male char­ac­ters who are coura­geously burst­ing out of the con­fines of so­ci­ety’s corsets with – for some – dis­as­trous con­se­quences. Sheer de­light.

Agatha had learned that her hus­band had been hav­ing an af­fair and it was thought by po­lice that he may have mur­dered his wife.

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