UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Two rising stars of the genre are embracing the mystery tradition of Agatha Christie. Crime Scene meets the next big Nordic Noir writer and the author of a bestselling debut set to become a Hollywood movie
RUTH WARE Agatha with aded grip-lit
When Ruth Ware published her 2015 debut In A Dark, Dark Wood, it became a bestseller bracketed with other so-called grip-lit sensations Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train. The psychological thriller was soon optioned for a movie by Reese Witherspoon.
The novel about a hen party that goes very wrong had a contemporary feel, yet the comparisons to Agatha Christie were hard to ignore. “I was a huge Christie fan as a teenager, and obviously that was in the back of my mind when I wrote In A Dark, Dark Wood,” says the author from north London. “I gave it to my agent, and literally the first thing she said was that it reads like an updated Agatha Christie. As soon as she said it, I realised that she was right.”
As Ware was still editing the book, she decided to put in a reference to Christie’s And Then There Were None as a “kind of thank-you really”. The remote location of the hen party has an echo of one of Christie’s greatest – and most sinister – novels. “I just realised what a debt I owed to her in terms of how I plotted In A Dark, Dark Wood, and the title is from a nursery rhyme, which Christie did so well with things like One, Two, Buckle My Shoe,” says Ware.
When it came to writing a follow-up, Ware embraced the classic murder mystery approach for The Woman In Cabin 10, which hooks the reader with a seemingly impossible crime. A journalist on a luxury cruise wakes up in the night when she hears screams from the neighbouring cabin, rushes to the balcony and sees what appears to be a body in the sea. Security are called and break into the cabin only to discover that it is not only empty but never had a passenger on board. “I was thinking of all those things Christie did so well in terms of the locked-room mystery, and Death On The Nile and Murder On The Orient Express, where you have these ostensibly very luxurious surroundings and yet there’s an undercurrent of nastiness,” Ware explains, adding that it touches on “the fear of not being believed”.
When Crime Scene meets Ware at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, she’s just appeared on a panel discussing the Golden Age of crime fiction, so the continued relevance of Christie is on her mind. “Most people who label her as a cosy writer, I think, haven’t actually read her,” says Ware. “They’ve usually seen the television adaptations, which are very different and are wonderful but they focus on the period setting and the maids in starched uniforms. Actually if you read something like And Then There Were None or some of her other standalones, they are blood scary – they’ve got a really chilly insight into psychology and the human capacity for evil that she doesn’t shy away from.”
Asked for her favourite Christie, Ware mentions And Then There Were None because it is “fantastically well plotted, and I really love the recent BBC adaptation”, but ultimately she opts for another work. “In terms of the book that I wish people would read, it might be Endless Night,” says Ware. “Because it’s so cold and the characterisation is so well done, I think maybe people would re-assess her if more people knew about that book.”
When it comes to the series characters, Ware loves Poirot but opts for Marple. “There are not many books where old women get to kick ass, and Miss Marple does that with style,” she says. Would she like to follow Sophie Hannah’s Poirot example and write a continuation novel for Marple? “Bloody hell, yeah! I don’t know if I could do her justice, but yeah.”
Ware is also conscious that while she has welcomed the comparison, she’s not sure Christie would be a fan of her books. “I think Christie would probably hugely disapprove of my very wayward characters, hard-drinking and hard-partying women,” she admits. “I think she would probably think they were absolutely reprehensible.”
In A Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman In Cabin 10 (Harvill Secker) are out now.