In a plot worthy of the grand dame of crime herself, Andrew Wilson conjures a delightfully chilling explanation for an event that’s intrigued Agatha Christie biographers for close to a century: what happened to the mother of mystery when she disappeared for 11 days in 1926?
This novel dares to answer that question. And in doing so lures us into the kind of labyrinthine puzzle that fans of Christie know and love. Each twist and turn leads us down false paths and (literal) dead ends – until we finally stumble towards a satisfyingly surprising conclusion.
It’s December 1926 and Agatha Christie wanders through the shops at London’s Victoria station, weighed down by thoughts of her husband’s infidelity. But Agatha is soon pulled from her sad reverie by the sharp sense that someone is watching her – someone who makes her hackles rise. Animal senses alert, Agatha flees to the station platform. But just as the train approaches, she feels a light touch on her back, tipping her off balance, towards the platform and certain death. Then, just as suddenly, someone pulls her back from the brink. But as she lies on the platform, inhaling the arid breath of her “rescuer”, Agatha realises that the danger is far from past.
The mystery writer has fallen into the clutches of the chilling Dr Kurs, who knows about her husband’s affair and threatens to make the details public unless Agatha agrees to his horrifying scheme. “You, Mrs Christie, are going to commit a murder. But before then, you are going to disappear.”
Andrew Wilson is no mere dabbler in the literary arts, and this is far from a hokey recreation of a Christie novel. As a biographer of, among others, Patricia Highsmith and Sylvia Plath, Wilson has brought to bear his journalist’s instincts and forensic understanding of the classical mystery novel in creating his fictional version of Mrs Christie – and casting her in the role of protagonist and sleuth.
The results are impressive. Mind boggling twists. Murder most horrid. And some criminally clever sleights of hand – worthy, not only of Christie herself, but of the dark mind of that other doyenne of crime, The Talented Mr Ripley author Patricia Highsmith.
There is no doubt that once you, slightly dazed, pull your gaze from the final pages, you will be left to hope – as we do – that this is not the last mystery wrought by the talented Mr Wilson.
Andrew Wilson is the highly acclaimed author of biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath and Alexander McQueen. His first novel, The Lying Tongue, was published in 2007. His journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and the Washington Post.