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by Andrew Wilson
Atria, July 2017
306 pages
ISBN: 1501145061

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Any Agatha Christie fan knows that in December of 1926, Christie disappeared for ten days. When she was found in Harrogate, she gave no explanation of her actions, nor did she explain them in her autobiography. Fans also know that at the time, Christie's husband was having an affair, her mother had died recently, and she was under pressure to finish a new novel, the writing of which wasn't going well. Therefore, with the lack of explanation from Christie herself for her disappearance and of what happened while she was unaccounted for, others quickly surmised she had some sort of mental breakdown, and that has been the accepted—though not entirely satisfactory—explanation of the missing days. Until now. Now, in A TALENT FOR MURDER, author Andrew Wilson offers another possibility: Christie was semi-kidnapped and blackmailed into committing murder.

While perhaps not exactly probable, Wilson's fictional speculation into what really happened in those missing ten days is entertainingly possible and is made more believable with the liberal sprinkling of known facts throughout the novel. Wilson did quite a bit of research, and he works in material both from Christie's biographies and from newspaper reports of the time. If readers know nothing of the mysterious missing days and Christie's life before reading this book, they will know everything the world knows by the time they reach the end. This mixing of the facts and fiction serves to create a believable figure in the famous-author-turned-character.

Wilson also plays with the concept of author as manipulator of characters—and of those characters becoming real to the author—in the creation of his villain Dr. Patrick Kurs. Kurs needs to have his wife murdered and decides Christie is the perfect person to commit the crime and get away with it. After all, she has an extensive knowledge of poisons and a sharp, logical mind quite practiced in coming up with both murders and solutions. In this case, however, Kurs explains to Christie that she must simply be the character he creates and do as he tells her to do. Christie, of course, has a mind of her own and doesn't stick entirely to the script, as characters sometimes don't, and that makes the novel more interesting both from a plotting angle and as a commentary on authorship itself.

Another plot twist in Wilson's work is Christie's chance encounter with two young friends, Una Crewe and John Davison. Davison has a mysterious "civil service" job which lays the groundwork for possible future fictional (or maybe not!) adventures for Christie, while Crewe, an aspiring journalist, uncovers vital clues about the action and gets caught up in Kurs' diabolical plans, ultimately revealing the depths of his depravity.

The telling of the story itself alternates primarily among Christie's point of view, Crewe's point of view, and the point of view of Superintendent William Kenwood, the man in charge of conducting the search for Christie when she disappears. This gives Wilson the latitude to let Christie's disappearance be the main mystery in the novel while, at the same time, he develops another storyline that follows Christie herself and details the events of those ten days that lead to three murders and a lot of intrigue.

While the story is more than a little improbable and some of the logic is more illogical than even an overwhelmed Christie would have devised as a solution to her fictional problem, Wilson nicely blends facts with fiction to create a fast-paced story that also offers up satisfying glimpses into a favorite author's real life. The result is a novel with a great premise and engaging characters that's a fun read. As a nice final touch, Wilson adds a brief summary at the end of who and what is real and who and what is fictional, and that, too, contains some surprises that even those familiar with Christie's story should find interesting.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, July 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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