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by Andrew Wilson
Washington Square Press, July 2019
352 pages
ISBN: 1501197444

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Once again, Andrew Wilson imagines a world in which Agatha Christie goes from author of detective fiction to being a detective herself. The third book in the series, DEATH IN A DESERT LAND begins two years after Christie's mysterious disappearance. Slowly coming to terms with her life after divorce, Christie agrees to meet her friend Davison in Baghdad where he requests her help. Letters have recently surfaced that suggest Gertrude Bell, scholar, archaeologist, and a powerful force in the Middle East of the 1920s, may have been murdered. Davison wants Christie to go to the archaeological site in Ur where the letters suggest the threat lay and see if there's any truth to the theories. Christie agrees, even though Davison warns her that Katharine Woolley, wife of the archaeologist directing the dig, can be difficult to deal with. In fact, when Christie arrives at the complex, she finds Katharine to be quite friendly, but it doesn't take long for underlying tensions to surface. When a young heiress is murdered, Katharine is the prime suspect, and Christie must use her skills as a nurse and poison expert as well as her deductive abilities to find the murderer before both she and Katharine become victims.

Wilson's ability to turn truth into fiction is one of the most compelling reasons to read this series. He does a good job of weaving in Christie's real life and playing up her known strengths to make her a believable detective. In this case, he also plays off of one of Christie's own novels but makes it decidedly his own. And, like Christie, he brings a small set of characters together in a tense situation and then lets his detective unravel human nature to solve the crime. In this case, it's Christie herself rather than Poirot who gathers the suspects and reveals the murderer, but she reaches her conclusion just as methodically as her fictional detective would have, making this a fun read for Christie fans but equally fun for those not familiar with her work and life.

Another particularly alluring aspect of DEATH IN A DESERT LAND is the setting. Although the archaeological dig itself isn't extensively explained, Wilson does bring in some fascinating details and a plot twist about it, and he captures the landscape and reality of life in the desert well, ensuring that the setting is as interesting as the characters.

Of course, this being a mystery, the mystery itself should be intriguing, and it is. Wilson creates a nicely complicated set of subplots and red herrings in order to keep both Christie and the reader guessing. But even with all the subplots and red herrings, it's likely that the reader will figure out who the murderer is fairly early in the book. However, finding out the why of the crime is worth continuing to the end. It's also worth continuing to the end to read Wilson's "Epilogue: The Facts" where he includes details about the real people and situations he has fictionalized in the novel (there are several).

Knowing that DEATH IN THE DESERT is a clever mix of fact and fiction and seeing how Wilson portrays the queen of crime as a detective both add an extra depth of interest to a quick and entertaining read that easily stands on its own but is likely to make readers want to explore the other books in the series.

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

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, July 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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