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The case of the missing Agatha Christie

A new thriller speculates on the queen of crime’s disappearance.

Agatha Christie – the most popular novelist of all time, with an astonishing two billion in estimated book sales – disappeared in 1926. Her abandoned car was found on the edge of a quarry near a sinister lake known as “the Silent Pool”, her jacket and belongings inside. Her disappearance was news around the world and sparked a massive manhunt.

She was found 10 days later in a Yorkshire hotel, registered under an assumed name. She claimed to have amnesia – an unlikely plot device beloved of crime novelists – and for the rest of her long, dazzling career journalists were forbidden to ask her about the incident. Her memoir makes no mention of it. Christie’s biographers relate the disappearance to the collapse of her first marriage. But what if she really vanished because she was involved in a diabolical mystery featuring blackmail and murder?

Critic Anne Billson coined the term “preposterous thriller” to describe stories with an “evil masterplan, which often takes a lifetime of planning and which is so outrageously convoluted and obsessive that you end up almost feeling sorry for the villains”. Think Gone Girl or And Then There Were None, written by Christie herself. Preposterous thrillers must be so entertaining we don’t care that the plot makes no sense. It’s a high-wire act: when it fails, you get a book such as A Talent for Murder, which is both implausible and dull. Andrew Wilson is a biographer: he’s published books on Patricia Highsmith and Sylvia Plath. His fidelity to his research and the established facts of Christie’s character, life and disappearance result in a plot too unreal to be believable but too pedestrian to be preposterous. The real Agatha Christie would have been murderously unhappy with it.

A Talent for Murder, by Andrew Wilson (Simon & Schuster, $32.99)

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.