Sophie Hannah talks about Agatha Christie’s influence on her writing

Category: Book club

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This month’s Killer Reads Book of the Month is the first Poirot mystery, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES.

You can join the debate on GoodReads here: http://bit.ly/1wWAv3F

When my agent first suggested to me that I ought to write a new Hercule Poirot novel for Agatha Christie’s publishers, I knew two things straight away: that this might be the most exciting creative challenge I could ever undertake, and that I would not want to write a continuation novel for any other writer, not even one that I loved.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Iris Murdoch, for example, but to try to write a novel featuring one of her characters wouldn’t have worked for me at all.  It would have been too contrived.  I’d have felt like an actor playing one half of a pantomime horse, out of synch with the other half and in an ill-fitting costume.

The idea of writing a Poirot novel did not feel like that at all – which, if you think about it, is rather odd.  Why didn’t it?  Why did it feel so natural and possible?  I think it’s because Agatha Christie’s influence is such an integral part of my writerly DNA, and always has been.  She was my main influence, and the writer who made me fall in love with mysteries.  I discovered her early – at twelve – and I’d read every word she’d published by the time I was fourteen.  I was hooked.  And a pattern had been firmly set up in my mind, the blueprint for what I believed an ideal detective story ought to be: an intriguing, structurally ambitious mystery – far more interesting and puzzling than simply ‘Here’s a corpse – who killed it?’; a super-clever detective who reliably and brilliantly solves every last puzzle at the end; an abundance of clues, indecipherable when we first encounter them, but making perfect sense once we’ve heard the detective’s explanation; the apparently impossible being shown to be possible; the combination of a fun, hooky read with psychological insight and an awareness of the depths of darkness in every human psyche.

When I set out to write crime fiction, I didn’t think to myself, ‘I’m going to model myself on Agatha Christie’ or ‘I am going to be a crime writer in the Christie tradition’.  Nevertheless, the Queen of Crime’s example must have been strong in my mind, because I wrote mystery novel after mystery novel that opened with what I thought of as ‘an Agatha-ish beginning’.  What I meant by this was: something so puzzling appears to be happening that readers cannot begin to speculate what might be going on, and fear that the only way the idea can be made to work is by resorting to the supernatural.  So, in my novel The Dead Lie Down (which is called The Other Half Lives in England), a man confesses to the murder of a woman who isn’t dead.  No matter how hard the police try to convince him that he can’t possibly have killed her because, look, there she is, alive and well and claiming never to have heard of him, this man continues to insist that she can’t possibly be still alive, because he killed her – yes, that very same woman – several years earlier.  My novel Kind of Cruel starts with a woman arrested for murder because she uttered the words ‘Kind, Cruel, Kind of Cruel’ in a confidential hypnotherapy session and those same words were the only clue found at the scene of a brutal murder – but how could detectives have known that the heroine said these words to her therapist in a private therapy session overheard by nobody?

The trick is to show, slowly and logically, how what appears to be impossible is in fact eminently possible.  Agatha Christie pulls it off brilliantly in Sleeping Murder, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, Sparkling Cyanide and many other of her novels, and I try to do it in the crime fiction that I write.  I didn’t realise until I was asked to write a new Hercule Poirot novel that, from my very first attempt at crime fiction when I was a teenager, I had been trying to write like Agatha Christie in so many ways.  Being asked to do so openly and officially, and taking up that challenge, felt like a sort of literary coming out of the closet – a closet full of old paperback editions of Agatha Christie novels, the ones I collected as a teenager.  After coming out of it, I wanted to crawl back in and reread all those wonderful books!

Follow Christie on @queenofcrime and Sophie @sophiehannahCB1

 

Dead Man Walking

Category: Books

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Today’s the day that fans across the country have been waiting for. The new DS Mark Heckenburg novel from Paul Finch publishes today, and Dead Man Walking has already been getting early rave reviews.

“Superb!”

“Brilliantly evil villains.”

“Shot my nerves to hell!”

Need we say more?

So if you want to see what all the fuss is about, why not take a peek at an extract from the novel, as we get a first glimpse of the serial killer that’s about to walk into Heck’s life… This is a killer thriller that you won’t be able to put down – don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Click here to get a first glimpse now: https://www.scribd.com/doc/247124681/Dead-Man-Walking-by-Paul-Finch

His worst nightmare is back…

As a brutal winter takes hold of the Lake District, a prolific serial killer stalks the fells. ‘The Stranger’ has returned and for DS Mark ‘Heck’ Heckenburg, the signs are all too familiar.

Last seen on Dartmoor ten years earlier, The Stranger murdered his victims in vicious, cold-blooded attacks – and when two young women go missing, Heck fears the worst.

As The Stranger lays siege to a remote community, Heck watches helplessly as the killer plays his cruel game, picking off his victims one by one. And with no way to get word out of the valley, Heck must play ball…

A spine-chilling thriller, from the #1 ebook bestseller. Perfect for fans of Stuart MacBride and James Oswald.

 

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Crime Fighting Duos with Faye Kellerman’s Murder 101

Category: Featured

LAPD lieutenant Peter Decker and his wife and crime-solving partner Rina Lazarus are back in Faye Kellerman’s newest thriller, Murder 101! The couple moved from the chaos of their earlier life by moving to a quiet town in upstate New York, but being semi-retired lacks the excitement of crime solving in L.A. So when two beautiful stained glass windows are stolen from The Bergman crypt, Decker and Lazarus are back on the case!

With the release of Murder 101 today, it’s a good time to take a look at some of our favourite literary crime duos!

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Holmes & Watson

The brilliant and eccentric consulting detective and his flatmate, assistant and friend’s placement on any list of crime duos is simply, well…elementary. The well-loved pair continue to live on today through new novels, TV and movies thanks to the incredibly great public outcry when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Holmes that eventually convinced him to bring the iconic detective back from the dead—much to the joy of his audience and dear Watson.

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Alex Cross & John Sampson

Alex and John have been friends since childhood; who better to have at your side while fighting crime in Washington, D.C.? The pair’s younger years were full of troubles and morally questionable behaviour, and even today they’re not always the most law abiding detectives (revenge is a tricky business after all). But together they do everything they can to protect their community and each other, even at risk of their own lives.

Lisbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist

A tattooed, pierced computer hacker and a middle aged, disgraced investigative journalist hardly seem like the perfect crime solving team, but the two make almost easy work of solving some of the most brutal murders in Sweden in the Millennium trilogy.  Despite their unlikely and often rocky relationship, the nearly fearless pair regularly put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of the truth and each other’s safety.

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Buy your very own copy of the new Peter Decker and Rina Lazurus novel, Murder 101 here

Written by Lauren Nettles @LaurenRNettles