A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the first novel in a series starring the author Agatha Christie as the main character. Biographer Andrew Wilson spins several well-researched events of 1926 into a gripping tale of why Agatha Christie disappeared for several days, and what happened during that time. He's not the first person to do so - the movie Agatha springs to mind - but Wilson's version grabbed me from early in the book and wouldn't let go.
The book opens with Agatha's despair. Her husband, Archie (played in the film by the swoonworthy Timothy Dalton) has fallen in love with a younger woman and doesn't understand why his wife isn't being reasonable about giving him a divorce. Wilson must have suffered a broken heart at least once; he describes Agatha's pain in convincing detail. Her misery is interrupted when she is pushed into the path of a train, and then 'saved' by a man who is no hero. Dr. Patrick Kurs has been following her exploits for some time, and he believes she should perform a service for him. In exchange for not releasing love letters between her husband and his mistress, he wants Agatha to kill his wife. He will arrange to be elsewhere, and she can put her knowledge of murder to good use. When she balks at his demands, he threatens to harm her family, specifically her daughter. Convince of his ability to hurt them, she agrees.
Kurs only allows her to decide how to commit the murder; the rest of her actions follow a plan he has already devised. First, Agatha disappears into the countryside, abandoning her car and her fur coat for the police to find. She is allowed to keep her purse, which contains a pouch of poisons. He forces her to check into the Swan Hydropathic Hotel under the last name Neele (the name of Archie's mistress) and, later that evening, to dance the Charleston at his command. These have little to do with the crime he wants her to commit; they are designed to humiliate her and reveal how much she is under his control.
We are occasionally given a glimpse into the police investigation of Agatha's disappearance and a separate investigation by a young woman who is also determined to find her, but never for long. The focus always returns to the mental battle between the fiendish Kurs and Agatha Christie, one of the world's cleverest plotters. He humbles her again and again, but she finds an interesting way to give him what he wants.
This book is very well written and researched. Wilson shows us true details of Agatha Christie's life, and uses what is known about her disappearance as the framework for a powerful conflict between two very clever and determined people. I recommend it.
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