Discover the real-life mystery surrounding the queen of crime herself: Agatha Christie. In this “twisty thriller” (Publishers Weekly), Andrew Wilson investigates Christie’s mysterious ten-day disappearance and offers his own gripping explanation, in which Christie is pulled into a riveting case of blackmail and murder.
“I wouldn’t scream if I were you. Unless you want the whole world to learn about your husband and his mistress.”
Agatha Christie is preparing to board a train, preoccupied with the devastating knowledge that her husband is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. So begins a terrifying sequence of events—for her rescuer is no guardian angel, rather he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind.
“You, Mrs. Christie, are going to commit a murder. But, before then, you are going to disappear.”
Writing about murder is a far cry from committing a crime, and Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her expertise and knowledge of the act of murder to kill on his behalf.
In this tantalizing novel Andrew Wilson ingeniously explores Agatha Christie’s odd ten-day disappearance in 1926 and weaves an utterly compelling and convincing story around this still unsolved mystery involving the world’s bestselling novelist.
This reading group guide for A Talent for Murder includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, is boarding a train, preoccupied with the devastating knowledge that her husband is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. So begins a terrifying sequence of events, for her rescuer is no guardian angel; rather, he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind.
Writing about murder is a far cry from committing a crime, and Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her expertise and knowledge about the act of murder to kill on his behalf.
In A Talent for Murder, Andrew Wilson ingeniously explores Agatha Christie’s odd ten-day disappearance in 1926 and weaves an utterly compelling and convincing story around this still unsolved mystery involving the world’s bestselling novelist.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. At the start of the novel, Christie considers going to the police, but then decides to try to contain the situation herself. Does she make the right choice? What would you have done differently in her shoes? Is it worth putting yourself in dangerous situations to conceal embarrassing secrets?
2. On page 31, Christie reads a note her father wrote to her mother, and throughout the book Christie reflects on her childhood. How do these memories help inform her character? In this example, what parallels are there between her own marriage and that of her parents?
3. One of the motifs in the book is keeping secrets or hiding emotions from others. Do you think withholding information benefits the characters in the book? Are there good reasons for concealing secrets or hiding your feelings from someone?
4. On page 38, Christie retells the story of the Silent Pool:
“[A] girl had come to bathe in the pool. But no sooner had she taken off her clothes than she had been shocked to see a man on horseback approach out of the mist. The nobleman had tried to entice her out of the water, but the farther the man proceeded into the pool the farther the girl swam away until she got out of her depth and drowned.”
How does this story relate to Christie’s imminent meeting with Kurs? What is this story’s connection to the larger themes of the book and of Christie’s predicament?
5. Kurs and Christie share some of the same obsessions with mysteries and understanding motivations of people. How else are these two characters similar? What is the quality or personal motivation that, ultimately, puts them on opposite sides?
6. In the novel and in real life, Christie’s disappearances was the cause of intense media scrutiny. Would the media’s response be different today? What would make it easier or harder for someone as well known as Agatha Christie to disappear or go missing for a substantial period of time today?
7. On pages 188–189 Una exclaims, “There are certain times, well, when one has to be creative, don’t you think? Surely you’re not telling me your department has always acted within the confines of the law?” Do you agree with Una that it is acceptable to go around the police to investigate a crime when the police are seemingly ineffective? What are the implications of doing so?
8. Davison is a secret agent with a personal secret of his own; does this make him a better agent because he knows how to hide something about himself or make his job more difficult because he has to keep two secrets at once?
9. Did knowing that Agatha Christie’s disappearance really happened change the way you read the novel? Are there any other parts of the book you think are real to Christie’s life? When a writer uses an historical figure as a character, how true to the facts of that person’s life do you think they should be?
10. On page 271, Agatha Christie questions herself: “And what of the choice of name, Mrs. Teresa Neele? Why had I chosen that?” How would you explain it to Mrs. Christie? Why do you think she chose this name as her alias? What does it say about her feelings toward her husband?
11. At the end of the book Christie admits to having some regrets. What do you think she is referring to? What could she have done differently?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Who would you like to see play Agatha Christie in a movie? Which actor would make the best evil and manipulative Kurs?
2. Read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Agatha Christie’s famous work mentioned often in the novel. Compare and contrast Christie’s style of storytelling to Wilson’s. Do you find parallels in the way characters are developed or the plot unfolds? We’re told that Kurs regarded Dr. Sheppard (the narrator in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) as “something of a hero,” after reading Christie’s novel: What do you think of this observation.
3. Both Andrew Wilson novels featuring Agatha Christie as detective, A Talent for Murder and the forthcoming A Different Kind of Evil (March 2018), use real details from Agatha Christie’s life as conceit for the story. Read one of the many biographies of Agatha Christie: What else from Christie’s real life would make a good plot for a murder mystery or novel?
Andrew Wilson is an award-winning journalist and author. His work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times, and the SmithsonianMagazine. He is the author of four acclaimed biographies, a book about the survivors of the Titanic, and the novels, The Lying Tongue, A Talent for Murder, A Different Kind of Evil, Death in a Desert Land.
“[A] twisty thriller…Wilson fully realizes the potential of this ominous setup.”
– Publishers Weekly
"The queen of crime is the central character in this audacious mystery, which reinvents the story of her mysterious disappearance with thrilling results."
– The Guardian
"Equal parts psychological thriller, detective fiction, and mystery. Readers will become emotionally involved with the protagonist, whom Wilson portrays as both sympathetic and quick witted."
– Library Journal
"A fast-paced, pleasingly twisted and creepy thriller...reads like an amalgamation of a clever Agatha Christie puzzler with the darker characters and psychological insights found in Patricia Highsmith's thrillers...With Strong characters, shrewd plotting and a skillful blending of fact and fiction, A Talent for Murder is a compelling period mystery that will keep whodunit fans captivated."