Two months after the events of A Talent for Murder, during which Agatha Christie “disappeared,” the famed mystery writer’s remarkable talent for detection has captured the attention of British Special Agent Davison.
Now, at his behest, she is traveling to the beautiful Canary Islands to investigate the strange and gruesome death of Douglas Greene, an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. As she embarks on a glamorous cruise ship to her destination, she suddenly hears a scream. Rushing over to the stern of the liner, she witnesses a woman fling herself over the side of the ship to her death.
After this shocking experience, she makes it to the Grand Hotel in a lush valley on the islands. There, she meets a diverse and fascinating cast of characters, including two men who are suspected to be involved in the murder of Douglas Greene: an occultist similar to Aleister Crowley; and the secretary to a prominent scholar, who may also be a Communist spy. But Agatha soon realizes that nothing is what it seems here and she is surprised to learn that the apparent suicide of the young woman on the ocean liner is related to the murder of Douglas Greene. Now she has to unmask a different kind of evil in this sinister and thrilling mystery.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)|
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A Different Kind of Evil 1
As I felt the ship tilt and roll, I looked out the porthole to see a hidden horizon, the skyline obscured by the dirty smudge of a black storm cloud. I sat up and took a sip of water, trying to swallow down the feelings of nausea as well as wash away unpleasant memories of bad times at sea.
Perhaps a little fresh air would do me good, I thought as I swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I checked myself in the looking glass, tidied my hair, quickly threw on some clothes, and as I knew it would be cold outside on deck, picked up the paisley shawl that my friend Flora Kurs had given me and draped it across my shoulders.
I listened at the connecting door that led through to the cabin where Rosalind and Carlo were sleeping. All was quiet and I decided not to disturb them. I knew from previous experience that if we were in for a rough crossing, it would be best if my daughter and my secretary were able to sleep through it.
I made my way down the corridor, placing a hand on the wall to steady myself. Oh, please let this not be another Madeira. On that journey, the outward leg of the Empire Tour, the trip around the world that I had taken with Archie, I had suffered such terrible seasickness that at one point I thought I would die. In fact, a fellow passenger, a lady who had caught a brief glimpse of me through the open door, had asked the stewardess whether I had actually passed away.
Although that made me smile now, at the time I had not found the observation amusing. I had had to be confined to the cabin for four days and, like a sick dog, had brought back up anything I had swallowed. I had tried everything, but nothing did any good. In the end, the doctor had given me what he said was liquid chloroform, and after twenty-four hours without food, Archie fed me with essence of beef directly from the jar. How fine that had tasted! I knew my husband hated illness of any kind, and the sight of him offering me a spoon of the dark, viscous substance had made me love him all the more.
That love had gone for good now, at least on his part. The crisis at the end of the last year had finally squeezed the life out of our marriage. Archie had gone back to live at Styles, with a view to selling the house, while the new woman in his life, Nancy Neele, had left the country. Her parents had not wanted her to be caught up in the scandal I had caused with my disappearance and had ordered her into temporary exile. I had heard, however, that upon her return from her travels, she and Archie planned to marry. The word divorce sounded so brutal, so ugly, and although I did not like the idea of it—with all the stigma and shame that accompanied it—I knew that it was something I would have to endure.
It is as inevitable as the force of the sea, I thought as I stepped onto the deck. The wind was beginning to whip up the water, sending its surface into a fury of white. A fine spray of sea mist left its moist trail on my face, and as I ran my tongue over my lips, I tasted salt. After leaving Southampton, we had sailed through the English Channel, headed for Portugal. Although I had been prepared for a spot of mal de mer as we sailed into the Bay of Biscay, the sea had actually been as calm as a duck pond. It was only after leaving Lisbon and traveling south that we encountered the bad weather.
I held on to the rail as I walked along the deck, straining my eyes towards the distance. Somewhere out there was my destination: Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. John Davison, a man I had met at the end of last year, had finally persuaded me to help him investigate the murder of one of his agents, a youngish chap called Douglas Greene. I had tried to resist his pleas to work with the Secret Intelligence Service—in fact, I remember to begin with I thought the whole thing had been nothing more than a silly joke—but after the deaths of Flora Kurs and Davison’s friend Una Crowe I felt duty bound to help. Neither woman would have died had it not been for me. How could I say no?
And there was something very queer about the circumstances surrounding the murder of Greene: Davison had told me that the agent’s partly mummified body had been found in a cave on the island. At first sight, it appeared as though Greene’s corpse had been covered in blood, but on further examination, it was determined that the glossy red sheen that covered his flesh was in fact the sap from a dragon tree, native to Tenerife. Bizarrely, all of his own blood had been drained from his system, but there was no trace of it on the dry earth in the cave or nearby.
When Davison related this to me, I could hardly believe it. But I knew, perhaps better than most people, that evil really did exist in this world. The way some people talked about crime astonished me—as if a sadistic murder or violent sexual attack could be blamed on a dreadfully unhappy childhood or a certain background. No, I was certain that some people were born, not made, evil. Those that disagreed with me, I am afraid, were nothing more than blinkered idealists who could not face up to the brutal realities of human nature. I had stared wickedness in the face, in the form of Dr. Kurs, and I would never forget it; one could literally smell the stench of evil emanating from him. His scheme to manipulate me into committing a murder, which necessitated that I disappear from the view of family, friends, and the world, had driven me to a point of utter distraction and despair. I doubted I would ever be the same again. Certainly my dreams were still haunted by the horrors of those eleven days in December of the previous year. When I closed my eyes I saw the faces of Una Crowe, that poor young girl who had been determined to follow my trail, and Flora Kurs, the ill-fated wife of my tormentor who had sacrificed herself for me.
I looked out to sea once more and watched the sky blacken in the distance. As a child living in Devon, I would spend hours watching the shifting waters of Torbay, the changing color of the sea and sky, the reflection of the clouds upon the waves. I would imagine what lay over the horizon, the far-flung countries with their exotic climates and strange people, and try to picture my future. I don’t think I ever dreamt that I would be a writer, much less get involved with working for a government agency. It all seemed so fantastical somehow, and yet it was true.
Davison had told me—what was it?—that I had a first-rate brain, or some such nonsense. I surmised that it had more to do with the fact that the division he worked for was extremely short on women. And surely no one would ever suspect a slightly socially inept, middle-aged lady of anything? I could move about in an almost invisible state, asking questions, listening to confidences. I could simply serve as an extra pair of eyes and ears. Before embarking on the journey, Davison had stressed the importance of never placing myself in a dangerous situation. The murder of his friend Una still weighed heavily on him. He was taking no chances this time, and he had insisted on accompanying me on the journey to Tenerife. However, while on the SS Gelria—the ship that would take us from Southampton to Las Palmas before it continued on its journey—and also in Tenerife, Davison would travel under an assumed name: that of Alexander Blake. It would be simpler and more straightforward, he said, if we pretended to meet for the first time on the ship.
I had intended to leave my daughter, Rosalind, behind, under the care of my sister at Abney Hall, on the outskirts of Manchester, but when I mentioned to her that I might have to go away again, she became terribly distressed. At seven and a half, she was old enough to understand something of the miseries of the adult world, and no doubt the thought of my absence brought back the horrors of the previous year: the sight of uniformed police; the strained atmosphere in the house; the worried looks on the servants’ faces; the anxiety that she might see the front page of a newspaper or hear a newsboy’s ghoulish call. Also, I don’t think she had ever quite forgiven me for abandoning her for almost a year on my world tour in 1922. And so I had reluctantly accepted that my daughter would have to accompany me to the Canaries. She would be looked after by Carlo and I would make sure she did not come to any harm. It had taken me some time to persuade the family, and those fussing doctors, that a holiday would be beneficial—they worried about the difficulties of travel, the water, the foreign food—but finally they relented. A few weeks in a balmy climate would soothe my nerves and restore my spirits.
Just then a blast of icy wind forced me to hug the shawl tighter across my shoulders. The fresh air had done me good, but the cold was getting to be too much. Just as I went to return to my cabin, I heard what I first thought was the high-pitched cry of a gull. I stopped and gripped the rail. The sound split the air again, the unmistakable scream of a woman that seemed to be coming from the back of the ship. I ran from the front of the boat along the empty deck towards the stern. I looked around to enlist help, but there was no one to be seen. I heard my breathing—fast, shallow and full of panic—as I ran, but by the time I got to the stern, the screams seemed to have stopped. Instead, I saw a heavyset dark-haired woman standing on the very back of the ship, staring into the sea. A few feet away from her stood another woman, a thin blonde, who on seeing me took a tentative step towards her companion.
“No, Gina, don’t,” said the blond-haired woman, stretching out a hand. “I know you hate me, you hate us both probably, but really, it’s not worth it, we’re not worth it.”
In response to this, the brunette climbed over the railings onto a narrow ledge, holding on to the wooden balustrade with both arms.
“Please, no,” I shouted into the wind, unsure whether the woman could hear my words. “What’s your name?”
I turned to her friend, the beautiful blonde whose face was wet with tears. “Gina, did you say? Is that what’s she’s called?”
“Yes, it’s Gina all right,” she said. “She somehow stowed away on the boat. She’s been missing in England, no one knew she was here. She discovered, well, that her husband, Guy—”
I didn’t hear the rest because at that moment a terrific gust of wind blasted in from the sea, forcing me to take a step back. Big fat drops of rain began to lash down from the ever-darkening sky.
“Have you tried to get help?” I shouted. “Sorry, who are you?”
“Miss Hart. No, I got up early to have a walk around the deck. I just chanced upon her and there was no one around. That’s when I started to scream. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Are you close to her?”
“We were—once. But I’m sure she must hate me now. You see, Guy—that’s Mr. Trevelyan—and I, well—”
I began to understand the sorry state of affairs. Guy had obviously been carrying on with Miss Hart behind his wife’s back. Just like Archie had deceived me with Miss Neele.
I turned away from Miss Hart as I tried to mask my contempt.
“Gina, listen to me,” I said, slowly moving towards her. “Tomorrow everything will seem very different, I can assure you. I found myself in just the same situation, and at one point I even thought of doing—well, something stupid. But it is extraordinary what time and a little perspective can do. Of course, you feel like everything is worthless, but it is not the case. You must have a great deal left to live for. I’m sure you have friends, family, a favorite aunt or grandmother, a pet who adores you.” I thought of the feel of my dear dog Peter’s soft head and the deliciously awful stench of his breath. “Your life is precious. You may not think so now, but it is, especially to those close to you.”
Gina seemed to be on the point of turning around and looking at me and perhaps even climbing back over the railings. But then from behind me I heard Miss Hart scream once more. This time, the noise was low and guttural, primitive almost.
“Gina! No! Please don’t!” she shouted, launching herself forwards. “Not now. Not after everything!”
“Miss Hart, no!” I hissed. “Please stand back.”
I tried to stop Gina, attempted to calm her, but it was all so quick. She raised her arms and stood very still for a moment, before she started to sway ever so slightly as if she had given her body over to the force of the wind. And then like an overweight ballerina, she moved as if she were about to fly, lifting her arms high above her head and then letting them drop to her side. Just as Miss Hart, in a panic, shunted forwards, a desperation in her eyes reminding me of the look of an animal in the slaughterhouse, Gina raised her arms in the air once more, and with a graceful movement she jumped off the ship. As I ran towards her, I knew there was little point, it was too late. But there was something inside of me—something which I was sure lives inside all people who count themselves decent and good—which propelled me to try and grab her. Instinctively, I thrust my hands out, but there was nothing to hold on to, only mist and rain and wind, the spray from an angry sea, and a darkening sky. I craned my neck to look over the railings, but there was no sign of Gina. She must have been dragged under in the wake of the ship.
“We need to see if we can rescue her,” I shouted, but to no response. I turned to see Miss Hart standing there, the life sucked out of her. “Miss Hart, quick, go and get help. Find an officer.”
“Yes, of course, you’re right,” she said, gradually coming back to her senses. “Yes, it’s worth a shot.”
As she turned and ran along the deck, I kept hoping to catch a glimpse of Gina in the water behind us. I called her name, even though I knew that the fierce roar of the wind and the sea would drown out my feeble voice. I was completely soaked through to my skin and my eyes were full of water, a mix of raindrops and tears. I imagined the poor girl in the water, gasping for air as her lungs filled up with salt water.
A memory came back to me from years ago when I had been swimming in the ladies’ bathing cove in Torquay with my nephew Jack. I had set off with the little boy on my back—he was not yet old enough to swim for very long by himself—towards the raft that lay anchored in the bay. As I swam, I noticed that the sea had been possessed of a strange sort of swell, and with the weight of Jack on my shoulders, I started to take in quite a bit of water. I felt myself going under and told Jack to swim to the raft. As I drifted out of consciousness I didn’t have a life-flashing-before-one’s-eyes experience. Neither did I hear the strains of stringed instruments or soothing classical music. There was simply a feeling of terrible emptiness, of utter blackness. The next thing I knew I was being tossed into a boat—which also rescued little Jack—and on the shore, a man laid me out on the beach and started to work the water out of me.
Gina would not be so lucky, I was sure. But we had to try. Where was that woman? Why hadn’t she managed to find help? Just then I saw Miss Hart come running with a man dressed in a smart blue uniform, who introduced himself as first officer William McMaster.
“Please, over here,” I said. “A woman just fell off the ship. Can you stop it?”
The officer leant over the stern and cast his expert eye over the surface of the water. As he turned to us, the grim expression on his face said it all.
“Yes, we certainly will,” said McMaster. “I’ll go and tell the captain now, but I’m afraid there is little hope. She would have been dragged down deep into the ocean. Even an Olympic-class swimmer wouldn’t be able to survive, I’m afraid.”
“I see,” I said, bristling at his pessimistic attitude. “But we must do everything we can to make sure.”
“Of course. And if you could please go back inside. We’re expecting some rather rough weather in the next few hours, so we will be locking the doors that lead to the decks.”
“And if the poor girl did not survive,” I said, “what are the chances of recovering her body? It seems only right we should give her a decent funeral.”
Miss Hart let out a quiet cry and dropped her head forwards as she tried to stifle a sob.
“We’ll do everything in our power to find her. But I am afraid that the weather and the sea are our enemies. We mustn’t delay any longer. Please follow me inside.”
We trailed after McMaster like two mourners after a burial on a wet afternoon, our heads and spirits low.
“Before I go and see the captain, could you give me your names?” said the officer, taking a small notebook from the inside pocket of his jacket.
“Mrs. Agatha . . . Christie,” I said, slightly hesitantly, fingering my wedding ring and wondering whether I would carry Archie’s name for the rest of my life.
The officer raised an eyebrow. Perhaps he had read one of my books—or more likely he had seen something in the newspapers relating to the scandal surrounding my disappearance the year before. Would I ever be free of that? After noting my name, he looked towards the beautiful blonde standing next to me.
“I’m Miss Helen Hart.”
The name sounded familiar.
“Thank you. I’m sure the captain will want to talk to you later. And I’ll let you know if we spot anything, anything at all.”
“Thank you, Officer,” I said.
“How awful,” I said. “What a dreadful thing to witness. You must be terribly shaken. Had your friend been standing there long?”
“I’m not sure,” said Miss Hart, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes. “I’m absolutely soaking, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, looking down to see the water puddling on the carpet beneath our feet. “Why don’t we change into fresh clothes and perhaps we can have a talk in the library. I doubt there will be anybody there at this time of day.”
After we had agreed to meet in half an hour, I returned to my cabin. Carlo and Rosalind were still sleeping. I ran a basin full of hot water and proceeded to wash. I dried my hair with a towel and brushed it, but it still looked a fright; it would have to be covered up with a hat. Just as I was dressing, Rosalind ran in from the adjoining cabin, intent on telling me about a dream she had had.
“I lost Blue Teddy, Mummy, I couldn’t find him anywhere. It was horrible.”
“How upsetting for you, darling. But it was only a dream,” I said, stroking her hair.
“I know. Thank goodness. I should so hate to lose him. What on earth would he do without me?” She paused and looked at me as if she had seen me for the first time. “What kind of dreams do you have, Mummy? Do they make you sad?”
“Sometimes,” I said, remembering some of the horrific visions that had recently interrupted my sleep, often culminating in my sitting up in bed in a cold sweat. “But then I always tell myself not to be so silly, as it’s all make-believe.”
“Dreams are such funny things, aren’t they?”
“Indeed they are,” I said, smiling. “Oh, look, here’s Carlo.”
“Good morning,” said Carlo. “I woke up because I felt the ship slow down. Did you feel it, too? In fact—”
She broke off to walk over to the spray-streaked porthole. “I’m sure the ship has stopped. Yes. Look, we aren’t moving. And it’s terrible weather, too.”
I knelt down and kissed Rosalind. “Darling, why don’t you go and see if Blue Teddy is all right? I’ll come and dress you in a moment.”
As I closed the connecting door, I told Carlo of the events of the morning.
“How awful,” she said. “And how awful too that you had to stand by and watch it all. Are you sure you don’t need to rest? You know what the doctors said.”
“No, if I lie down, I’ll most likely start to feel seasick again. That’s why I got up early, to have a breath of fresh air.”
Carlo looked pensive and serious before she said, “She must have been driven to despair.”
“I suppose she must, yes.”
“And it seems as though this other woman, Miss Hart, was having an affair with the poor lady’s husband?”
“A familiar story.”
“Indeed,” I said, glancing at my watch. “In fact, I’m due to talk to Miss Hart now.”
“Have we met him on board—the husband? What did you say his name was?”
“Guy Trevelyan. No, I don’t believe we have.”
“Perhaps he was with that rather fast set we saw across the dining room last night. The ones making all that noise after dinner.”
I thought back to the previous night. As an ear-splitting guffaw had cracked the air, I remembered looking askance at the group of young people in such high spirits at the far corner of the first-class dining room. Did they really have to be quite so loud? Perhaps it had been sourness or middle age or my own particular circumstances—whatever the reason, I am sure I have not laughed like that in years—but I had cast a rather disapproving stare across the room, and in the process I had met the amused eyes of a handsome dark-haired man sitting next to an elegant blonde, who I now knew to be Helen Hart.
When I opened the door to the library, Helen Hart was standing by the far shelves, her back to me.
“I must say they’ve got a rather poor show of books. Not that I would read any if they had a better selection. Have you seen them?”
“No, I’m afraid—”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said. “I was talking to Mr. Trevelyan.”
A tall, rugged-looking man stood up from one of the green leather armchairs. As he walked towards me, I noticed that the mischievous glint in his eyes that I had seen last night had been extinguished; now his demeanor was serious and melancholic.
“Guy, this is Mrs. Christie, the lady I told you about,” said Helen. “She tried to help with—”
“I’m so grateful for everything you did this morning, I really am,” he said. “Such a dreadful business.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” I said to Mr. Trevelyan. “Have you spoken to Mr. McMaster?”
“Yes, he came to my cabin a little while ago. I’m afraid there is no sign, no sign whatsoever,” he said. “The captain is going to hold the ship here for the next few hours to make sure, but I think that’s more out of respect than anything else.” His handsome features, so dazzling at dinner the night before, looked a little worn around the edges, and shadows had appeared beneath his eyes. “Poor Gina. If only—”
“You can’t continue to blame yourself, Guy,” said Helen. “Yes, I know, well, we hardly behaved like saints, but Gina was always a bit unbalanced, wasn’t she?”
“What do you mean?” I said gently.
“Please let’s not go into all of that now, Helen,” said Guy. “All I know is that I feel we’ve driven the poor woman to her death.” His dark eyes filled with tears and he bit his knuckle to prevent himself from breaking down.
“Darling, you know that’s not entirely accurate,” said Helen, placing a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. As she did so, I noticed her large, strong-looking hands. Her short nails were not painted, and around the cuticles lay a dark substance that looked like ingrained dirt.
I realized then how I knew her name: I had seen an exhibition of her sculpture—strange, primitive figures, fragmented naked torsos, and the like—at a gallery in London. I recalled being quite shocked by some of the imagery—it was certainly powerful stuff—but one could not deny that Miss Hart had the ability to tap into the deepest parts of the human psyche. I also remembered feeling more than a little jealous of her talents. At one point I had had the very stupid idea of becoming a sculptress myself. I had even taken some lessons before being forced to admit that I was a hopeless case.
“I’m a great admirer of your work, Miss Hart,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Really?” she said, her blue eyes shining.
“Yes, I saw your exhibition at the Pan Gallery early last year. I can’t say I understood it all, but I certainly believe you have an extraordinary ability to capture the essence of things.”
“Well, isn’t that lovely of you to say so. Isn’t that wonderful, Guy?” she said. “I recognize your name, but I’m afraid I haven’t read any of your novels. Reading is not my forte. I can see things—forms, colors, and suchlike—but I must be allergic to the written word. You must think me terribly stupid.”
“Not at all, Miss Hart,” I said. “In fact, it’s always something of a relief to talk to people who haven’t read my books.”
“I know, why don’t you join us for dinner tonight,” said Miss Hart. “And by the way, please call me Helen.”
“Yes, of course,” Trevelyan said flatly. Helen looked at him sternly. “Yes, please do,” he said, more brightly and with greater enthusiasm. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Christie. I still can’t quite believe it—that Gina is dead.”
“I know, a sudden loss is bad enough, but a death of this nature something quite different,” I said. “I’m sure she would not have suffered,” I added, not quite believing it myself. “It would all have been over in an instant.”
“I suppose that is one thing we should be grateful for,” said Trevelyan. “But I just can’t understand it. The last thing I knew she had bolted from our house in Brook Street. She didn’t leave a note or anything. I thought she would spend the night with one of her Mayfair girlfriends and the next day she would return. It’s a pattern I had seen on many occasions. Our marriage was far from a smooth one, you see.”
“And you say she was—well, she had a rather temperamental nature?”
“That’s putting it mildly,” said Helen.
“Please, Helen, you don’t know the strain that Gina was under.”
Helen looked down, duly admonished, and let Trevelyan continue. “Yes, it’s true that Gina had a nervous disposition. She’d seem quite normal for a while, weeks at a time, and then for no apparent reason, she would fall prey to an awful kind of mania. She would be up all night dancing or talking or walking the streets. She said she had the most extraordinary energy, creative energy. She once told me she had written a novel in the course of one night, but when I picked up the notebook I found it to be full of gibberish, nothing more than a few nonsensical phrases and obscenities. And then, with the same kind of suddenness, she would take to her bed, crying for no reason, threatening to harm herself, to do herself in. It was terrible, truly terrible to witness.”
“And when, may I ask, did your wife disappear?”
“It was on New Year’s Day. We’d had quite a party at the London house. Too much drink, too much . . . of everything. Perhaps Gina had seen something at the party or suspected something. But the next thing I knew, she’d gone. I contacted the police, of course, and they issued a statement to the press—there were posters, searches, the lot. But nothing.”
“She didn’t know about you and Miss Hart?”
“I don’t know. Helen wanted me to tell her, but it never seemed the right time. Either Gina was in one of her periods of high-spirited ecstasy or she was in the grip of a terrible depression. There was never anything in between.”
Helen Hart sighed, an expression that spoke of a dozen unsaid sentences, a hundred suppressed wishes.
“There’s no point sighing, Helen,” said Guy, his voice rising. “What was I supposed to do? Tell my wife we’d been having an affair? Did you really want me to drive her to her death?” His eyes stretched wide with anger and his voice cracked with fury. He strode purposefully across the library, opened the door, and turned back. “Is that what you wanted? Well, you’ve got your wish at last. I hope it makes you happy.”
With that he slammed the door and left us standing there, staring at the elaborate patterns in the Turkish rug beneath our feet.
“As you can see, Mrs. Christie, Guy has been left in a state of shock,” said Helen, the china-white skin on her neck now a mass of red blotches.
“Grief does affect people in all sorts of different ways,” I said, trying to smooth over the acute embarrassment felt, no doubt, by both of us.
“Oh, please don’t feel sorry for me,” she hissed. “In fact, I’m pleased the bitch is dead.”
The statement—both the words and the way it was expressed—so shocked me that I was unable to utter a single word.
“I know it’s a truly awful thing to say, but I am. She’s out of our life for good now.”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for A Different Kind of Evil 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.
January 1927. Agatha Christie is on board a luxury liner bound for the exotic Canary Islands. But this is no vacation for the world-famous mystery writer; she is traveling at the behest of the British Secret Service who want her to investigate the murder of Douglas Greene, a brilliant young agent who met an untimely and gruesome end. Mid-voyage, a new tragedy casts a shadow over the ship when Christie hears a scream and witnesses a young woman fling herself over the rails to her certain death.
After arriving at the idyllic Grand Hotel nestled in the lush valley on the island of Tenerife, Mrs. Christie meets an eccentric and fascinating cast of characters, several of whom prove to have good reason to be on her list of suspects. Far from home and uncertain of herself, Christie must rely on her unrivaled understanding of the criminal mind in order to find the truth. But she comes to learn that murder in the real world is very different from murder on the page.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. On page 48, Christie catches two lovers kissing while investigating Gina’s untimely death, and she chastises herself for invading their privacy as reporters have done to hers. Are there other ways that Christie’s bourgeoning career as a detective force her to act in ways that contradict her own strict moral code?
2. Most of the people involved in Christie’s investigation are men who are often condescending toward or dismissive of her. How does she use this to her advantage? What techniques does she employ to get information out of suspects like Dr. Trenkel or Mr. Grenville?
3. What is the difference, if any, between Grenville’s supposed clairvoyance and Christie’s detective intuition? Do Christie and Grenville share traits despite their obvious distaste for each other?
4. On page 79, Christie observes: “For many, life was chaotic, messy, and sometimes without purpose. Perhaps that was why I wrote the kind of books I did, and perhaps why they proved popular with readers, too.” Do you find that is the reason you like murder mysteries? Why else do you think Agatha Christie’s novels are so popular and enduring?
5. A question that is always in the back of Christie’s mind is whether one evil act means the suspect is more likely to be involved in a murder. Do you think a minor criminal act makes someone more likely to do something even worse?
6. Near Mr. Winniatt’s body Christie finds Der Zauberberg—The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann. Mr. Winniatt professed his love of realism in literature. Does this choice of reading contradict his earlier statements about novels being worthless?
7. Helen posits that “’Love has the power to turn us all into criminals.” Do you agree with her? Would you commit a crime for someone you love? Where would you draw the line?
8. On pages 185–186, Mrs. Christie witnesses something truly against nature. What do you think is her responsibility here as a witness? What did she end up doing about the situation? What do you think she should have done differently at that moment or later on?
9. At the start of the novel, Agatha Christie proclaims, “The way some people talked about crime astonished me—as if a sadistic murder or violent sexual attack could be blamed on a dreadful unhappy childhood or a certain background. No I was certain that some people were born, not made, evil.” Does her worldview hold up at the end of the novel, are the evildoers born evil or are they driven to their criminal acts by circumstance?
10. In contrast to Christie, Violet states on page 163: “’When we love someone, it can be difficult to acknowledge that they may have sides to their characters that are, well, that are not all that we’d like them to be. And of course no one is totally good or evil.” Do you think Violet feels the same way at the end?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch the most recent adaptation of Agatha Christie novel’s Murder on the Orient Express. What do you think are the similarities between how filmmakers have interpreted Christie’s works and how Andrew Wilson has? What are the similar storytelling features that they share?
2. Read The Mystery of the Blue Train and consider how that novel may have served as inspiration for Andrew Wilson’s novel.
3. Both Andrew Wilson novels featuring Agatha Christie as detective, A Talent for Murder and A Different Kind of Evil, use real details from Agatha Christie’s life as foundation for the story. Read one of the many biographies of Agatha Christie, and think about what other events from Christie’s real life would make a good plot for a murder mystery or novel.