Written by Andrew Wilson — The resurrection of Agatha Christie began last year with the publication of A Talent for Murder, a book which offered an alternative explanation for Christie’s well-documented ‘lost’ 11 days in December, 1926.
A Different Kind of Evil begins in January 1927, with the author still recovering from the happenings of the year before – both real and fictional. She is grieving following the death of her mother and still reeling from the infidelity of her husband, Archie. She also has a novel to complete, so when the British Secret Service again calls upon her skills as an undercover agent, Christie, her young daughter Rosalind and secretary and friend Carlo set sail on the SS Gelria, bound for Gran Canaria, their ultimate destination the Hotel Taoro in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife.
It’s an idyllic setting, but one in which a British agent has been murdered. Douglas Greene was found in an ancient cave, his battered body drained of its blood. The near-ritualistic style of the death appears to be pointing towards occultist Gerard Grenville, who lives on the island with his daughter Violet. Christie, accompanied by Secret Service man John Davison, is tasked with getting to know Grenville and his daughter – but before the party can even reach the Canaries there is a death aboard the Gelria, and Christie is a witness.
Gina Trevelyan has a history of mental illness, and her husband, Guy, is aboard the vessel with his mistress, sculptress Helen Hart. Her suicide affects Christie badly, although Miss Hart, who also witnesses Mrs Trevelyan’s leap overboard, appears much more devil-may-care about it. In true Agatha Christie style, this is the first of many misfortunes to fall upon the passengers of the vessel.
As with A Talent for Murder, the happenings in this book are partly based on fact. Agatha Christie, her daughter and secretary did travel to Tenerife on the SS Gelria in January 1927 and they stayed at the Taoro while she set to work finishing her eighth novel, The Mystery of the Blue Train. The rest is all fiction, and in creating it, Andrew Wilson demonstrates a consummate skill in generating an atmosphere of time and place – you can almost feel the temperature rise and smell the perfume of those exotic flowers. The dialogue is crisply rendered and pitched just right too.
Where this book falls down is in its central character. Agatha Christie is a living, breathing protagonist with none of the little quirks and foibles of, say Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple and she’s held in such great esteem that I surmise it wouldn’t feel right to add them for the sake of a bit of drama. The result is that she comes across as pretty dull and, dare I say, boring, with a side order of neurotic. The latter is not surprising after all she’s gone through up to this point in her life.
The plot itself teeters on the edge clunky, and build up to the final reveal is somewhat understated too. You’ll find yourself longing for a dazzling flourish that, sadly, never arrives in a novel that could well appeal to fans of Golden Age writing and historical fiction but perhaps not to those who love Agatha Christie and her immense body of work.
Crime author Josephine Tey becomes a sleuth in Nicola Upson’s series about the writer, while both Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle are investigators in Gyles Brandreth’s Jack the Ripper: Case Closed.
Simon & Schuster
CLF rating: 3 stars