Andrew Wilson’s detective novel, “A Different Kind of Evil,” follows an intriguing premise: What if the master of detective fiction, Agatha Christie, were a sleuth herself, solving complex murders in exotic locales, just like her famous characters?
The novel, the second in a series, begins on an ocean liner bound for the Canary Islands. Christie has been recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service to investigate a gruesome murder of one of its agents. He was found partially mummified, his blood drawn, and body covered in dragon tree sap.
Could Gerard Grenville, a self-styled occultist rumored to be involved with human sacrifice, be connected? Or local inspector Artemi Nunez, who seems suspicious of Christie?
Before she can investigate, however, Christie witnesses a tragic suicide on the ship and learns the woman’s companions had reason to celebrate her death, making their overly emotional responses all the more curious. Soon, two more traveling companions are murdered. Christie determines the deaths are connected, but she must put herself in a dangerous position to expose the mastermind.
The difficulty with Wilson’s novel is precisely what gives the work its charm: positioning the master of crime as the detective. Longtime Christie readers (myself included) will expect the novel to resemble one of Christie’s: a snappy opening, a suspenseful discovery of clues, a steady partner in sleuthing, and a close third-person narrative structure.
But “A Different Kind of Evil,” is, well, different. Christie comes to us in muddled first person, vacillating between insecure and confident. Instead of a gripping discovery of clues, details are relayed through Agent Davidson, Christie’s investigating partner — until he disappears. Also, the beginning is bogged down with Wilson’s penchant for research. While some background is fascinating, too much breaks the tension and pacing.
All this being said, once Davidson leaves the scene and Christie is on her own, the suspense ratchets up considerably, especially after she narrowly escapes Grenville and makes a chilling discovery about his home life. The entrance of Mme Giroux, a remarkable governess, provides some much-needed balance for Christie — one hopes she might appear again in future novels.
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Slow to start, “A Different Kind of Evil” comes to a full boil in the final chapters. Filled with red herrings and surprising turns, Wilson keeps readers guessing — and keeps Christie solving crime. We should all be thankful.