The literary stars of what writer-editor Weinman calls the “domestic suspense” genre — including Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins of The Girl on the Train and The Widow’s Fiona Barton — reflect the spirit of novels penned some 80 years ago during what’s been dubbed the golden age of women crime writers.
“I’ve been saying for a while we’re going to see a tweak in the original golden age mysteries,” observed Weinman, Canadian-born, New York-based editor of the two-volume set Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s.
She names Jan Burke, Tana French and Canadians Louise Penny and Gail Bowen, among others, as writers hooking readers with stories that hang on contemporary issues like suburban fears, microaggression, stalking and betrayal.
What they have in common with Christie and her contemporaries is the lack of sentimentality in their writing.
“They see the world as it is; they don’t see the world as they wish it would be,” said Weinman.
There’s no romanticizing. “It’s just here’s the world; I’m going to tell you like I see it. And that was certainly true of the ’40s and ’50s women, and I think it’s true of the current crop of female writers now,” she said.
Take Christie’s 1967 novel Endless Night. Weinman said it is just as much an exploration of “a toxic marriage” as Gone Girl. Or pick up Christie’s whodunnit The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which “still has the power to shock a new generation of readers,” 90 years after its initial publication.
Christie certainly seems to be having a moment, with two studio films about her said to be in the works. Major Hollywood names are being mentioned to play the woman who remains the world’s bestselling author 40 years after her death.
Emma Stone (Birdman) is said to have been tapped for Agatha, which appears to be a remake of a 1979 drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave about the real-life mystery surrounding Christie’s 11-day disappearance during a period of marital turmoil in 1926.
Neither project is confirmed.
Toronto-based crime writer Howard Shrier (Buffalo Jump, Miss Montreal) credits Christie’s “ingenious plots” for her hold on readers’ imaginations. While her appeal has endured for decades, he pointed out this “shy, kind of quiet person (is not) the most obvious choice for a biopic.”
Meanwhile, Kenneth Branagh is directing a remake of a much-loved film based on a Christie whodunnit, Murder on the Orient Express. Due out next year, Angelina Jolie is rumoured to be among the ensemble cast.
The push to put Christie’s work before new fans resulted in a successful BBC One adaptation of Christie’s And Then There Were None. A TV adaptation of Christie’s short story and play The Witness for the Prosecution was announced in June.
Meanwhile, Closed Casket, British novelist Sophie Hannah’s second Hercule Poirot mystery, comes out in September, based on Christie’s beloved Belgian sleuth.
Christie created a world where readers could match wits with the detective, solving the crime as they read along, explained Shrier, who teaches a mystery and suspense writing course at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. It’s a thrilling task mystery readers still love to indulge in.
Weinman said while the popularity of mystery categories tends to ebb and flow, “psychological suspense is still hot. Eventually it won’t be and something else will kind of come up.”