With 10 days to go until the release of New Year’s Eve, I decided to post every day about an influence on the novel.
Whenever I plot my thrillers, there is always an Agatha Christie book and a Hitchcock film at the back of my mind. They were both so foundational in developing my tastes in the genre that their influence always creeps in.
I’ll say which Hitchcock film influenced New Year’s Eve in another post — although the front cover makes it pretty obvious!– but for today, l’d like to focus on the Queen of Crime.
My last book, the Bridal Party, was very much my take on And Then There Were None. And now it gives me pleasure to announce (pun somewhat intended) that a Miss Marple story– my favourite of her stories, in fact– was a key influence this time around. It has a brilliant title, and one suits my book, too: Christie’s post-war gem A Murder is Announced.
My novel starts with everyone at a party writing down their New Year’s resolutions. We find out that someone has made the resolution to commit murder– but we don’t know who! It’s directly inspired by A Murder is Announced, which my wife (a big Agatha Christie fan) recommended to me. In Christie’s novel, the story begins with an introduction to all the main characters as they open the local paper and read that a murder is going to take place. Some characters take it seriously, and worry about its significance, while others dismiss the whole thing as just a game. Both chastise each other for their reactions.
And, within those opening chapters, Christie gives the reader everything they need to know in order to understand her characters and plot.
What I loved about this opening is that Christie brilliantly builds her novel upon the promise of murder rather than murder itself. It is an ingenious way to reveal the characters of a whodunnit: it’s both a meta-commentary on the reader’s expectations of a murder-mystery and a reversal of the genre’s tropes.
It is this opening section that I wanted to emulate in New Year’s Eve. I like the fact that murder is predicted, but we don’t know why. Is it just a bit of fun… or a threat?
I love the delicious idea that Christie is announcing the murder herself; an author intervening in the peaceful village life of Little Paddocks and unearthing the resentments and disputes among its inhabitants. There is something wicked behind it all, and I feel like Christie is writing with absolute glee as she introduces death and murder into the heart of a quaint English village.
I wrote my opening, it has to be said, with a similar sense of glee.
On the subject of Agatha Christie, I should also note that the timeline of New Year’s Eve is entirely constructed as a reaction to what I call the ‘Second Act Slump’ of thrillers and murder mysteries. I always felt as a child that the final act, containing all the revelations, was by far the most exciting part of such stories. I enjoyed the set-up and the denouement, but always got frustrated by the endless interviews and fruitless lines of enquiry in between. Even the greatest examples of the genre, like Murder on the Orient Express, took far too long to get to the twists and relevations for my taste: I felt that many passages were written for the benefit of the detective rather than for the reader.
So the plot of New Year’s Eve gets rid of the second act entirely. In essence, I took my favourite part of the murder mystery–the breathless climax where Marple or a Poirot unites all the characters and goes through all their secrets– and decided to make an entire book out of it.
When they say that your taste in writing is dictated by your taste in reading, this is the sort of thing they mean. Whatever people make of New Year’s Eve, I know that I have my impatient younger self to thank or to blame…