When Peter Swanson sat down to write his next mystery novel, he wanted to write a tribute to Agatha Christie. “Nine Lives” was the result.
“’And Then There Were None’ has always been my favorite Agatha Christie novel — my favorite mystery novel, really,” said the best-selling author.
“I wanted to write an homage to that book in which strangers are united because they are being targeted by the same killer. But I didn’t want them to be on an island or in a snowbound house, since it’s been done so often. That is how I came up with the idea that each character will have received a mysterious letter before they start to die off one by one.”
“Nine Lives” follows nine strangers who receive an enigmatic list with their names on it. Soon, the strangers begin to die—in bizarre circumstances.
Swanson — whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages — has previously written seven novels. They include “The Kind Worth Killing,” a winner of the New England Society Book Award, and “Her de ella Every Fear,” a 2017 NPR book of the year.
Currently, he lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with his wife and cat. On Wednesday, he’ll be hosted virtually by Diesel Bookstore.
Q: What common elements do the nine strangers have, and why is that important to the plot?
TO: The mystery of the book lies in the fact that they don’t have any common elements, or at least they don’t seem to. What binds them is that they have all received this mysterious letter and are all under the threat of death. Of course, there actually is a common element between them, but that is not immediately apparent, or at least I hope it’s not.
Q: Who is Sam Hamilton, and why is he important?
TO: There are a few detective characters in this novel, and Sam Hamilton is one of them, a small-town Maine detective with an interesting background, having grown up in Louisiana with Jamaican parents and having visited an English grandmother when he was a young boy. This grandmother introduced him to Golden Age mysteries, so he takes a particular interest in this case because it reminds him of a plot from the genre he loves.
Q: Out of the nine characters in your book, which was your favorite to write? Which was the hardest to write?
TO: The hardest to write was Jessica Winslow because she’s an FBI agent, and I didn’t want to get the specifics of her job wrong. I hate doing research about that sort of thing, which is why most of my mystery novels are not told from the point of view of detectives. The easiest character to write was Jay Coates, a budding psychopath. I always enjoy writing from the point of view of despicable characters.
Q: Please explain why you wanted an epigraph by Wislawa Szymborska.
TO: I fell in love with Szymborska’s poem “A Word on Statistics” a number of years ago. It has a very simple premise, which is that while humans are different, we are all united in the fact that we will one day die.
Q: Why did you style your chapters in descending order?
TO: I suppose it was my version of the figurines disappearing from the dining room table in “And Then There Were None.” I wanted to acknowledge that the cast is diminishing.
Q: What is it about being in the middle of writing a story that you love?
TO: I only love being in the middle of writing a story if it is going well! Otherwise, it’s pretty miserable. But if you know where you’re going next as a writer, it makes sitting down at the desk almost a pleasure.
Q: Why do you think crime is so popular to read, watch, or listen to via books, television and podcasts?
TO: It’s a combination of being fascinated by the morbid, but also seeking that strange comfort that creepy stories can bring. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I’ve always found dark movies and books comforting. Maybe because bad things are happening to other people, and we are there just as witnesses.
“Nine Strangers” by Peter Swanson (HarperCollins, 2022; 336 pages)
Diesel Bookstore presents Peter Swanson
When: 3 p.m. March 16
Where: Virtual event via Crowdcast
Telephone: (858) 925-7078
Davidson is a freelance writer.