Q: How did you come up with the idea of including the real-life story of Agatha Christie's 11-day disappearance in Christietown? Did you have to do a great deal of research for it?
A: I always do a great deal of research for my books. At a minimum, I read all of the author's fiction, as much criticism of the literature as exists, and whatever biographies or biographical information is available. For me, this is the fun part; I lie in bed with a yellow highlighter and a box of candy and spend hours and days and weeks just reading. When I started researching Christie's life, I didn't know about the 11 day disappearance, and as you might imagine, it struck me like a bolt from the blue. Once I learned Agatha disappeared on the heels of her husband's request for a divorce, I realized it could have great resonance in terms of Cece's own checkered romantic history and insistent self-doubts. It seemed like the perfect hook for my novel. I also enjoyed switching back and forth between the present day narrative and Agatha's narrative of the 11 missing days. More escaping into the past...
Q: What is your favorite Agatha Christie mystery, and why? Which of her mysteries do you think are must-reads for mystery lovers?
A: I love all the Agatha Christie mysteries, but I'm probably with everybody else in voting for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as the best of a very good lot. It provides the classic example of a twist ending, and surprisingly for this genre, holds up to multiple readings. Sleeping Murder, Christie's last book, is also excellent. I'm a sucker for mysteries about newlyweds. And Then There Were None is a must-read; it is deservedly her most famous book because you never do see what's coming. Death in the Clouds is another essential Christie, a clever variation on her isolated country house formulA: I am very partial to The Body in the Library; it may be my favorite. I don't want to give anything away, but a sensitivity to fashion and the psychology of self-presentation will help you figure this one out.
Q: In the Cece Caruso series you often reference classic mystery characters, such as Nancy Drew in Not a Girl Detective, Perry Mason in I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, and Miss Marple in Christietown. Is Cece a direct descendant of these famous sleuths?
A: Cece grew up wanting to be Nancy Drew: a dead mother, an indulgent father, and a housekeeper who could pack your suitcase for a European jaunt or make you a homemade pudding at a moment's notice. But Nancy was a professional; Cece's decidedly an amateur, which makes her more like Miss Marple, though with a more developed fashion sense (no gray cardigans ever).
Q: Do you personally share some aspects of Cece's character, such as her taste for vintage clothing and fascination with old films?
A: Like Cece, I love vintage clothing, but being five-foot-eleven—as Cece knows (we are the same height)—is a bit of a problem on this count. All vintage clothing aficionados should actually be the size of my twelve-year-old daughter, who had her pick of 50s day dresses when she was choosing an elementary school graduation dress (she wound up with an adorable, blue-striped Jonathan Logan dress with a twirly skirt and matching Eisenhower jacket). Women were definitely smaller back then—or else the big ones shredded their clothes when they were done with them. Besides a passion for fashion, Cece and I share a perverse sense of humor and that's about it. She is an Italian Catholic ex-beauty queen from New Jersey who was pregnant at 17 and never made it to college; I'm a Jewish girl from Beverly Hills who had barely dated by 17, and cried when I had to leave grad school. Cece has terrible luck with men; I've been married (to the same person) for 16 years.
Q: What's up next for Cece?
About Susan Kandel
A: The next Cece Caruso mystery is called Vertigo A-Go-Go, and in it, Cece is embroiled in Alfred Hitchcock's life. Without giving too much away, let's just say that she finds out what it's like to be Kim Novak in Vertigo (i.e., the subject of someone's obsession) and Cary Grant in North by Northwest—in the wrong place at the wrong time.