Famous for using magic realism in novels like “The House of the Spirits”, Chilean-American author Isabel Allende experiments with writing a mystery in her latest work “Ripper”.
The book, named after a real online game, puts readers in contemporary San Francisco where a series of murders occur that loosely follow an astrological prediction.
A group of Ripper players begin to latch onto the clues to unmask the killer’s identity.
Reuters spoke to Allende about her motivation, plot line and the writing process.
Q: What made you decide to write a mystery?
A: I wanted to write a book with my husband, William Gordon, who has written several mysteries that have been translated. Very soon, we realized this was impossible and we wound up fighting like dogs. He writes in English with an attention span of 11 minutes. I write in Spanish for 11 hours. I would wind up doing all the work and he would get half the credit – not a good deal for me!
I start my books on January 8. But by January 7, we had been fighting so much that he went to his room to work on his sixth mystery novel, while I went to mine to write my first.
Together we couldn’t write anything else because he only writes mysteries.
Q: How did you approach the process of writing this book differently from some of your other works?
A: I had approached this book tongue-in-cheek because I’m not a fan of mysteries. I read a few mysteries to prepare myself for this book.
The most interesting ones recently have been written by Scandinavians, particularly Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo. I found those books to be really gruesome, violent and dark.
I generally don’t like formulas in books. You may be surprised by the killer’s identity, but a mystery’s formula never disappoints you. It is like a romance novel where you know there are sensual scenes and a happy ending.
Mysteries and romance novels are fantasies, and their characters tend to be caricatures. For a writer like myself, who is so much into character, relationships and research, I needed to write this book in my style and make fun of the genre.
Q: At what point did you know that the plot would work?
A: The plot came very early on when I saw my granddaughter playing Ripper, which is a real role-player game in which the players try to catch Jack the Ripper in London in 1888.
Let’s then put all this action in San Francisco in 2012 and try to make it work. In the beginning, I was just rambling.
The murders in the book came to me individually. I didn’t plan the whole series of crimes from the beginning. It just developed that way.
However, you never finish a novel – you just give up. There is a point where it didn’t make sense to kill off anymore people.
I have heard that mystery writers plan every single word with everything mapped out before they start, but that was not the case with me.
Q: Which characters did you most appreciate developing?
A: The villain was the most interesting. But the character that I researched most was the Navy SEAL because I know nothing about the military. I found a Navy SEAL who was willing to talk to me. He just retired and that’s why he could speak because they are very secretive. He was vaguely related to a person who works in my foundation.
The character that I loved the most is the grandfather because I love his relationship with his granddaughter, Amanda. Her character was somewhat inspired by one of my own teenage grandchildren, Andrea, when she was 15-years-old.
Q: Given how different Ripper is from your other works, did you ultimately enjoy writing a mystery?
A: I absolutely loved it! I attended a mystery writers’ conference where I learned a lot and received help on the research. I loved the process and fun of it, it’s nothing transcendent or serious. It’s just enjoyment for me and the reader.
But I don’t think I will go back to that genre in the near future.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Sophie Hares)