Peter Swanson found inspiration for his new book, “Nine Lives,” in one of his all-time favorite mysteries, Agatha Christie’s classic “And Then There Were None.” In Swanson’s version, nine strangers, living all around the country, each receive a list with their names on it. Then one by one they are murdered. This is the best-selling author’s eighth book. He lives in Gloucester with his wife.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
SWANSON: Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Under Ground,” which is the second in her “Ripley” series and the only one of the five I haven’t read. I love Highsmith. I don’t think anyone mines that gray area of the moral lines people will cross as well as she does.
BOOKS: What other writer do you like who mines that gray area?
SWANSON: I love Ruth Rendell, who wrote 70 or 80 books. I keep going back to her books because she’s very good with ordinary people committing crimes. Whenever I don’t know what to read, I pick up a Rendell.
BOOKS: Who was the last crime writer you read for the first time?
SWANSON: I just read a great book, “The Plot” by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It’s a book about plagiarism. She’s married to Paul Muldoon, a poet I quite like.
BOOKS: What other poets do you read?
SWANSON: I go back to poets I’ve loved, like Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath. I occasionally discover someone new. I just discovered Louis MacNeice, a 1930s Irish poet who was a contemporary of Auden. MacNeice wrote a book-length poem called “Autumn Journal,” which is beautiful. It’s set in the late ‘30s. He’s traipsing around the English countryside thinking about the doom that Europe faces with the coming war.
BOOKS: Do you have a favorite literary detective?
SWANSON: The ones that I loved growing up, like Robert Parker’s Spenser books. I like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, but I prefer Miss Marple. I love this current series by the English writer Anthony Horowitz, where he puts himself in the book. He quite makes fun of himself. He’s my favorite contemporary crime writer.
BOOKS: Do you read true crime?
SWANSON: My wife loves it but I have zero to no interest in it, which is odd. I can get more disturbed by true crime. I prefer my crime imagined. The last nonfiction book I read was a biography of Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne, “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym.” She was an English novelist who wrote 20th-century Jane Austen-style books about women’s lives that are some of the funniest stuff. They shouldn’t be great because they are about spinsters and vicars but they are.
BOOKS: What’s the last horror book you read?
SWANSON: “Slade House” by David Mitchell, who wrote “The Bone Clocks” and “Cloud Atlas.” “Slade House” is one of the best things I’ve read in the past few years. It is written in five parts and is about a house. Different people move into this house and then bad things happen.
BOOKS: Have you ever set a book down because it was too scary or gruesome?
SWANSON: I quit Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” years ago when it first came out, and I was working in a bookstore. I found that book gruesomely redundant. It was boring.
BOOKS: Which bookstore did you work in?
SWANSON: I worked at Wordsworth in Harvard Square through the ‘90s. It gave me amazing access to all the new books. We were allowed to take them out on a kind of lending library principle. I became the mystery expert there at that store. It was a great post-college job except for the pay.
BOOKS: How did you start reading mysteries?
SWANSON: I started reading adult books young and picking up whatever we had in the house. My mom had “Coma” by Robin Cook, which I read at 10. It terrified me but it was such a great read. There are two types of readers. There are ones who read something that scares them and then never pick up a book like that again. And there are people like me who want that horrible feeling again and again.