"His career as a writer of psychological thrillers comes after a nearly lifelong fixation on the murder mystery."Alex Michaelides with permission for Varsity

“If I had had a very happy childhood,” bestselling author Alex Michaelides tells me, “I would probably be an accountant in Cyprus.”

It is this startling honesty that makes talking to Michaelides, whose new book The Fury launched on the 2nd of February, so enjoyable. “We write,” he goes on, “because we have had difficulties, and we want to analyse and explore them.”

He speaks much as he writes. Choosing his words carefully, measured observations unfold into unexpected twists in conversation. I listen to him reflect candidly on the self-doubt he faces when he works, (fought off by daily meditation), and think it would be hard to guess that he is a New York Times and The Sunday Times bestselling author, catapulted into the literary limelight five years ago by the success of his debut novel and psychological thriller, The Silent Patient.

He is now back with his third novel, The Fury. Set on a fictitious Greek island, a nod to Michaelides’ Greek origins and childhood upbringing in Cyprus, the novel centres around seven friends and one murder. Hardly surprising, as murders are what Michaelides does best.

“If I had had a very happy childhood, I would probably be an accountant in Cyprus”

His career as a writer of psychological thrillers comes after a nearly lifelong fixation on the murder mystery. He grew up in a house of books, he tells me, and the obsession began after a juvenile break-in of his sister’s bedroom and a raid of her collection of Agatha Christies. Half enthralled, half terrified, he spent the rest of the summer devouring one after the other. His love of books took him to our very own Cambridge, where he received an undergraduate degree in English from Trinity College. It was after he graduated that he began to train as a psychotherapist, never receiving his qualification, “mainly because I realised, I wasn’t a therapist, I was a writer.” His work in a psychiatric unit added a whole new dimension to his interest in crime, and inspired the writing of The Silent Patient, written from the perspective of an English psychotherapist. “Gaining an understanding for the reasons why people do the things they do”, he tells me, “helped me learn how to write.”

The success of his debut novel was swiftly followed by his second work, The Maidens, a dark tale set in the depths of a Cambridge college. While it’s a place he has always been in love with, frequent returns to the town for research were bitter-sweet. “I was reminiscing over all the friends who had been and gone, and memories of my young self were with me too, which all fed into this air of melancholy. But then Cambridge is a hugely atmospheric place. The perfect backdrop for a murder mystery.”

This new book is lighter and glitzier than its predecessors. “I was quite depressed when finishing The Maidens. Living with Mariana and the sadness of her story made me quite miserable by the end.” He pauses. “I thought: this time I want to have some fun.”

“Cambridge is a hugely atmospheric place. The perfect backdrop for a murder mystery”

Fun he has had. The Fury is a whirlwind of movie stars, British theatre actors, fierce jealousy, and obsessive desire, all set against the backdrop of a stormy Greek isle. “Agatha Christie taught me”, Michaelides says, “that murders need to take place in an enclosed location.” Unrequited infatuation and forbidden love affairs cause tensions to escalate between this tangle of friends, each of whom spring to life, vivid and flawed, from the pages.

The novel features two actresses and a playwright, an ode to Michaelides’ past life in Hollywood as a scriptwriter. Bad behaviour among stars of the screen was frequent. “I watched and learned, knowing that one day I would write about them.” He moved gladly from scriptwriting to novel writing. “A friend of mine says that films are about contraction and novels are about expansion. I found that very appealing.”

That being said, he tells me his biggest fear when he writes is being boring. This is an anxiety he has managed to deftly avoid; final year responsibilities cast aside, I read this book in one sitting. The combination of numerous plot twists with a wickedly unreliable narrator, Elliot, keeps you on your toes. The narrative voice was key to his creation of the novel. “It came alive and the plot started to work when Elliot started to talk to me.”

Between movie stars, Greek islands, character psychology and murder mysteries, the book is a heady mish-mash of key influences in Michaelides’ life. To him, this is precisely what a novel should be: “a collision of ideas.” Despite this creative freedom, staying true to traditional structure remains a crucial element of the framework. “I like the set-up of crime, investigation, and solution. I always think about what P. D. James said, that it brings order from the chaos, and I think that’s why we find the genre so comforting. You know that the crazy thing will be neatly tied up and resolved, and that doesn’t often happen in real life.”


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I ask him if he’s wedded to the murder mystery, or if he could be tempted to stray into another genre. His response is a firm shake of the head. “A few people have suggested I write a romance. I’m definitely not the perfect candidate to do that.” He breaks into a grin. “Unless it ends in a murder.”

Alex Michaelides was hosted by Cambridge Waterstones on 1st Feb 2024, and his latest novel is available to buy at most major book retailers.