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detail from cover of Ripper (Courtesy of HarperCollins)

The Mystery Of Isabel Allende: Author Explores New Genre

by NPR Staff
Jan 25, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Chilean writer Isabel Allende is the author of 20 books, including The House of Spirits and City of the Beasts.

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Isabel Allende planned to retire in 2011. Instead, she wrote a murder mystery.

The New York Times bestselling author is known for her unique style that blends historical reportage, memoir and literature. Her books have sold over 60 million copies and are translated into more than 35 languages.

Coming out this month, Ripper is Allende's first foray into the thriller genre. The novel takes place in San Francisco, and centers on Amanda, a teen sleuth hooked on crime novels and a macabre online game called Ripper. When a rash of killings strikes the city and her mother disappears, Amanda takes it upon herself to investigate, and is drawn into a dangerous mystery.


Interview Highlights

On research

I went to a mystery writers conference ... and I learned a lot not only from the faculty — and in the faculty we had forensic doctors, detectives, policemen, experts in guns, etc. — but from the questions of the students. For example, if I inject my victim with a blood thinner and I stab the victim 13 times and then I hang the victim upside down in the shower, would the blood congeal in the bathtub? I would never come up with that kind of question or that kind of situation. But if you ask me now ... I am an expert. I can kill anybody and not be caught.

On writing in a new genre

The book is tongue in cheek. It's very ironic ... and I'm not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. ... And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It's too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there's no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.

On San Francisco, the novel's setting and Allende's home

Twenty-six years ago I was passing by on a book tour without any hope of ever staying in San Francisco. But I met a guy, very exotic to me — he was blonde with blue eyes — and I just had a fling that turned out to be love. I moved to San Francisco to spend a week with him and get him out of my system; I'm still here 26 years later. Now I'm stuck with a husband.

On adapting Ripper for the screen

Let's not talk about Hollywood. ... They want the rights to do the movie and everything else they can think of, forever. There's no limit to the contract — 'In this universe and universes to be discovered' — I'm not making this up: This is in the contract. And they also want the copyright of the characters, so I lose my characters, and if I want to repeat them in another book I have to pay them a royalty. Give me a break.

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