Photo: Teesside University
Adele Parks Writes ‘Two Dead Wives’ After Readers Demand a Sequel to ‘Woman Last Seen’
In a Q&A, the British writer talks about her latest thriller, researching bigamy and meeting King Charles / BY Rosemary Counter / February 5th, 2024
In the crime world, both true and fictional, common wisdom says “the husband did it.” But what if – as British thriller writer Adele Parks offers in her new book, Two Dead Wives – there were actually two husbands to suspect? Of course, the dead wife would have to be a bigamist, which is exactly what Parks’ protagonist, Kylie, is.
That’s not quite a spoiler, since Two Dead Wives is actually the unplanned sequel to Woman Last Seen, published in 2022. In less than two years, Parks – a type-A writer of 23 books in 23 years – listened to the fans who demanded, imagined and plotted the follow-up, to power-write between 1,000 and 2,000 words a day (no exceptions).
Needless to say, Parks’ pandemic was more productive than most and, for reasons we’ll discuss, COVID-19 was good news if you happen to be plotting a mystery novel. Thrillers are the 54-year-old writer’s current forte, but she arrived here after progressing through rom-coms and historical fiction.
For all her literary dedication and output, Parks was honoured in 2022 as a Member of the British Empire for services to literature by King Charles III himself – and I clearly had to ask her for details. Zoomer spoke to the author in Surrey, England, about meeting His Majesty, surprise sequels and bigamy.
Rosemary Counter: I just finished your book, including the author’s note at the end, and only then realized this book is actually a sequel, which made so much sense, in retrospect. I wasn’t spoon-fed any explainers, but dove right into the action.
Adele Parks: The challenge for me was to make a sequel that can be read as a standalone. And I’d never planned to write a sequel, actually. It only happened because the North American audience, when they finished Woman Last Seen, sent me so many emails about the ambiguous ending. In the U.K., nobody said anything, but Canadians and Americans weren’t having it. I got literally hundreds of emails demanding I finish the story.
RC: I thought that maybe, because it was a sequel, the book just doesn’t follow the usual format of a thriller – making it even more thrilling. I was only a third in when you told me the killer!
AP: Yes, but if you’d read the first book, you’d already know that. I really enjoyed writing for both readers [those who’d read the first and those who hadn’t], though it required throwing some tropes out the window. I hope it’s still got the things about the thrillers you’d expect – a mystery, suspense, interconnecting plots and a twist – but I also had fun just doing things my way. After 23 books, I can do that.
RC: You are productive!
AP: It’s easy to be productive when you love your job. I always wanted to be a writer, though I wasn’t published until I was 30. At the time, I thought that was old, but now I’m 54 and I realize that 30 is an absolute baby. Being an author was initially suggested to me by a librarian, who told me I read more books than any other little girl. Really, it was the 1970s and the library was an unpaid babysitter, where my mother would meet my sister and me after school. Books to me were a magic carpet. you can go wherever you want: back in history or fast-forward into the future, you can change age or gender – all by picking up a novel – and that so appealed to me.
RC: Did you always want to write thrillers?
AP: I always wanted to write fiction, but I’ve tried all different genres. My first book was a romantic comedy, because I had a number of bereavements in my late 20s and I felt really sad. I used writing – and reading – as escapism. I didn’t read anything sad or frightening, because I thought the world was terrifying enough. My first six or seven books were really light, fun, though I’ve always written complicated main characters. I like a flawed woman. Then once my life got better, when I was calmer and happy, I was able to push myself toward darker stories. Most people are relatively nice and normal, so it’s much more exciting to get into the head of someone who’s so different from you.
RC: The idea of maintaining two husbands is beyond me. That’s just too many!
AP: You’re not the first person to say that. While I was on my book tour, many women asked about double sock-washing, and double sex. This can be good or bad, depending on how exhausted you are. Many women would prefer another wife, I think. An organized woman who plans the holidays.
RC: OK, that sounds pretty good.
AP: I did a lot of thinking about and research into bigamy. Bigamists tend to be men; it’s much easier to have multiple families if you’re a man and don’t have the babies. My character is actually a stepmom, where she’s stepped in because she’s very wanted and needed by the family. In her other marriage, she’s childless and it’s very different. To get into her mind, I did some research and actually found a case of a woman bigamist. Her first husband was cruel and abusive, and she got pregnant by her lover, whom she’d told she was divorcing her husband, but never actually did because he wouldn’t let her have the divorce. Then she married the new guy anyways. Let me tell you, nothing is as strange as real life.
RC: The book was written and set during the pandemic, which plays surprisingly well into your plot: People are isolated, they’re wearing masks, they don’t recognize each other…
AP: Absolutely. People say writing psychological thrillers is increasingly difficult in this century because everyone’s so discoverable by electronic footprints and forensic evidence. In Agatha Christie’s day, someone could be poisoned or go missing and it all happens in a closed room with a certain amount of suspects, one of whom is the killer. This doesn’t happen much anymore, but then the pandemic happened and almost recreated that space with limited players and less communication.
RC: Last but not least, what’s King Charles like?
AP: He was amazing, really charming. He either reads my books or is very, very well briefed, because he asked lots of questions and seemed very interested. He asked, “Have I kept you from your writing today?” and I said, “I think this is a good enough excuse to not write today.” He told me if I was in any trouble with my publisher for it, have them ring him up and he’d cover for me. He’s funnier than you’d think.