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The Perfect Day—Until She Saw the Stranger at the Wedding

A Spotlight on Author A. E. Gauntlett

By Neil Nyren

“The trouble with lies is that one begets another. They multiply like rats, one stacked on the other, until, before you know it, it’s rats all the way down.”

Annie and Mark met on the 5:38 train to London Bridge. As they would discover, both had traumas in their past. Annie’s was the sudden death of her two-year-old sister, Jessica. Mark’s was the disappearance of his wife, Hope, who walked out the door one day and was never heard from again. They bonded quickly, dated, courted, and got engaged.

And then, on the wedding day, as Annie gazes around the pews, she sees a face she does not recognize, and for some reason, a chill runs through her: “The stranger in the crowd, the uninvited guest, smiles. He sits there and he smiles. And that smile belies a great, rotten truth: something wicked this way comes.”

Book Cover: THE STRANGER AT THE WEDDINGSo begins A. E. Gauntlett’s THE STRANGER AT THE WEDDING, a rollercoaster of a book that will leave your head spinning. The stranger is Cameron Wilkes, a retired detective inspector hired by Hope’s father to find out the truth about Hope’s disappearance. But truth is such a slippery concept. Hope had secrets. So does Mark. So does Annie. So, it turns out, does Cameron Wilkes. In the weeks that follow, all those secrets will emerge, collide, and turn their lives upside down. No one will survive unscathed. Some will not survive at all.

Think you know the person you married? Think again.

“This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband. This is not my husband.” – Hope’s diary.

“The idea came to me after reading a terrifying article about a horrific true crime incident in Germany,” says the author. “I won’t say too much about what that concerned for fear of giving the game away(!) but suffice to say it struck a chord. That gave me the ending, and then it was a case of working backward. Admittedly, an unusual way of approaching a novel.”

There’s a strong element of Greek myth and legend to the book—I won’t say which ones—and that’s been a powerful motif for many other suspense writers as well. Why do they continue to hold such fascination for us?

“In many ways, Greek myths, indeed myths in general, are a sort of Rosetta Stone of literary form. Irrespective of the culture from whence myths derive, there are stark commonalities. It doesn’t matter where we come from; we’re all driven by the same preoccupations, albeit sometimes to lesser or greater degrees. These fears and preoccupations find their natural expression in the stories we tell others and the stories we tell ourselves. There is, then, a natural connection between myth-telling and suspense novels; both are fears realized, given form, and both often have a moralistic imperative, or else delight in upending that imperative.”

Other sources influenced him, too: “E. M. Forster, hugely; his novels, of course, but so too his guide to writing, Aspects of the Novel. I read a great deal of Rushdie, Sarah Waters, Josephine Tey, Steinbeck, and The Queen of Crime, herself. But, and undeservedly much-overlooked, I’d also point to video games. The storytelling in the Final Fantasy series, or The Last of Us (now reaching new audiences as a result of the recent HBO adaptation), has inspired me greatly.”

Also inspiring him was his close knowledge of publishing itself. Gauntlett is an agent at the highly-regarded British literary agency Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, and he’s seen it all:

A. E. Gauntlett

“Too many aspiring writers are concerned with the story they want to tell, not with the market conditions necessary for them to tell it. So, being an agent has kept my ear close to the ground. The market moves quickly—readers and publishers alike get bored of certain tropes re-appearing time and again—and it helps to be positioned to move with it. At the same time, agents and publishers cannot predict bestsellers. There are too many forces involved, too many headwinds or guiding currents. Luck has its part to play.

“I’ve seen the ups and downs of publishing and am experienced enough to know the downs far outweigh the ups. Very few books break out and reach a wider readership. My expectations for my own book then remain suitably low. But I’m always open to being nicely surprised.”

And, in fact, that was the case with THE STRANGER AT THE WEDDING: “I never wrote the book with the intention of having it published. It was a distraction more than anything else—a paragraph here, a paragraph there over a period of months and years. Before I knew it, I had a complete manuscript, and I decided to chance my arm. I wrote to Ariella Feiner at United Agents—whom I’d heard good things about but never met—and the rest is history. I was keen for the manuscript to stand on its own two feet, so insisted it was submitted to publishers under a pseudonym. Ariella went one step further and removed the author’s name entirely. All editors had to go on was a title and the book itself.”

Notes Feiner herself: “My inbox was flooded with editors trying (and failing!) to guess who in publishing had written such a fabulous thriller.”

Is there another book on the horizon? “I am contracted for a second book now, but I am not sure how much I’m allowed to say about that at this stage. Silence seems the better option!”

Silence, however, will play no part in the reception for THE STRANGER AT THE WEDDING. Expect to hear a lot of noise—and gasps.


Neil Nyren

Neil Nyren is the former EVP, associate publisher, and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons and the winner of the 2017 Ellery Queen Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Among the writers of crime and suspense he has edited are Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, John Sandford, C. J. Box, Robert Crais, Carl Hiaasen, Daniel Silva, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Ed McBain, and Ace Atkins. He now writes about crime fiction and publishing for CrimeReads, BookTrib, The Big Thrill, and The Third Degree, among others, and is a contributing writer to the Anthony/Agatha/Macavity-winning How to Write a Mystery.

He is currently writing a monthly publishing column for the MWA newsletter The Third Degree, as well as a regular ITW-sponsored series on debut thriller authors for and is an editor at large for CrimeReads.

This column originally ran on Booktrib, where writers and readers meet.


Booktrib Spotlight: A. E. Gauntlett