Nossett follows up The Resemblance with The Professor (Flatiron, Nov.; reviewed on this page), a campus thriller that sees sleuth Marlitt Kaplan investigating a student’s apparent suicide.

What draws you to writing mysteries?

My background is in comparative literature and German literature, and for so long, I tried to write literary fiction. But I found I needed the rules of genre. In a mystery, you start with a problem and then your protagonist’s job is to solve it—their quest gives you a road map of sorts. As in literary fiction, however, mysteries, and specifically crime, allow for an investigation of social themes. Committing murder is such an egregious assault on the social code, and crime fiction allows writers and readers to explore why it happens.

Where did your detective, Marlitt, come from?

I was visiting my parents in Georgia and had a flash of this woman who woke up on fire screaming in German. It’s rare that this kind of muse-inspired writing happens for me—most of the time I have to struggle through it—but I feel like Marlitt demanded to be heard. That image became the spark for The Resemblance.

What inspired the sequel?

The first pages came after an encounter I had on a plane, in which I told my seatmate way too much about myself, and then realized I had given him enough information that he could find me in the “real world”—there’s something about flying at 30,000 feet that feels distinctly not real. For days, I was so unnerved. I decided to write about it as a way to process what was bothering me. That scene now plays a small part midway through The Professor, but the unsettling normalcy of the experience sets the tone for the other pages. The major themes of the novel were inspired by my experiences as a professor and the increasing rates of depression and alienation I saw in my students, the fear that I wasn’t doing enough, and my frustration at the lack of mental health resources available to faculty and students.

How did your husband’s death in 2021 affect your writing?

At some point, I had to look over the pass pages for The Resemblance, and I remember being angry at myself for the way I wrote about death—as if it was something abstract that couldn’t touch me. The only part of The Resemblance that I wrote after Gray died was the prologue, which ends: “Even in my dreams, I could not save him.” I was writing Marlitt’s backstory, but it’s clear to me now that this was very much influenced by my grief.

What kind of detective would you make?

I’m naturally a pretty inquisitive and curious person, especially in terms of wanting to know what makes people tick. I think being a criminal profiler would be fascinating, but I also want to preserve my belief in humanity, and that job would lead me to question that belief on a daily basis.