Songwriter, recording artist, and novelist Alexandra Monir made a gratifying discovery while writing her latest romantic thriller, Suspicion, which Delacorte is releasing this month. As she did in her earlier YA novels, Timeless (2011) and Timekeeper (2013), the author incorporated song lyrics into her new book, which she then recorded and released. Unlike those included in her first two novels, the song Monir works into Suspicion was not of her own creation, but one that she happened to hear while writing the novel – and one that coincidentally has a strong connection with her late maternal grandmother, the prominent Iranian opera singer, Monir Vakili.
A modern-day take on Rebecca, Suspicion was inspired by three of the 29-year-old author’s cultural passions: the gothic suspense novels of Daphne du Maurier, the psychological thriller films of Alfred Hitchcock, and the two-tiered class structure of Julian Fellowes’s Downton Abbey. In Suspicion, 17-year-old Imogen Rockford travels from New York to Rockford Manor, her family’s 18th-century English country estate and the site of her parents’ death in a mysterious fire, where she confronts long-buried secrets of her aristocratic roots as well as a supernatural power she cannot control.
“Before I write my novels, I ask myself the question, ‘What would I want to read?’ and my stories take shape from those things I’m most passionate about,” explained Monir. After finishing Timekeeper and pondering what she wanted to write next, the author kept returning to her childhood memories of reading Rebecca.
“I first read the novel when I was 13 – maybe a bit too young,” she explained. “I was obsessed with it, and even ate apricot scones as I read, to mimic the characters’ tea-time habits! I was also completely captivated by Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of the novel, which brought the story to life in a whole new way. I thought it would be fun to reintroduce the premise to a 21st-century audience – along with some new ideas, including a paranormal element. And of course I wanted to pay homage to du Maurier, who helped pave the way for those of us now writing in the genre.”
Monir’s more recent obsession with the world of Downton Abbey influenced the setting of Suspicion. “The TV series ignited my curiosity about the life of the British peerage, and I began wondering what life would be like for the Crawley family today,” said Monir. “I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the grand estates of titled peers, so I thought it would be fun to explore that upstairs/downstairs vibe as well.”
For visual inspiration, Monir traveled from her Los Angeles hometown to visit Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, built in the early 18th century and long the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. “It’s like something out of a fairy tale,” she said of the estate, on which she based the fictional Rockford Manor.
Adding Romance and a Special Song
Romance is another integral component of Suspicion, as Imogen acknowledges her longtime love for Sebastian, with whom she reconnects on her visit to Rockford Manor. Delacorte associate editor Krista Vitola, who acquired and edited the novel, praises the author’s knack for creating affecting and credible love relationships in her stories.
“Alexandra added the element of time travel to her first two novels, and magic and mystery to Suspicion, but there is always an underlying, epic love story,” observed Vitola. “It is a theme of universal appeal and one that Alexandra does very well. She’s able to capture the pining and tender emotions that young people feel. She really gets it.”
It was into a romantic dance scene that Monir worked the lyrics of “Autumn Leaves,” Johnny Mercer’s 1947 translation of the classic French song, “Les Feuilles Mortes,” which immediately caught the author’s attention when she first heard it.
“The song completely spoke to me, because it perfectly described the relationship between Imogen and Sebastian,” she recalled. “When I mentioned to my mom that the song had inspired an entire scene, she told me that it was one of my grandmother’s favorite songs to perform. I knew then that I had to record this song – it felt meant to be.” Monir’s longtime producer, Heather Holley, created a new, modern take on the track, which is available online.
The author never knew her grandmother, Monir Vakili, who died in a car accident several years before she was born. But she noted that her mother “has kept my grandmother’s memory so very much alive that I totally feel like she’s my guardian angel – I even took her name as my pen name. Everyone who knew my grandmother says I am very similar to her, since we share so much. Recording “Autumn Leaves” to tie in to Suspicion created a very special connection to her. I am greatly inspired by her, and I love the idea of carrying on the torch.”
Suspicion by Alexandra Monir. Delacorte, $17.99 (Dec.) ISBN 978-0-385-74389-1