Felicia Yap's Debut Novel "Yesterday" is Already a 2017 Literary Event

Felica Yap landscape colour cr
Felicia Yap read biochemistry at Imperial College London and was involved in an eight-agent auction to represent her work. Tim Steele/Renee Bridges

How do you solve a murder when you can only remember yesterday? The question popped into Felicia Yap's mind as she was making her way to a ballroom-dance practice in Cambridge, England, in the summer of 2014 and stopped her in her tracks. She worked out "the early contours" of Yesterday , a pacy thriller that will be published in August, before she'd left the dance floor.

The book took 15 months to write; then the bidding began. Eight agents fought to represent her, and several publishers bid to buy the book. In the U.K., Headline Publishing Group eventually secured it for a six-figure sum. I meet Yap—pretty, petite and vivacious—in the publisher's London offices.

Yesterday turns on the nature of memory. It "holds up a mirror," Yap says, "to how we make memories, what we choose to forget, what we choose to believe." These are themes, she believes, that resonate widely, perhaps why rights to the book have already been sold in 11 countries outside the U.K. Yap has just four main characters, but the plot is complex—a murder mystery that takes in cot death, plastic surgery, a psychiatric hospital in the Hebrides and London's Belmarsh prison—and it ends with a magnificent twist. Most surprising of all, perhaps, is that what begins as a tale of serial adultery morphs into a love story.

So what next? After a childhood spent in Kuala Lumpur, Yap, 36, has been a biochemist, a lecturer at Cambridge University, a radioactive-cell biologist and a technology journalist. But now all she wants is to concentrate on writing books; her next one is a prequel, Today. Yesterday, today, perhaps even tomorrow—definitely dates to remember.

Yesterday will be published in August in the U.K. and America.