Last year I discovered an historical fiction author, Marie Benedict, who wrote about several subjects that interested me. I read Lady Clementine (review here), a novel about Winston Churchill’s wife, and enjoyed it enough that I wanted to read more of the author’s work. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie (Amazon) is Benedict’s latest offering, released in December 2020, and is about the 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926.
From the publisher: “In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her husband and daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.
The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted.”
I listened to the audiobook of The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, narrated by Nicola Barber, which is an Audible exclusive (I have the Audible Plus membership and highly recommend it). There was absolutely no problem with the narration, and each person’s voice is distinct and not hard to follow. It was a first-rate job on that front.
The book goes back and forth in time, from the day of Agatha’s disappearance, and while she’s in hiding, reflecting back to 1912 when she met her husband, Archie, their courtship and subsequent marriage. At first Archie finds Agatha’s interest in writing quaint and a hobby that’s acceptable, as long as it doesn’t take time away from paying attention to him.
Money is tight for the Christie’s in the early years, yet that changes when Agatha begins selling her stories for publication. As most women of the day, she gets pregnant and Archie is furious because the baby will take time away from Agatha’s attentions to him. What? Yeah, he’s a real self-centered jerk. But after Rosalind is born, he dotes on her and insists that Agatha keep her distance from their daughter so she can concentrate on him again. The whole world must revolve around Agatha’s husband.
Soon, Archie is jealous that Agatha is doing well with her mysteries, and begins to resent her success. Agatha tries to take up his interests like golf to try and hold their marriage together. What does he do? He takes up with another woman named Nancy Neal. Agatha discovers this and is obviously devastated. She confronts Archie and there’s talk of divorce, but Archie won’t hear of it because at the time, divorce was only granted because of adultery. He doesn’t want Nancy’s name dragged through the mud, so no divorce.
Meanwhile, in 1926, there’s a media frenzy when Agatha’s car is found abandoned on the side of the road. Police question Archie and he assists in any way he can. What he doesn’t tell police is that Agatha wrote him a note with instructions on how he should act and what he should do when she disappears. If he doesn’t do as she instructs, she’ll reveal evidence that he’s murdered her. She then instructs him to destroy the letter. The next eleven days are covered, until Agatha is found in a small town, and the two are reunited.
I thought The Mystery of Mrs. Christie held my interest throughout. It’s an interesting take on those eleven days when Agatha Christie disappeared from sight, only to return and claim amnesia, which was anything but the truth. She just had to get away, knowing her marriage was a sham, and trying to figure out how she could divorce her husband and maintain custody of her daughter.
This is not the first novel I’ve read that tries to tackle Agatha Christie’s disappearance, but so far, it’s the best weaving of fiction and non-fiction so far.
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