Every story has its secrets.
Every mystery has its motives.
“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman. It’s a particular feeling, the urge to murder. It takes over your body so completely, it’s like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. There’s a joy to it. In retrospect, it’s frightening, but I daresay in the moment it feels sweet. The way justice feels sweet.”
The greatest mystery wasn’t Agatha Christie’s disappearance in those eleven infamous days, it’s what she discovered.
London, 1925: In a world of townhomes and tennis matches, socialites and shooting parties, Miss Nan O’Dea became Archie Christie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted and well-known wife, Agatha Christie.
The question is, why? Why destroy another woman’s marriage, why hatch a plot years in the making, and why murder? How was Nan O’Dea so intricately tied to those eleven mysterious days that Agatha Christie went missing?
Synopsis source: Goodreads
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
The first thing you need to know about this fictional book about the real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie is that it NOT really a book about Agatha Christie. She is a secondary character in Nan O’Dea’s narrative. The sooner you come to this realization, the more readily you’ll enjoy this book.
The second thing you need to know about this book is that while the affair, the disappearance, and the most of the characters are all real-life events and people, this book is a completely fictional imagining of what happened. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to separate fact from fiction. This historical fiction is mostly fiction.
Once you understand those two things, you will understand that the author used them as a device to deliver the real story, one of lovers torn apart by war and circumstance, betrayal, revenge, justice, the camaraderie of women willing to help other women, and how far a mother is willing to go for her children.
I admit, I struggled through the first 25-30% of this book until I came to terms with the two things above. Why should I listen to the home-wrecker? How could she tell me what happened in settings where she wasn’t present? Why should I care? But as the story unfolded, she calls herself out on these questions (admittedly a bit two dimensionally like a caricature) and little by little, as the story unfolds, I found myself more than caring, I was invested. I needed to know how her story unfolded, even though we know the ending. This story was plotted out like a bookshelf in a way, the fictional story threads lined up like books between the bookends of the known historical facts of the affair that started it all and the return of Agatha Christie after her mysterious disappearance.
I really enjoyed how Nan and Agatha were portrayed in the book in relation to one another. They were two women who should have been rivals, enemies but instead of tearing one another down as opportunities arose, they chose to support one another instead.
I also liked the light that was shone on the despicable practice of essentially imprisoning unwed expectant mothers in “homes” run by nuns who instead of caring for their charges, took pleasure in punishing them, in the name of faith and religion. These mothers were expected to work off their room and board, had their children ripped away from them almost as soon as they gave birth to be adopted out, and in many cases were abused by those who were supposed to be caring for them. And don’t get me started on the social norms that put them there. Side note: if you want to read another historical fiction about this topic, I highly recommend Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis.
The plot itself played out much like an Agatha Christie book, and I enjoyed the symmetry of that. I often find myself trying to guess every little thing along the way, but I just sat back and enjoyed the ride with this one, allowing myself to be surprised, even though it was pretty predictable.
The only complaint I have is the narration. I found at times that there was very little differentiation between first person and third person in Nan’s telling of the story. Some paragraphs were third person accounts of another person in the story followed immediately by Nan’s own first person thoughts. Usually I could see through it, but there were definitely several times I had to re-read passages because the narration was a bit ambiguous. This could be due to the unedited proof eARC I have, so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt that this will have been smoothed over in the final published copy.
All in all, I liked the book and found the storyline interesting and the concept unique. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but it holds your attention once you get over the fact that the story isn’t really about Agatha and is more fiction than historical. I happen to have Marie Benedict’s The Mystery of Mrs. Christie in my TBR pile, and I am anxious to read that soon and compare notes with this one. If you’re a fan of historical fiction with strong female characters, I think you’ll like this book.
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