The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
by Marie Benedict
Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: December 2020
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Women’s Fiction, Britain
HB&W Rating: 4
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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. With her trademark exploration into the shadows of history, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such a murky story.
What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?
A master storyteller whose clever mind may never be matched, Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
The real life mystery of what really happened during the 11 days that Agatha Christie went missing remains unsolved, the truth dying with Agatha and perhaps her ex-husband, Archie. Still, the mystery has provided much speculation and spawned entertaining tellings of what might have happened, as in this novel.
If you’re unfamiliar with the facts of the real-life case, I encourage you read this article, complete with newspaper clippings and bare bones facts surrounding the disappearance. It’s truly fascinating, whether you’ve read any her books or not.
You may recall that I recently read The Christie Affair and that I was eager to read this novel to compare. There were many similarities – even outside the framework of facts upon which both novels built their stories, but they were, on the whole, completely different stories. The Christie Affair focused more on an unlikely possibility as to the reason of Christie’s disappearance in order to tell a completely different story altogether, one which I would argue wasn’t even about Agatha Christie at all. Conversely, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie gives a plausible scenario that very well could be true, but there exists no concrete evidence to confirm it.
So, let’s talk about The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. First, I must admit that I was less than impressed with Marie Benedict’s writing in the only other book of hers that I’ve read: The Only Woman in the Room. While I found her portrayal of Hedy Lamarr to be very well done, the rest of the characters and half of the story just didn’t work well. So I was curious to see how I would like this book, which the author admits in her Author’s Note at the end was definitely a departure of her normal type of story – fictionalizing actual verifiable events of women history would appear to have forgotten, as she did with Hedy Lamarr. I can honestly say, after reading this book, I believe the writing in this book to be superior to that in The Only Woman in the Room. She did a much better job at making the people come off the page in this novel and her story building was masterful.
One of the things I find myself doing when reading historical fiction is fact-checking. I always want to know which parts of the genre of historical fiction are “historical” and which are “fiction.” Before you read this book, I recommend familiarizing yourself with what is known to be true about this disappearance. The article I referenced above is a great resource for that. While we may never know what really happened, I believe that Benedict’s theory is the most plausible and it is very interesting to see how she created a storyline to illustrate just how plausible it is.
The story is told in two alternating timelines that intersect at the end. We are given Archie’s POV starting with the discovery of his wife’s disappearance, and we are given Agatha’s POV from the time of her meeting Archie before the Great War (World War One). As the story progresses from Agatha’s POV, we see the progression from vivacious young woman in love to one who is completely blindsided by her husband’s affair. Personally, one of the reasons I believe in the plausibility of this version of events is because when a husband cheats, the wife almost always knows, and if she knew about it, given her intellect and career, it’s not a big leap to make that she would do something about it.
Whether you take the matter at face value, that Agatha was suicidal, ran her own car off the road toward the chalk pit, crashed instead and hit her head giving her amnesia, or whether you believe something else, this is an intriguing read worthy of Agatha Christie herself. Sometimes, truth is better than fiction, but when truth yields as many questions as it does in this case, fiction is pretty good too.
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