Despite having written several successful books I am sure that author Marie Benedict must have thought twice before she decided to write a mystery novel about the disappearance of Agatha Christie. First, she would be faced with the daunting task of crafting the mystery itself because the available facts surrounding Christie’s disappearance don’t yield much to build a story upon and second, there is the pressure to live up to the example set by the author herself. What if the story that Benedict created wasn’t worthy? What if mystery fans read her book and found it didn’t meet the standard (and we all know how cruel Goodreads reviewers can be). I’m sure that she must have faced the blank page with more trepidation than normal. I’m thrilled to say that The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, was so much fun to read that I finished it in one sitting. It was one of those could-not-put-it-down books and it’s rare that any book captures my full attention these days, so I am doubly pleased to have enjoyed it so much.
Marie Benedict’s account of what happened when Agatha Christie disappeared from her home in the winter of 1926 is filled with false clues, villains and intrigue to such a degree that it almost made me forget that the author survived the disappearance and lived until 1976. When the police arrived in the novel and began their investigation, I found myself wondering, is she at the bottom of that pond, and then I remembered that of course she wasn’t! She was alive! This is the power of good storytelling, when it makes you forget facts you already know, particularly when the novel in your hand is about one of the most popular mystery authors ever, who wrote more than 60 novels and the world’s longest-running play (The Mousetrap – so much fun). I had to keep reminding myself that this version of the story was just particularly vivid and so well told.
It’s written in alternating chapters with the investigation entirely seen from her husband, Archibald “Archie” Christie’s, perspective. He is at a friend’s country house when he receives the telephone call alerting him to his wife’s disappearance, giving the reader the first taste of Archie as an arrogant man as he drives home with an air of inconvenience rather than concern for his wife’s safety. It’s within his side of the story that the mystery develops, and he begins to fall apart under the stress of the investigation and media attention. Archie meets with detectives in their home, visits the location where Agatha’s car was found, takes calls from distraught family members, and tries to help their daughter cope with her Mother’s absence. His awkward attempts to avoid suspicion are a pleasure to read, I particularly enjoyed his visit to Scotland Yard – certainly Marie Benedict had fun writing that chapter.
Agatha’s side of the story begins with their meeting on a dance floor in Torquay as Archie requests all of the remaining dances on her card. They have a whirlwind romance and wartime marriage (with some opposition from their families) before they begin to experience difficulties with Archie’s career faltering after the war just as Agatha’s writing career succeeds. It was wonderful to feel enveloped in her life during those chapters, to learn about her as a spirited young woman with a sense of humour, the siblings she adored, and a loving relationship with her mother. Each of Marie Benedict’s last four books have focused on a woman’s specific role in history with attention paid to the detail of their daily lives, and with Agatha Christie we have a vivid image of the woman she was beyond the successful grey-haired author. Her version of Agatha was a young woman who struggled to be the kind of wife she thought her husband wanted, mourned the death of her mother, and felt jealousy over her daughter’s attention, all as she was writing books like The Man in the Brown Suit.
Their two stories pull you along at exactly the right pace with the reader constantly questioning who is at fault for what and when did the mistakes happen? Could this all be blamed on Archie? Could it be Agatha? There are endless unanswered questions as the story progresses and the narrative is populated with Agatha Christie trivia that makes the reader wish they kept a little book handy to make notes. You will want to rush to the library catalogue and place holds on some of her novels or maybe check out her memoirs. Unfortunately, Agatha Christie never said very much about those eleven days when she went missing in December of 1926. Perhaps Marie Benedict might convince you that her version of the story rings true? Or, perhaps you will do some research into Agatha’s life for yourself. First stop for your research? The library, of course.
— Penny M.