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The Mystery of Mrs. Christie


The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Best known for her powerful stories of history’s forgotten and ignored women, bestselling author Marie Benedict takes on her most famous protagonist yet in THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE.

Although she died in 1976, mystery writer Agatha Christie remains one of the genre’s greatest authors, beloved worldwide for her Hercule Poirot books. But few readers today know that Christie was once the subject of her own mystery: an 11-day disappearance in the middle of December 1926. Grieving the sudden and heartbreaking loss of her mother and reeling from her husband’s equally shocking request for a divorce, Christie packed an overnight bag and left home for a weekend away. But come morning, all that was found of the rising author was her crashed car with her license and clothing inside. Given Christie’s burgeoning career as a mystery writer, her disappearance had all the marks of a publicity stunt, but her recent tragedies forced the public to wonder if something else had happened to her, such as a mental breakdown or foul play on the part of her husband or his mistress.

In THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE, Benedict turns her keen eye upon a young Agatha Christie, employing both research into Christie’s life and her own prowess as an author to explore what might have happened during those 11 days. Alternating chapters between “The Manuscript,” a breakdown of Christie's love affair with the enigmatic Archie Christie, and “present-day” chapters focused on the unprecedented manhunt for the missing writer, she pens a mystery every bit as compelling as a new Agatha Christie novel.

" unputdownable mystery with a strong backbone in fact and just enough flair of fiction to let Benedict’s creativity fly.... Endlessly compelling, perfectly suspenseful and beautifully imagined, THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE is one of Benedict’s best novels yet."

Beginning in 1912, Benedict chronicles the courtship of Agatha and Archie, a love affair burdened by socioeconomic politics, war and patriarchal rules and notions about a woman’s place --- both in the world and in her own home. The Agatha we meet is wry, funny and ambitious, a lover of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a quick study of both the written word and medicine, a skill she puts to use as a wartime nurse. Though Archie falls for her quick wit and spontaneity and encourages her to eschew her safe betrothal to a family friend, his time as a pilot in the war slowly changes him, first by afflicting him with terrible, mood-changing migraines and later by chaining him to a desk, causing him to feel like a failure.

By 1926, when we meet Archie again, he and Agatha are practically estranged and prone to arguing during meals, the only time they truly spend together anymore. Though they both love their young daughter, Rosalind, Agatha has spent so much time putting Archie and his needs first that she has inadvertently placed her daughter second --- allowing Archie to take the lead as Rosalind’s preferred parent. Combined with the necessary time and focus demanded by her writing career, Agatha’s distance from Rosalind makes her seem cold and indifferent, when in fact she longs to recreate the strong bond she had with her own mother. So when Archie announces that he is leaving her for another woman, Agatha knows that it is her name, and her reputation, that will be drawn through the mud...and she won’t back down so easily.

As the manhunt for Agatha forges on, Benedict focuses on Archie: a lover of order and stability who loathes dramatic displays of emotion or whimsy. With each clue that the local police force uncovers, Archie looks more and more like the villain from one of his wife’s novels. But as alternating chapters chronicle the development of Agatha’s skills as a mystery writer and her deepest desire to write an unsolvable mystery, the haze deepens and facts weave into fiction, turning the book into its own tale of suspense that asks readers to consider who is really telling the story --- and if they can be trusted.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE is an unputdownable mystery with a strong backbone in fact and just enough flair of fiction to let Benedict’s creativity fly. Dual storylines (and timelines) are a difficult feat for any author, but she reminds us how perfectly two plots can complement one another when one is used to propel the other forward, and when one voice acts as the foil to another. By writing alternating chapters from Archie’s perspective (a stylistic choice that I was not prepared for), Benedict gives us a full, unabashed view of Agatha --- and the small but cunning ways she wields power. Though I’ll admit that I found the male voice jarring at first, Benedict soon put me in my place as she manipulated Archie in perfectly controlled and skillful ways. The use of unreliable narrators and the constant reminder of the importance of storytelling turn this novel into an almost meta experience, and a true testament to the power of voice and perspective.

Agatha Christie is an interesting choice for Benedict, as she is already famous in her own right. But I love that she focused on a truly mysterious portion of her life --- one that Christie herself refused to ever explain, even in her memoir. A mystery writer living in a mystery is a compelling premise indeed, and though we may never know the truth about Christie’s disappearance, there is no author I’d rather see unpack this particular moment in history than Marie Benedict. As always, she writes with a sharp but tender understanding of what it means to be a woman out of place in her own time, but readers are gifted with the pleasure of watching her explore the call of the pen, and how it feels to grow and develop as a writer --- even when the world is hesitant to give you a chance.

Endlessly compelling, perfectly suspenseful and beautifully imagined, THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE is one of Benedict’s best novels yet.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 8, 2021

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
by Marie Benedict