Well, you’re not going to believe this. Reece Witherspoon and I picked the same book for our February book clubs. Sort of.
Late last year, I came across THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE by Marie Benedict and was fascinated by the premise. Benedict writes historical fiction, much like Philippa Gregory, and for this novel she chose Agatha Christie’s 11-day disappearance in December 1926.
If you’re an Agatha Christie fan, you’ll know that the disappearance really did happen. It’s an absolutely fascinating story so it’s no surprise that, two years after Benedict’s publication, author Nina de Gramont chose to write about it in her novel, THE CHRISTIE AFFAIR (the Reece’s Book Club selection).
The facts of the case are well-known. Her husband, Archie, was having an affair with a much younger woman named Nancy Neale and he told Agatha that he wanted a divorce so that he and Nancy could marry. Now, that’s shocking enough news even in this day and age but in 1926, divorce was such a social scandal that it could (and often did) ruin a person. For Agatha, the trauma was so great that she disappeared and even she, apparently, didn’t know what exactly happened.
On December 3, Agatha and Archie fought. She drove away and police found her car the next morning, crashed on the side of the road. Her personal belongings were on site, but Agatha herself was nowhere to be found. A massive search was conducted; after all, she was already an author of some note having published THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. If you can believe it, authorities also brought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries) and Dorothy L. Sayers (fellow crime writer) to help them try to solve the case. They couldn’t.
Eleven days later, she was discovered at a luxury hotel/spa, unharmed. She reportedly had no memory of who she was or how she’d gotten there, but by some coincidence, she was registered under the name of Archie’s mistress.
Agatha Christie never spoke about the event, not even in her autobiography. Naturally, there’s no shortage of theories—everything from a fugue state to a publicity stunt. The truth has long since been lost to history, but it certainly helps her reputation as The Queen of Crime; in literature and in life.
Marie Benedict includes the known facts of the case and weaves them among a fictional retelling of the Christies’ ill-fated love story. I haven’t read de Gramont’s novel, so I can’t comment on that one, but I can tell you that Benedict takes poetic licence with the ending (this is fiction after all). While we know what happened, this novel offers one possible explanation for why it happened.
The audiobook is narrated by Nicola Barber and I think she does quite a good job of it. Barber narrates books in a range of genres, so if you like her work, you’ll have lots to explore. She even narrates several “Call the Midwife” stories.