Release date: December 29, 2020
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (9/10)
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is a historical fiction novel – based on the real life of mystery novelist Agatha Christie – that is currently set to be released on December 29, 2020. This novel was written by best-selling fiction writer Marie Benedict, and is being published by Sourcebooks Landmark. The tagline reads, “Marie Benedict, the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room, uncovers the untold story of Agatha Christie’s mysterious eleven day disappearance.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Agatha Miller is surprised when she’s unexpectedly swept off her feet – literally – by airman Archie Christie on a dance floor in 1912. Breaking all the social conventions, and going against the polite society rules she’s observed her whole life, Agatha is surprised to find herself agreeing to a dance with this charming but uncouth young man. Her intended beau is off at war, and she plans to enjoy her life to the fullest while he’s away, as he himself instructed. After all, it’s just a dance, she thinks – nothing more.
Fourteen years later, the pair are married and have a daughter, Rosalind. They’re living at Styles, an estate charmingly named after Agatha’s first successfully published mystery novel. She’s written many published works since, and is in fact still enjoying the publicity of her most recent one, when something completely unexpected happens: Mrs. Christie disappears.
Writing a fiction book that’s centered around events that truly happened is a tricky thing; it requires an author to strike a careful balance between what actually happened in real life, and what the author’s conjectures are regarding the people’s motives, thoughts, and feelings.”
Her unexpected absence is an alarming fact that’s relayed to Mr. Christie by phone as he sits at a celebratory dinner with a young woman he’s unusually close to, for a married man. He returns home to find a hidden letter addressed to him – one that gives him incredibly strict instructions to follow. Any deviation from the writer’s rules, and he’ll be paying steeper consequences than he can even imagine. And then Agatha’s car is found, abandoned and crashed…and his life begins to spiral out of control.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie ricochets from the past – covering Archie and Agatha’s relationship, from day one until the day she disappears, through her eyes – to the future, where we see Archie’s life unspooling as the days tick by with no signs of Agatha. Why and how did she vanish, and what will happen once she’s found? And as we know from history, she WOULD be found…but have we finally figured out the answer to Christie’s only unsolved mystery?
MY THOUGHTS: This was my first novel by Marie Benedict – I know, I know, but as I’ve said before, historical fiction isn’t typically my go-to-genre. I’ve heard only wonderful things from her many fans, so I was excited to dive into one of her books on a topic much more up my traditional book-reading alley – a mysterious disappearance, not just of anyone, but of the celebrated queen of the twisty-mystery: Agatha Christie herself.
I went into this novel without having read any existing information about Christie’s real-life disappearance, so as not to sway my opinions on the book itself. (Side note: If you needed to know just ONE thing about me to understand my reviews, you should know that I’m an Enneagram 1 – a.k.a., I need things to be done correctly, and when I walk into a room [or read a book], the first thing I’m going to notice is what’s wrong and needs to be fixed.) Writing a fiction book that’s centered around events that truly happened is a tricky thing; it requires an author to strike a careful balance between what actually happened in real life, and what the author’s conjectures are regarding the people’s motives, thoughts, and feelings.
Because of how well Benedict walks this line, I honestly had to give her nine stars for this book. She took all of the basic facts regarding what we actually know happened to Christie before, during, and after her 11-day disappearance, and she examined what we know about Christie herself, and made magic. Benedict weaves within this story an arc of redemption and maturity; Christie begins as a carefree and polite young woman, then falls head over heels in love, arguably – from the first chapter on – with someone she should never have met. Their relationship has its magical moments – oh, don’t they all? – but it’s never truly a fairy tale, and as the years pass by, even following her dear mother’s marital advice to the letter doesn’t keep the pair from drifting apart.
Benedict delivers a satisfying tale with a heroine who comes into her own.”
The chapters of this novel flip backwards and forwards in time with each chapter; one part is told through ‘The Manuscript,’ which recounts Agatha and Archie’s relationship (from her perspective) from the day they met until the day of her disappearance. The other chapters take place in the days immediately following her disappearance in 1926, told from Archie’s point of view. The conclusion happens when both histories converge on the same “present” day, eleven days after her disappearance, and we reach the dramatic and revelatory finale.
Benedict delivers a satisfying tale with a heroine who comes into her own. Christie is witty, hard-working, and eager to please…a tricky combination that can lead to a person’s greatest success or utter ruin, when skewed out of balance. This is exactly what her relationship with Archie does to her; it causes her to question her priorities, her loyalties, and even her own dreams and goals. You may (read: I did) want to reach through the book and shake some sense into her at some points, but by the end, you’ll be proud of what she accomplished and how she stood up for herself when she had no one else to do it for her.
As to whether or not Benedict’s own take regarding why Christie disappeared, and what this departure actually accomplished, could be true and comes across as realistic? Well, based on what I’ve read afterward regarding Christie herself, and the facts of the case…consider me convinced.