Agatha Christie has been one of my favorite authors since I learned to love mysteries way back in grade school. I have read almost all of her books and have seen the movies, TV series, and even a play or two. But not just her writings piqued my interest: Her personal life was full of all the things she so easily turned into stories and characters, it was easy to sometimes forget what was fact and what was fiction. Author Marie Benedict, in "The Mystery of Mrs. Christie," has taken a 12-day gap in Agatha's life and turned it into a fascinating book you will quickly forget is a work of historical fiction.
It is a documented fact that on Dec. 4, 1926, Agatha Christie's empty car was found near a lake with only her fur coat in the back seat. Investigators would begin searching for her, and many came to believe her husband, Archie, had killed her. Suddenly, on Dec. 14, 1926, she reappeared at a health spa/hotel using another name and claiming to have no memory of the past 11 days. Much has been made of this mystery — even an episode of "Doctor Who" — but no one really knows for sure what happened. Well, I'm here to tell you, Benedict's book had me fully convinced it could be the gospel truth.
The story is written in two parts and two voices. The first voice is Agatha's, and the chapters are all entitled "The Manuscript." The alternating chapters, labeled "Part 1," begin with day after her disappearance and are told from the point of view of her husband, Archibald (Archie) Christie. Agatha's tale starts with the first time she met her future husband on Oct. 12, 1912. It then tells of the ups and downs of married life, her love for her mother, the rivalry with her sister, Madge, and how she became a writer. First, she wrote for the love of a good mystery and, later, a career that would pay the bills. Many of the people she met, places she visited and modes of transportation used were later used to create characters such as Hercule Poirot and the books "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," among others. Her story ends with the night she disappears. However, Archie's chapters begin with a phone call telling him his wife is missing on Dec. 4, 1926, and follow what he does, what he thinks, who he talks with, and how he feels overwhelmed and persecuted by the constables in charge. These chapters also cover how he deals with their daughter, Rosalind, the press coverage, and all the things going on during this very long 11-day search.
Part two of the book, Dec. 14, 1926, is the story of where Agatha is and how the reunion with her husband takes place. To me, this is where Benedict shined. I finished this final section in one sitting because I was so immersed in the tale. I got to the end and sat there thinking, "Wow! I truly believe this is what happened because it is the penultimate Agatha Christie."
Not only do I feel like I know so much more about one of my favorite authors, I am ready to read more of Benedict's books. So whether you are an Agatha Christie fan or just like good historical fiction, I recommend you pick up a copy of "The Mystery of Mrs. Christie" by Marie Benedict and enjoy the ride.
Donna Loehner is the children's programming associate at Missouri River Regional Library.