Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Marie Benedict has no shortage of experience introducing the twist of fiction into the realm of factual history, and in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie she puts it to good use in an attempt to shed some light on one of the most famous cases of unexplained disappearance. In December of 1926, the timeless author of mystery novels Agatha Christie disappeared for a period of eleven days, claiming total amnesia upon her return. The author attempts to reconstruct the events of those missing days with the help of both a fictional narrative and factual research.
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Marie Benedict Reconstructs a Famous Mystery
Agatha Christie is a name, which I’m certain, needs no introduction for anyone remotely familiar with mystery novels. Queen of the Whodunit genre, she left a whole array of pioneering mysteries in her wake, many of which are considered timeless classics. However, some would argue the greatest mystery the author ever gifted the world stems from her unexplained disappearance for eleven days, an event Marie Benedict attempts to clarify and recreate in her work of literary fiction, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie.
Before going any further, for those wondering “is The Mystery of Mrs. Christie a true story?”, I feel it is quite important to clarify the point of this book being a work of fiction. While it is certainly based on real facts and a certain amount of limited information, the author does take the liberty of filling in the blanks with her own imagination. In other words, rather than looking at it like a historical account, it ought to be treated like a good educated guess which takes various liberties.
With this out of the way, the story is essentially split into two timelines, the first one taking place during those eleven days in December of 1926 when Agatha Christie went missing. We are treated to a steady reconstruction of the mysterious vanishing, one supported in consistent fashion by the second timeline taking us to 1912 when Agatha met Archie Christie, her husband-to-be.
This second narrative, regularly alternating with the first one, traces the relationship between the two parties, its rapid development into a marriage and the eventual difficulties it was subjected to. Along the way we are treated to a wealth of information on the famous author’s personal life, her internal world, as well as some of the other people who surrounded her and marked her life.
Rather than running in parallel, the two timelines meet at a point closer to the ending, where the entire focus is shifted on the investigation of the disappearance itself. Marie Benedict puts all her factual and imaginary resources to use in her attempt to reveal what she believes (or perhaps hopes) to be the truth behind one of the greatest unanswered questions in the world of literature.
The Slow Climb in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
If there’s one thing I’d like to address right off the bat, it’s the expectations one ought to have in regards to the pace at which the story advances. While it is certainly a story with a mystery at its heart driving everything forward, it doesn’t move along at the type of rhythm books in this genre generally do. Instead, it’s a bit more reminiscent of a biographical novel, one which takes its time to carefully set everything up. Indeed, Marie Benedict has obviously paid a lot of attention to the structure of the story, slowly unfolding on one hand the facts of Christie’s life, and on the other, the fictional reconstruction of her disappearance.
Each narrative in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie helps the other one in building up to the climax of the resolution; the vanishing makes us keen to learn more about her life to explain it, and learning more information about the author turns us back to try and shed some light on the vanishing. I quite enjoyed this clever interplay between the two narratives, and personally-speaking, it prevented the story from ever feeling stale or boring, no matter how slow it was going.
The window the author offers us into Agatha Christie’s life is quite obviously based on a vast amount of research, and anyone interested in her life (as I must assume one would be if they were reading this book) will find a veritable gold mine of curious little facts and details which tend to be omitted from cursory glances.
Additionally, as I mentioned before, the two narratives eventually join up together to focus solely on the investigation of the disappearance, at which point the pace feels like it picks up and a certain excitement starts to build up. For all the facts she delivers us in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Marie Benedict knows how to amp them up with the power of her imagination.
An Interesting Possibility in a Sea of Explanations
No matter how much this novel might feel like a biographical fiction, it does remain, at its heart, a mystery, one which pays homage to the many works of the author at the centre of it all. Marie Benedict seldom forgets this and isn’t shy about using her own talents as an author to make the story livelier and more captivating.
With this being said, she does it in a very fitting, tactful and logical manner, never breaking the tremendous immersion she has managed to meticulously create with her undeniable world-building talents. Every character acts and speaks in a time-appropriate manner, and the events depicted by Benedict never leave the confines of the plausible.
Whereas many other authors would have taken tremendous liberties while unbound by a lack of known information, Marie Benedict is always respectful to the material she is discussing. Since we’re speaking of respect, I would simply like to add this novel also reflects the time period it takes place in by the total lack of gratuitous violence, needless foul language, and pointless sexual content, a decision I can only welcome in this day and age.
For my taste, the potential resolution presented by Benedict in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is a little one-sided, in the sense it leaves various avenues unexplored in favour of pursuing a particular one to a profound degree. I understand and even support this choice, but I would have liked to see a little more about the other possibilities.
Regardless of what you and I might think, objectively-speaking, I think it’s fair to say the author’s depiction of the vanishing and the resolution to its mystery are, at the very least, believable, and I would personally say, even plausible. Agatha Christie might have taken the true answer to a rather unusual puzzle with her to the grave, but this won’t stop us from endlessly speculating.
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The Final Verdict
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict is fascinating piece of historical fiction, intently focusing on a real mystery and providing a plausible clarification while also serving as educative material. If you’re interested in Agatha Christie’s biography and her famous eleven-day vanishing, then there is absolutely no doubt in my mind you’ll want to add this book to your collection.
Marie Benedict is an author and lawyer with the distinction of having being a magna cum laude graduate of the Boston College with a focus in History and Art History, as well as a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law.
In addition to having more than then years of experience as a litigator, Benedict also found her hand in writing historically-oriented books, including the novels Carnegie’s Maid and The Other Einstein as well as the non-fiction book The Only Woman in the Room.