A reimagining of Agatha Christie’s famous 11-day disappearance, adding a murder mystery worthy of the dame herself.
The bare facts are here just as they happened. In December 1926, having announced his intention to divorce her so he could marry his mistress, Christie’s husband took off to spend a weekend in the country. Sometime that night, Agatha left home, abandoning her car beside a nearby chalk quarry with a suitcase full of clothes inside. Eleven days later, after an internationally publicized manhunt, she turned up at a spa hotel in Harrogate, having signed in under the name of her husband’s lover. Upon that frame of fact, de Gramont weaves brilliantly imagined storylines for both the mistress and the writer, converging at the spa hotel, where not one but two guests promptly turn up dead. The novel is narrated by the mistress, here called Nan O’Dea, a complicated woman with many secrets. As she announces in the first line of the novel, “A long time ago in another country, I nearly killed a woman.” Nan is looking back at a time when she had larceny in mind, and it was Agatha’s husband she was aiming to steal, though one has to wonder why. Archie comes across as a whiny baby of a man who has this to say about his plan to dump his devoted wife: “There’s no making everybody happy….Somebody has got to be unhappy and I’m tired of it being me.” Archie aside, de Gramont has a gift for creating dreamy male characters: Both a “rumpled” police inspector called Chilton, who’s sent to the Harrogate area to look for the missing author, and a blue-eyed Irishman named Finbarr, who has a connection to Nan, are irresistible, and only more so due to the tragic toll taken on each by the war. De Gramont’s Agatha—who walks away from her disabled vehicle forgetting her suitcase but not her typewriter—is also easy to love. The story unfolds in a series of carefully placed vignettes you may find yourself reading and rereading, partly to get the details straight, partly to fully savor the well-turned phrases and the dry humor, partly so the book won’t have to end, damn it. Devilishly clever, elegantly composed and structured—simply splendid.