Thursday, 27 January 2022

Christmas 2021 Audiobook - The Christie Affair

We all know Agatha Christie. She's the Queen of Crime. We all know or are aware of at least one of her creations and one of her mysteries. And we all know that, in 1926, the author vanished for 11 days and no one knows the truth about what happened to her as she never spoke of it. Even in her autobiography, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, she brushes those days and never speaks of it. The only thing she says about that time is the two books she wrote around that time - The Big Four & The Mystery of the Blue Train - are the two stories she had difficulty writing and most disliked.

And main people are curious over those missing days as, before she vanished, her husband told her he was leaving her for his mistress - Nancy Neele - and her beloved mother died months earlier. And the fact that Agatha never spoke about it has us still puzzled to this day. Did she have a nervous breakdown? Did she vanish to spite her husband, hoping he will leave his mistress and return to her? Did she vanish to frame him of her murder and start a new life?

And many authors/films/TV shows have tried to guess. We have Andrew Wilson's A Talent for Murder, suggesting Agatha was being blackmailed to commit murder. We have the movie, Agatha (starring Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave), that suggests that Agatha was planning to kill herself and frame her husband's mistress. We have TV movie, Agatha And The Truth of Murder, an alternative history, that suggests that she was solving the real life murder of Florence Nightingale's goddaughter, Florence Nightingale Shore. Hell, we even had a Doctor Who, episode - The Unicorn and the Wasp - that suggested aliens were involved in her disappearance (it's a delightful episode, FYI). And, more recently, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict and now The Christie Affair.

Told from the point of view of Archie Christie's fictional mistress, Nan O'Dea (not Nancy Neele), we see what happened and we look into Nan's past and wonder...

Title And Author: The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
Publisher: Mantle
Bought, Borrowed or Gifted: eProof and Audiobook gifted by UK publisher, Mantle, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review/reaction.

Now, let me be honest: I can't help feeling as if I was missold this book. I was expecting mystery, twists, turns with an edge of heartbreak. I was expecting something very Christie in tone. Maybe this is my fault, but when you use Agatha Christie has a huge selling point, you expect a fiendish plot, right?

So, why do I feel as if I've been tricked somehow?

On the surface, this was a good story. Well-written, well-plotted (though slow in places), with fleshed out characters (Nan could have been so easily written as an unfeeling mistress, but that wasn't the case). Everything, on the surface, is good.

And yet... it isn't. This book has many issues that we simply can't get away from.

The first is who is telling the story? Nan, as this is first person narration. And yet, multiply times, she takes us away and talks about characters, situations, conversations, events that she has no idea about, but gets the general understanding of after the fact. So, at times, the reader goes "But she did she really know this? Is she making this up? How can we honestly know?"

The second is this book can't seem to make up its mind what it wants to be. Is this a book about Agatha Christie's disappearance? Is this a book about Nan and her past in Ireland? Is this a murder mystery (a murder that happens a good 60-odd way through the book)? These, at times, felt like three very separate plots that are pulling the reader away and come together near the end (90%) and then, we don't get to see the fallout as one or two details/plotholes are brushed aside.

I keep coming back to the idea that this was missold and, instead of this book being sold of "What happened to Agatha Christie?" and make readers think this is a mystery (it's a little lacking for my tastes), this book should be sold as "This is about two women - the wife and the mistress".

This is a hugely enjoyable book and I devoured the audiobook over the Christmas period, but I can't get away from the fact that I feel a little conned over what I promised and what was delivered...

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