The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication date: February 1, 2022
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When Agatha’s husband informs her that he’s leaving her for another woman she doesn’t react well. In fact, she disappears. For eleven days, leaving their young daughter behind. This situation is both fact and the premise of Nina de Gramont’s novel The Christie Affair. Because yes, Agatha, is that Agatha and in 1925, when her husband asked her for a divorce she disappeared. Obviously, she returned because she went on to even greater success as a mystery writer, but she never explained what happened. Gramont takes this event and creates her own Agatha Christie mystery.
The key character in The Christie Mystery is Nan O’Dea, the other woman and novel’s only narrator. In the beginning she plays to type as a mistress—younger than Archie Christie by almost 20 years, shallow, sexy, and adoring. But she is merciless in her humiliation of Agatha, not hiding the affair or her disdain for how she sees Agatha as having let herself go. Everything she does is calculated to a degree that goes beyond being a gold-digger. Her goal seems to be to destroy Agatha. But why?
Once Agatha disappears, Nan leaves London for a small spa hotel where she and Archie have decided she should stay to ride out the drama away from the spotlight. It’s at this point in The Christie Affair that both the plot and timelines split and in the ensuing chapters Nan’s past life is revealed. A life that included a young man in Ireland she loved deeply who became lost to her after the war. Her hardships are humanizing, but they also occupy so much dark space in the novel it significantly shifts the novel’s tone.
In the present, Nan’s time at the hotel runs alongside Agatha’s life for the eleven days. In that span, several new mysteries arise, including the deaths of two hotel guests, enhancing the novel’s Christie mystery feel.
The additional characters, the bleak realities of Nan’s past, and the unexpected nature of Agatha’s present are all heightened by Gramont’s choice to write The Christie Affair solely in Nan’s voice. Even Agatha doesn’t use her own words, just those Nan ascribes to her as she maneuvers to get her way. It skews the novel towards a singular reality whether or not it’s accurate.
It’s manipulative, but clever, opening The Christie Affair to the readers’ questions and interpretation of what really happened while at the same time, firmly closing the door to any truth but Nan’s truth. This assuredness from a fictional character is bracing. Most times they’re put in the more supplicating position of looking for approval, but Nan doesn’t give a damn, giving The Christie Affair an appreciated freshness.
You may well wonder if you can believe what I tell you about things that occurred when I myself was not present. But this is as reliable an account as you can ever hope to receive.
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*I received a free copy of this book from St. Martin’s Books in exchange for an honest review.*