Today I’m excited to be on the blog tour for The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont and I’ll be sharing my review of the novel.
The greatest mystery wasn’t Agatha Christie’s disappearance in those eleven infamous days, it’s what she discovered.
London, 1925: In a world of townhomes and tennis matches, socialites and shooting parties, Miss Nan O’Dea became Archie Christie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted and well-known wife, Agatha Christie.
The question is, why? Why destroy another woman’s marriage, why hatch a plot years in the making, and why murder? How was Nan O’Dea so intricately tied to those eleven mysterious days that Agatha Christie went missing?
Thanks to Midas PR and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
The Christie Affair is a reimagining of the infamous eleven-day period when Agatha Christie went missing from her home on December 4th, 1926.
She told nobody where she was going that evening, so when her car was found abandoned on the edge of a chalk pit in Guildford, nobody knew where she was or what had happened to her.
The Christie Affair offers us an enigmatic fictionalised version of real life events, centering around five main characters: Nan O’Dea, Finbarr (Nan’s childhood sweetheart), Archie Christie (Agatha’s husband), Detective Chiltern, and Agatha Christie herself.
Nan is the protagonist and the character whose viewpoint we read from. She’s calm, calculating and reserved, but shows the softer side of herself around Finbarr, who she’s been in love with for many years. Their love, however, seems fated for heartbreak; Archie Christie is having an affair with Nan, and she plans to marry him once he leaves Agatha, meaning that there’s no future for Finbarr and Nan.
The narrative is split between Nan’s present, as she stays in a hotel in Yorkshire during Agatha’s disappearance (where she meets Agatha, Finbarr, and Detective Chiltern), and her past living in Ireland in a convent.
Although we’re reading from Nan’s perspective, we don’t feel much empathy for her as the ‘mistress’ in the affair, until we learn about the harrowing things she, and other girls, experienced in the convent seven years ago.
Despite the unravelling mystery of the present tense chapters, the chapters set in Ireland are, in some ways, more riveting because of the events unfolding there.
I can’t say too much without spoiling the central mystery of the story, but we see Nan as a younger, freer person who held her emotions less in check and loved more freely. She experiences one of the worst kinds of heartbreak and betrayal that leads her to become more stoic and elusive, and brings her to England where we suddenly see a bigger scheme at work in the present tense.
Initially, I wasn’t sure how the chapters in Ireland were connected to the present-day chapters, other than giving us more of Nan and Finbarr’s backstories, but there are several shocking ‘big reveal’ moments, that shrewdly connect the past and present. These moments set us on a gripping race to the final chapters of the story, which are some of the best and encompass a gratifyingly good denouement.
In the first few chapters of the novel, Nan describes Agatha as though she knows her very well, and I wondered how this could be the case when both women were in love with the same man and, in that respect, were completely at odds with each other.
But as we get further into the story, we discover that Nan, Agatha, Finbarr and Chiltern end up being well acquainted with each other after staying together in Yorkshire, in an empty house during Agatha’s disappearance.
Agatha and Nan realise that neither of them actually love Archie Christie and they overcome their initial animosity towards each other and become friends. Suddenly, it makes sense how Nan knows what Agatha was thinking and feeling for a lot of the first few chapters: she told her. And where she didn’t tell her, Nan worked it out by virtue of being in close proximity with her.
One of my favourite parts of this novel was the friendship between these two women. When Nan shares her past, Agatha empathises deeply and wants to help Nan in her current plight. The two develop a camaraderie and become close confidents; the house in the middle of nowhere bestows an otherworldly feeling, like they’re suspended in time and nobody exists but them, Finbarr and Chiltern.
Their newfound happiness is born of the idea that nothing else matters but the four of them, here and now, as they dance and drink and talk late into the nights. This perfect bubble leaves them wishing they could stay in this suspended reality forever.
Another commendable aspect of this story is the interconnectedness of the characters. Everyone is linked to everybody else and we don’t always realise it until Nina de Gramont lays out their associations for us, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle slotting into place. There are some brilliant ‘lightbulb’ moments when we realise that characters we didn’t think had any connection are actually intimately linked.
It takes a lot of skill, as a writer, to lay the foundations for a mystery in a way that’s not too obvious but also not too confusing for the reader and Nina de Gramont excels at this, weaving a mystery within a mystery into the plot. As the mystery of Agatha’s disappearance unfolds, we see a murder mystery come to light in all its enthralling glory.
Overall, this is a cleverly-written story of love, revenge, the constraints of marriage and society, and the lengths we would go to for family. Nina de Gramont gives us a romantic reimagining of Agatha Christie’s disappearance offering moments of true heartbreak but also incredible happiness along the way.
Nina de Gramont lives in coastal North Carolina with her husband, the writer David Gessner. She teaches at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and is almost always in the company of her two dogs, Missy and Isabelle. She’s the author of the acclaimed Meet Me at the River, Every Little Thing in the World, Gossip of the Starlings, The Last September, as well as The Distance from Me to You, which has recently been optioned for a movie.
There are content warnings in this book for infidelity and adultery, suicide, miscarriage/still birth, rape and sexual assault, domestic violence, emotional manipulation, murder, poison, discussions of war, removing a child from their mother without consent.
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