Title: The Christie Affair
Author: Nina de Gramont
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: 20 January 2022
If you know anything about Agatha Christie or are a fan of Agatha Christie, put the book on the table and walk away. I’ve always been a huge fan of Agatha Christie and her books, especially the 11 day disappearance in December of 1926. Archie and Agatha had a quarrel (such a great British word for fight) on 3 December 1926. Archie was going to spend the weekend with friends, and Nancy Neele, his mistress, without Agatha. I’m guessing Agatha tried to reason with him about going away or ending their marriage. The next morning, her car, a Morris Cowley, was discovered at Newlands Corner, parked above a chalk quarry with an expired driving license and clothes inside. A huge search party was sent out to find the mystery writer, but despite the extensive manhunt, she wasn’t found until 10 days later. Agatha was located on 14 December 1926 at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire. She had registered under the name Mrs. Tressa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover) and claimed amnesia of the whole affair. Christie never talked about what happened during those 11 days nor why she left the way she did in her lifetime. Nor did she leave anything behind to indicate what happened after her death. We are left with a mystery that many have tried to solve, including one Nina de Gramont.
The Christie Affair is narrated by Nan O’Dea, Archie’s mistress with a name change. In this story, Nan is a young woman who, at first, seems to be a stereotypical other woman. But there’s a hint that there is something more going on here. The story goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and uses Nan as an omniscient narrator. Throughout we are shown what Nan’s life was like growing up and how she spent her summers in Ireland. There she meets a young man, Finbarr, and they fall in love. War and the 1918 Flu keep them apart and her being sent to one of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland for fallen women. There she has her and Finbarr’s baby girl who either is adopted or dies, we’re never really told. Unless, you believe the ending of the story, but considering she’s an unreliable narrator, I don’t put much stock in this. The whole reason for Nan and Archie’s affair is to have some role in her “daughter’s” life.
I understand that historical fiction takes liberties with history, but I was pulled out of the story at the mention of Teddy. As I stated, I love Christie and her books, so I was confused when they say that Teddy is the Christie’s daughter. When I realized this, I went and googled why this was changed in the book. I didn’t find the answer to my question, but I did read the part about Nan’s story and how it played out. This didn’t dissuade me from reading the book, at least not yet. I was going along with this story so far. We don’t know a lot about Archie’s real mistress, Nancy Neele, (except that she wasn’t Irish and probably had never been there). But I’m willing to put aside some of these inaccuracies for the time being.
The story continues, going back and forth between Nan’s past and the search for Agatha. A retired cop, Frank Chilton, was asked by his old police chief to lend a hand to the search. This was more of an underhanded way to have Frank take a holiday and to help out the police chief’s cousin, but no matter, Frank’s happy to help out. What Frank hadn’t expected was to actually find Agatha. For whatever reason, Frank is taken in by Agatha and they start an affair. This was the second time in the book that I almost DNF’d it (we’ll get to the first in a second). So, not only are we just making up history of a woman that never actually existed but now we’re going to fake an affair between Agatha and a former cop. Why?!?! What was the point of this?
But again, the story continues, and eventually Agatha is found. Nan goes on to marry Archie. Agatha goes on to have her illustrious career (and marries an archeologist 10 years her junior). Finbarr returns to Ireland and tries to find happiness where he can. Basically, Nan saw Teddy Christie one day and was convinced that Teddy was her daughter. She concocted a plan to make sure Archie noticed her, so she could become his mistress and be near her daughter. When all of this is revealed to Agatha during her 11 day disappearance, she tells Finbarr and Chilton that Teddy is her daughter. Then, later on, she tells Nan that she’s right and that Teddy was adopted. If this sounds insane to you, then you would be right because it is.
I mentioned earlier there was another point that I wanted to DNF the book. That was in a small section where Nan talks about the future: “I had another baby, a girl whom I named after my aunt Rosie. . . . I loved being a mother and I loved my little Rosie.” Why did this piss me off so much? Remember being confused about the Christie’s daughter being named Teddy. It’s because Agatha and Archie’s daughter’s real name is Rosalind Christie Hicks (Ros was a nickname used for her in The Mystery of Mrs Christie by Heather Terrell). To have the audacity as a writer to not only completely make up an outlandish story like this but then to take the real author’s daughter’s name and use a variation of it for the mistress’s daughter, it just seems like a slap in the face to me. (Nancy Neele and Archie did have a child together, a son, named Archibald).
This could have been a fascinating and heartbreaking story if we kept with Nan’s story of a young woman falling in love and being forced to go to a Magdalene house. Trying to connect this to the Christie’s was just too convoluted and unbelievable, at least for those who know anything about Agatha Christie. Including the Christie family just muddles the waters, as well as take away from the horrendous life and atrocious treatments these young women experienced at Magdalene houses in Ireland in the 18th to late 20th centuries.
If you’re wanting to have a fictional story of what could’ve happened to Agatha Christie during her 11 day disappearance, I’d recommend The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Heather Terrell. Terrell’s story, while still fictive and imaginative, keeps way more in line with the actual life of both Agatha and Archie and gives an idea of what may have happened to Agatha.
Happy Reading Darlings!