Marie Benedict – The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

Marie Benedict – The Mystery of Mrs Christie

An abandoned car brings the police to Styles, the famous residence of Agatha and Archibald Christie. The famous writer has gone missing after a fierce quarrel between the couple during breakfast. Archie does not seem concerned at all and he is astonishingly reluctant to cooperate with the investigators. For the detectives, his behaviour is highly suspicious and even more so when they uncover an affair he has had for quite some time and because of which he asked his wife for a divorce. Yet, all this information is not really helpful in determining the whereabouts of the grand dame of crime. This is one way the story can be told, but maybe there is also a completely different version.

“Then the phone rang, shattering my lonely vigil. When I picked it up, I nearly cried in relief to hear a familiar voice. But then the voice spoke. And in that moment, I knew that everything had changed.”

Agatha Christie’s disappearance in December 1926 is, due to broad media coverage, a well known fact. However, the mystery has never been really solved and the crime writer herself did not comment on what actually happened during the ten days of her absence. Marie Benedict, by whom I already totally adored the portrait of Hedy Lamarr in “The Only Woman in the Room”, fills this gap with a very clever story which especially enthused my due to the tone which perfectly copies the crime writer’s style.

The narration tells the events of two points in time alternatingly. The first recounts how Agatha and Archie met, their first years during WW1 and their quick marriage which is immediately followed by darker years stemming from Archie’s depressive and dark moods. The second point of time follows the events after her disappearance. The first is shown from Agatha’s point of view, the later gives more insight in Archie’s state of mind thus revealing a lot to the reader but at the same time, omitting very relevant pieces of information which keeps suspense at a high level.

Even though it is a mystery, it is also the story of a woman who wants her marriage to succeed, who is willing to put herself and her daughter second after her husband’s needs and who fights even though there is nothing to win anymore. However, she does not breakdown but emerges stronger and wiser since she used her cleverness and capacity of plotting to free herself of her marital chains.

Marie Benedict – The Only Woman in the Room

marie-benedict-the-only-woman-in-the-room
Marie Benedict – The Only Woman in the Room

Hedy Lamarr – Hollywood Star of the glorious 1940s with an unknown past. She grew up in Vienna where she had her first successful performances which attracted the attention of Fritz Mandl, an influential military arms manufacturer. Being Jewish wasn’t that big a problem at the time, but her father already felt that refusing a man like Mandl added to their religion wasn’t a good idea and thus, she first accepted the invitation to dinner and finally married him. But soon after their honeymoon, things changed drastically and the only role she was allowed to play was that of the silent wife who was nice to look at. What her husband did underestimate was her quick wit and her capacity of listening. And listen she did when he met the big players who prepared for a new world order with the help of her husband’s weapons. After her successful escape to the US, she used her intelligence and her knowledge for revenge: she developed a radio guidance system for torpedoes.

Admittedly, I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr before starting to read the novel. And even at the beginning I supposed the protagonist was simply a fictional character. When I became aware of the actual background, the woman’s life felt even more impressive than just the narration which I already liked a lot.

The actress is the narrator and centre of the novel and it does not take too long for the reader to figure out that she isn’t just the nice face and talented actress but a smart woman interested in everyday politics with a sharp and alert mind. She follows her father’s line of thoughts about Mandl’s advances and understands that she isn’t in a position to freely decide. The way she planned her escape shows not only how clever she can plot but also her courage. In America she is first reduced to the beautiful actress and it surely hit her hard when her invention was refused by the navy. If it rally was because she was a woman as the novel suggests or if there were other motives doesn’t really matter – she wasn’t recognised for what she was, but only for what people saw in her. Hopefully narratives of these kind of women help to change the mind of those who still believe that the looks go hand in hand with a simple mind.