One of our recommended books is The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont


Nina de Gramont’s The Christie Affair is a beguiling novel of star-crossed lovers, heartbreak, revenge, and murder—and a brilliant re-imagination of one of the most talked-about unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.

Every story has its secrets.
Every mystery has its motives.

“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman. It’s a particular feeling, the urge to murder. It takes over your body so completely, it’s like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. There’s a joy to it. In retrospect, it’s frightening,

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Nina de Gramont’s The Christie Affair is a beguiling novel of star-crossed lovers, heartbreak, revenge, and murder—and a brilliant re-imagination of one of the most talked-about unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.

Every story has its secrets.
Every mystery has its motives.

“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman. It’s a particular feeling, the urge to murder. It takes over your body so completely, it’s like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. There’s a joy to it. In retrospect, it’s frightening, but I daresay in the moment it feels sweet. The way justice feels sweet.”

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?

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  • St. Martin's Press
  • Hardcover
  • February 2022
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781250274618

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About Nina de Gramont

Nina de Gramont is the author of The Christie AffairNina de Gramont is a professor of Creative Writing at University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She is the author of THE LAST SEPTEMBER (Algonquin 2015) as well as several Young Adult novels.


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“Historical kinda-fiction, a thriller wrapped in romance, mystery, and some fascinating conjecture.” –Goodreads

“Ingeniously plotted…gorgeously written” –Shelf Awareness

“A reimagining of Agatha Christie’s famous 11-day disappearance, adding a murder mystery worthy of the dame herself… The story unfolds in a series of carefully placed vignettes you may find yourself reading and rereading, partly to get the details straight, partly to fully savor the well-turned phrases and the dry humor, partly so the book won’t have to end, damn it. Devilishly clever, elegantly composed and structured—simply splendid.” Kirkus (Starred Review)

“The author weaves a clever, highly original, mesmerizing tale filled with strange and unexpected turns and concludes it in an unexpected but wholly satisfying manner. With its superb writing, strong characterizations, and wonderfully imaginative plot, this is a must-read.” Booklist (Starred Review)

“A superior thriller…gripping.” –Publisher’s Weekly

The Christie Affair is a genuine marvel. An astonishingly clever novel that manages to be both a deeply satisfying mystery and a profoundly moving story about lost love and the many ways in which grief can shape one’s character. Full of unexpected twists and written in beautiful prose, The Christie Affair brilliantly answers a question that has haunted readers for years: What happened to Agatha Christie in the days she was missing? Nina de Gramont takes this thread of a story and weaves it into a rich and vibrant tapestry.” — Kristin Hannah, author of The Four Winds

“Immersive, reflexive and propulsive, The Christie Affair is an extremely impressive literary novel which reveals its hidden themes and secrets through a narrative dance brilliantly done. This tale of two very different women who want the very same things in life forges surprising bonds both with its characters and the reader, deliciously subverting our notions of what makes a heroine, mother, writer and wife.” — Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society

Discussion Questions

1. Consider the three lines attributed to Hercule Poirot which open up each of the three parts of the novel. What did you think of the author’s choice of those particular lines? How do they connect to the narrative of The Christie Affair?

2. Discuss the narrative structure of the novel: the narration from Nan O’Dea’s perspective, and the alternating timelines. How did it affect your reading experience, if at all?

3. On page 37, there is a line that reads,“Sometimes you fall in love with a place, dramatic and urgent as falling in love with any person.” How is this proven to be true in the novel? What are the places that are most meaningful to the characters, and why?

4. Lucid dreaming and lucid living are mentioned several times in the novel by Nan. Why do you think she spends time thinking about these concepts? In what ways has she tried to incorporate them into her life?

5. Consider when Nan says, on page 219, that,“Among Agatha’s enviable qualities, perhaps the most significant was her ability to thrive in this man’s world. Following the rules but managing also to rise above them.” Do you agree with this statement? Throughout the novel, in what ways is this proven to be true?

6. On page 243, Agatha says, “The point of a good detective story is to make it all obvious. You throw in enough variables so the reader doubts his own solution, then at the end he can be pleased with himself for figuring it out.” In what ways does The Christie Affair align with this? In what ways does the structure of the novel echo Agatha Christie’s work?

7. Consider the lines on page 272, “For years I’d been swept in directions I never mean to go. I’d made mistakes, acting by accident or imperative. Finally in this moment I was the author of my story.” From the beginning of the novel, what did you believe Nan O’Dea’s motivations were? What did you think when they were ultimately revealed? Did it change your opinion about her character? Why or why not?

8. Discuss marriage and relationships in the novel. What are some of the different depictions throughout it? Which relationships stood out to you as the most meaningful, and why?

9. Examine motherhood and its representation throughout the novel. What are somethings that are revealed about the complexities of motherhood through the narrative?

10. On page 264, Agatha says, “What some call murder, others might call justice. ”Do you agree with this statement, particularly in the context of the novel?

11. Consider the last line of the novel, “Indulge yourself instead, and close this book on a happy ending.” How did the ending make you feel? If you choose to consider what the future holds for the characters beyond the ending of The Christie Affair, what do you imagine?



Here Lies Sister Mary

A long time ago in another country, I nearly killed a woman.

It’s a particular feeling, the urge to murder. First comes rage, larger than any you’ve ever imagined. It takes over your body so completely it’s like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. It conveys a strength you never knew you possessed. Your hands, harmless until now, rise up to squeeze another person’s life away. There’s a joy to it. In retrospect it’s frightening, but I daresay in the moment it feels sweet, the way justice feels sweet.

Agatha Christie had a fascination with murder. But she was tenderhearted. She never wanted to kill anyone. Not for a moment. Not even me.

“Call me Agatha,” she always said, reaching out a slender hand. But I never would, not in those early days, no matter how many weekends I spent at one of her homes, no matter how many private moments we shared. The familiarity didn’t feel proper, though propriety was already waning in the years after the Great War. Agatha was upper-crust and elegant, but perfectly willing to dispense with manners and social mores. Whereas I had worked too hard to learn those manners and mores to ever abandon them easily.

I liked her. Back then I refused to think highly of her writing. But I always admitted to admiring her as a person. I still admire her. Recently, when I confided this to one of my sisters, she asked me if I had regrets about what I’d done, and how much pain it caused.

“Of course I do,” I told her without hesitation. Anyone who says I have no regrets is either a psychopath or a liar. I am neither of those things, simply adept at keeping secrets. In this way the first Mrs. Christie and the second are very much alike. We both know you can’t tell your own story without exposing someone else’s. Her whole life, Agatha refused to answer any questions about the eleven days she went missing, and it wasn’t only because she needed to protect herself.

I would have refused to answer, too, if anyone had thought to ask.


The Disappearance


Thursday, December 2, 1926

I told Archie it was the wrong time to leave his wife, but I didn’t mean it. As far as I was concerned, this game had gone on far too long. It was time for me to play the winning hand. But he liked things to be his own idea, so I protested.

“She’s too fragile,” I said. Agatha was still reeling from her mother’s death.

“Clarissa died months ago,” Archie said. “And no matter when I tell her, it will be beastly.” Fragile was the last word anyone would use to describe Archie. He sat at the great mahogany desk in his London office, all pomp and power. “There’s no making everybody happy,” he said. “Somebody has got to be unhappy, and I’m tired of it being me.”

I faced him, perched on the leather chair usually reserved for financiers and businessmen. “Darling.” My voice would never achieve the genteel tones of Agatha’s, but by then I had at least managed to wash away the East End. “She needs more time to recover.”

“She’s a grown woman.”

“A person never stops needing her mother.”

“You’re too indulgent, Nan. Too kind.”

I smiled as if this were true. The things Archie hated most in the world were illness, weakness, sadness. He had no patience for recuperation. As his mistress, I always maintained a cheerful demeanor. Light and airy. The perfect contrast to his not-quite-fooled and grief-stricken wife.

His face softened. A smile twitched the corner of his mouth. As the French like to say, “Happy people have no history.” Archie never inquired after my past. He only wanted me now, beaming and willing. He ran a hand over his hair, putting back in place what had not been disrupted. I noticed a bit of gray at the temples. It made him looked distinguished. There may have been a mercenary element to my relationship with Archie, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy him. He was tall, handsome, and in love with me.

He stood from his desk and crossed the room to kneel before my chair.

“Archie,” I said, pretending to scold. “What if someone comes in?”

“No one will come in.” He put his arms round my waist and laid his head in my lap. I wore a pleated skirt, a button-up blouse, a loose cardigan, and stockings. Fake pearls and a smart new hat. I stroked Archie’s head but gently pushed it away as he pressed his face against me.

“Not here,” I said, but without urgency. Cheerful, cheerful, cheerful. A girl who’d never been sick or sad a day in her life.

Archie kissed me. He tasted like pipe smoke. I closed my hands on the lapel of his jacket and didn’t object when he cupped his hand around my breast. Tonight he would be going home to his wife. If the course I’d planned so carefully was to continue, it was best to send him to her thinking of me. A sponge soaked in quinine sulfate—procured by my married younger sister—stood guard inside me, protecting against pregnancy. Never once had I encountered Archie without preparing myself in this way, but for the moment my precautions proved unnecessary. He pulled my skirt modestly back into place, smoothing over the pleats, then stood and walked back round his desk.

Almost the moment he returned to his chair, in walked Agatha. She rapped lightly on the door at the same time she pushed it open. Her sensible heels made the barest sound on the carpet. At thirty-six, Agatha’s auburn hair faded toward brown. She was several inches taller than me, and nearly ten years older.

“Agatha,” Archie said sharply. “You might have knocked.”

“Oh, Archie. This isn’t a dressing room.” Then she turned to me. “Miss O’Dea. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Archie’s strategy had always been to hide me in plain sight. I was regularly invited to parties and even weekends at the Christies’ home. Six months ago, he would at least have made an excuse for my presence in his office. Stan’s loaned Nan to do some shorthand, he might have said. Stan was my employer at the Imperial British Rubber Company. He was a friend of Archie’s, but never loaned anybody anything.

This time Archie didn’t offer up a single word to explain me, perched where I didn’t belong. Agatha’s brows arched as she realized her husband couldn’t be bothered with the usual subterfuge. She gathered her composure by addressing me.

“Look at us.” She pointed to her outfit and then mine. “We’re twins.”

It was an effort not to touch my face. I was blushing furiously. What if she had come in two minutes earlier? Would she have pretended ignorance against all evidence, just as doggedly as she did now?

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it’s true, we are.”

That season nearly every woman in London was a twin, the same clothes, the same shoulder-length hair. But Agatha’s suit was authentic Chanel, and her pearls were not fake. She didn’t register these discrepancies with any disdain, if at all. She wasn’t that sort of person, a virtue that backfired when it came to me. Never once did Agatha object to the daughter of a clerk, a mere secretary, entering her social circles. “She’s friends with Stan’s daughter,” Archie had told her. “Excellent golfer.” That was all the explanation she ever required.

In photographs from this time Agatha looks much darker, less pretty than she really was. Her eyes were sparkling and blue. She had a girlish sprinkling of freckles across her nose and a face that moved quickly from one expression to the next. Finally Archie stood to greet her, taking her hand as though she were a business associate. I decided—the way someone who’s doing something cruel can decide—it was all to the good: she deserved better than Archie, this pretty and ambitious woman. She deserved someone who would collect her in his arms with unabashed adoration and be faithful to her. As guilt crept in to discourage me, I reminded myself that Agatha was born on her feet, and that’s how she’d always land.

She told Archie, likely for the second or third time, that she’d had a meeting with Donald Fraser, her new literary agent. “Since I’m in town, I thought we might go to luncheon. Before your weekend away.”

“I can’t today.” Archie gestured unconvincingly toward his empty desk. “I’ve a mountain of work to get through.”

“Ah. You sure? I’ve booked a table at Simpson’s.”

“I’m certain,” he said. “I’m afraid you’ve come by for nothing.”

“Would you like to come with me, Miss O’Dea? A girls’ luncheon?”

I couldn’t bear seeing her rejected twice. “Oh, yes. That would be lovely.”

Archie coughed, irritated. Another man might have been nervous, faced with this meeting, wife and lover. But he’d moved past caring. He wanted his marriage over, and if that came about from Agatha walking in on us, so be it. While his wife and I lunched, he would keep an appointment at Garrard and Company to buy the most beautiful ring, my first real diamond.

“You must tell me about your new literary agent,” I said, getting to my feet. “What an exciting career you have, Mrs. Christie.” This was not flattery. Agatha’s career was leagues more interesting to me than Archie’s work in finance, though she wasn’t well-known at this time, not in the way she would become. A rising star not quite risen. I envied her.

Agatha put her arm through mine. I accepted the gesture with ease. Nothing came more naturally to me than intimacy with other women. I had three sisters. Agatha’s face set into a smile that managed to be both dreamy and determined. Archie sometimes complained about the weight she’d gained over the past seven years, since Teddy arrived, but her arm felt thin and delicate. I let her lead me through the offices and out onto the busy London street. My cheeks went pink from the cold. Agatha released my arm abruptly and brought a hand to her forehead, steadying herself.

“Are you all right, Mrs. Christie?”

“Agatha,” she said, her voice sharper than it had been in Archie’s office. “Please call me Agatha.”

I nodded. And then proceeded to do what I did every time she made this request—for the bulk of our time that afternoon, I didn’t call her anything at all.

* * *

Have you ever known a woman who went on to become famous? Looking back, you can see things in memory, can’t you. About the way she held herself. The determination with which she spoke. To her dying day, Agatha claimed not to be an ambitious person. She thought she kept her intensity secret, but I could see it in the way her eyes swept over a room. The way she examined everyone who crossed her line of vision, imagining a history she could sum up in a single sentence. Unlike Archie, Agatha always wanted to know about your past. If you didn’t care to reveal it, she’d create something of her own and convince herself it was true.

At Simpson’s Agatha and I were escorted upstairs to the ladies’ dining room. When we were seated, she removed her hat, so I did, too, though many other ladies wore theirs. She fluffed her pretty hair back into place. The gesture seemed less vanity than a way to comfort herself. She might have asked me what I’d been doing in Archie’s office. But she knew I’d have a lie at the ready and didn’t want to hear it.

Instead she said, “Your mother’s still living, isn’t she, Miss O’Dea?”

“Yes, both my parents.”

She stared at me frankly. Assessing. One is allowed to say it in retrospect. I was pretty. Slim, young, athletic. At the same time, I was no Helen of Troy. If I had been, my relationship with Archie might have been less alarming. The modesty of my charms indicated he might very well be in love.

“How’s Teddy?” I asked.

“She’s fine.”

“And the writing?”

“It’s fine.” She waved her hand as if nothing mattered less. “It’s all a parlor trick. Shiny objects and red herrings.” A look crossed her face, as if she couldn’t help but smile when thinking of it, so I knew despite her dismissal, she was proud of her work.

An enormous bang erupted as a white-coated waiter dropped his tray full of empty dishes. I couldn’t help but jump. At the table next to us, a man dining with his wife covered his head with his arms as reflex. Not so long ago loud crashes in London meant something far more ominous than shattered dishware, and so many of our men had seen the worst of it.

Agatha took a sip of tea. “How I miss the calm before the War. Do you think we’ll ever recover, Miss O’Dea?”

“I don’t see how we can.”

“I suppose you were too young to do any nursing.”

I nodded. During the War, it was mostly matronly types who tended the soldiers, by design, to avert the bloom of unsuitable romances. Agatha had been assigned to a hospital dispensary in Torquay. It was where she learned so much about poison.

“My sister Megs became a nurse,” I said. “After the War, as her profession. In fact she works now at a hospital in Torquay.”

Agatha did not ask more about this. She wouldn’t know someone like my sister. Instead she asked, “Did you lose anyone close to you?”

“A boy I used to know. In Ireland.”

“Was he killed?”

“Let’s just say he never came home. Not really.”

“Archie was in the Flying Corps. Of course you know that. I suppose it was different for those in the air.”

Didn’t that sum up the whole world? Always the poor ones carrying the world’s scars. Agatha liked to quote William Blake: “Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night.” In my mind, even at that moment—lunching at Simpson’s while her husband shopped for my engagement ring—I considered Agatha the former and myself the latter.

An expression kept rising to Agatha’s face that I could see her actively pushing away. As if she wanted to say something, but couldn’t bring herself to. She had brought me to luncheon, I’m sure of it, to confront me. Perhaps to ask for mercy. But it’s easy to postpone the most unpleasant conversations, especially if confrontation is not in your nature.

To do so, and because she meant it, Agatha said, “What rubbish, war. Any war. It’s a terrible thing for a man to endure. If I had a son, I’d do whatever I could to keep him away from it. I don’t care what the cause is, or if England’s at stake.”

“I think I’ll do the same. If I ever have a son.”

Our meat was carved tableside and I chose a piece that was rarer than I liked. I suppose I was trying to impress Agatha. The richer the people, the bloodier they liked their steak. As I sawed into the meat, the red oozing made my stomach turn.

“Do you still think of the Irish boy?” Agatha asked.

“Only every day of my life.”

“Is that why you never married?”

Never married. As if I never would. “I suppose it is.”

“Well. You’re still young. And who knows? Perhaps he’ll turn up one day, recovered.”

“I doubt that very much.”

“There was a time during the War I thought Archie and I would never be able to marry. But we did and we’ve been so happy. We have, you know. Been happy.”

“I’m sure that’s true.” Clipped and stern. Talk of the War had steeled me. A person who has nothing might be excused for taking one thing—a husband—from a person who has everything.

The waiter returned and asked if we wanted a cheese course. We both declined. Agatha put down her fork with her meat half-eaten. If her manners had been less perfect, she would have pushed her plate away. “I must start eating less. I’m too fat, Archie says.”

“You look just fine,” I said, to soothe her and because it was true. “You look beautiful.”