Saturday, November 7, 2015

What Happened When Agatha Christie, the Great Mystery Writer, Went Missing for Eleven Days?

by Roy Dimond

For a writer staring at the tabula rasa, the great daunting blank sheet can be an intimidating process. That virgin landscape stretching vast before the mind’s eye is perfect in its simplicity and menacingly silent in its judgment. It has no need of me, yet taunts. “Spoil me,” it teases. “Ruin my perfection with your imperfect words.”

Never does the blank slate cry out more agonizingly than when an author is about to embark on a tale about another writer. And if that “other writer” happens to be the great Agatha Christie…it is the shriek of the banshee that is heard. “Who are you?” it wails. “What gives you the right?” Finally it judges. “You are unworthy!”

And in my mind the response is…silence. I have no answer…only a need. So, I write. From this angst came my novel, Silence and Circumstance, a fictional account of a very real event, published by Untreed Reads http://www.untreedreads.com/ with representation from my agent, Malaga Baldi.

***

It was December 3, 1926 when Agatha Christie went missing for 11 fateful days. Agatha’s mother had died earlier that year and Agatha had been under tremendous personal strain. Her husband, Archie, who hated illness, had for all intents and purposes abandoned Agatha for London, leaving his wife alone to deal with her mother’s belongings. Mrs. Christie’s family home in Ashfield would have been filled with precious memories as Agatha often shared with the public what a gloriously rich childhood she had.

Filled with grief, Agatha carried out her mother’s last wishes while Archie gallivanted. At the same time, she was left alone to deal with her young first born, Rosalind, which only added to her despair. During this time of loneliness, Agatha first showed signs of confusion. It was well documented that she was wound tight during this period of her life, breaking into tears when her car wouldn’t start or forgetting her own name when trying to sign a cheque.

Earlier in June that same year, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd had launched with great success. While at her home in Styles, where she and Archie had been so in love, its acclaim must have brought tremendous joy to Agatha.

How quickly life can disintegrate. It was most likely here, in her own home, that Mrs. Christie heard for the first time the other woman’s name – Neele. She was the former secretary of Major Belcher’s, a man known to both the Christies from their days of traveling the world. Possibly within the walls of her beloved Styles, Archie first approached his wife and uttered the dreaded word – divorce! No doubt the first cut of a thousand slashes that even after a trial reconciliation, left Agatha broken. As Mrs. Christie said of this period, it was a “Mistake… a period of sorrow, misery, heartbreak.”
As all abandoned lovers can attest, it left Agatha a shell of herself and through the summer and fall of 1926 she was unable to focus, setting aside manuscripts and instead attempting simple short stories.
It was at this time with the death of her mother, the raising of her daughter, with the word divorce lingering over every conversation, and of course there was that name – Mrs. Neele…pushing Mrs. Christie to her fateful decision.

On Friday, December 3 around 9:45 in the evening, Agatha picked up the keys to her green Morris Cowley and drove away from the home where she had been so happy.

Saturday morning the vehicle was found near Silent Pool, a lake in Surrey, its hood up and lights still on. The police found only her fur coat, suitcase and driver’s license.

Once the missing person’s report was filed, it rapidly became national news. Rewards were offered, bloodhounds were used, and for the first time ever, airplanes and divers searched. Five hundred policemen from over four counties and an almost unbelievable 15,000 volunteers were organized. Newspapers blared headlines and readers were asked to search backyards and basements. The sense of the time was that something like this could never happen in England.

Even famous writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers immediately volunteered to help with the search.

These are the facts, but from here information is sketchy. Rumors that a letter was sent to her husband Archie. Scathing in its content, it was supposedly burned by him. A note may have arrived to her friend and governess Carlo Fisher, a possible letter to Campbell Christie, and one to the police, but none of these were confirmed.

***

As a writer, this is where I took liberties and interweaved my fictional account of what happened during those 11 days. Silence and Circumstance is told from the unique perspective of Carlo Fisher, the Christie’s governess.

I found it too unbelievable that one of the most disciplined writing minds of her time simply had a nervous breakdown. The papers of her day asked if she was trying to generate publicity for her next book, or perhaps creating a scene to win back her husband. I found these notions dubious.

So I conceived of a scenario where Mrs. Christie was in fact solving a mystery so grand that its effects would be felt to this very day.

***

But back to the facts…After 11 days, the population of Britain was at a fever pitch. How could the most famous mystery writer of her time just vanish? No body, corpse or otherwise, had been found. Virtually everyone had checked storage sheds, walking trails, every conceivable spot and yet…no Agatha.

However, when she was finally found, it was anti-climatic. There was no kidnapping or vast network of underground thugs as there would have been in a Holmes detective novel -- just Agatha, staying at the Hydropathic Hotel, known today as The Old Swan. There were nevertheless still oddities. Apparently, Agatha had signed in using the name, “Mrs. Neele of Cape Town.” The name of her husband’s new love interest.

Attribution: Andrew Blades

She had been spotted dancing the Charleston, playing bridge, and completing the newspaper’s daily crossword puzzle. A musician in the hotel’s band claimed the reward for finding her. When the police asked Archie to identify her, at first she thought him to be her brother. Later, Mr. Christie announced, “Agatha has had the most complete loss of memory and does not know who she is.”

Steve Hopson Photography
www.stevehopson.com
Almost immediately all Britain fell into three camps of thought regarding what had really happened. Some believed her amnesia to be true; many believed it all a scam to bring shame and perhaps even criminal charges against Mr. Christie, while others continued to think that it was a publicity stunt.

***

In my novel, Silence and Circumstance I do not attempt to answer these questions. Instead, Agatha uses her incredible sleuthing skills to send Carlo Fisher on an adventure to solve a good old-fashioned whodunit while mysterious societies emerge from the shadows and darkness threatens all of humanity.

In my fictional account of those 11 days, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a young Ian Fleming also search for her missing diary. They race across Europe on the Orient Express towards Mrs. Christies favorite tourist accommodation, Istanbul’s exotic Hotel Pera, in hopes of finding her diary and clues as to what happened to her, but that is for you, the reader, to discover in…Silence and Circumstance.

Roy at Machu Pichu
About the Author:

In his first life, Roy Dimond had the honor of helping at risk children and their families. In his second life, he pursues his love of travel and writing. Having explored four continents from Cuzco to Kyoto, Santorini to Tsumago, his wanderings have all found a way into his stories.

Roy currently lives with his wife in Garden Bay, a small harbor on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of The Singing Bowl second edition.

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9 comments:

  1. Congrats! Sounds like a wonderful read!

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  2. Sounds like great fun! And it can't be any more fantastical than the Dr Who episode on this subject. ;-)

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    1. Lol, I'll have to look for that!

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    2. The episode is called The Unicorn And The Wasp.

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  3. Okay, went to iBooks and bought it. :-)

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  4. Who doesn't love reading or writing a wonderful mystery?

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  5. Her disappearance does lend good fodder for a story. This one sounds intriguing.

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  6. Your book sounds interesting. A few years ago -- well, more like twenty-five years, Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman were in a movie that gave an account of those eleven days. It also was a good story.

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  7. Sounds like an interesting read. I also don't believe that the disappearance was just amnesia or nervous breakdown (and who would believe that a-hole of a husband of hers anyway?) I think the reasons behind it were much more complex and that Christie knew just what she was doing. She was far too intelligent not to have her reasons.

    Tam

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