Let's start with a little history: in December, 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days, after quarreling with her then-husband, Archie, who wanted a divorce. While friends and relatives - and also police and journalists - searched for her, she remained hidden, until she was ultimately found eleven days later, alive and at least physically well, at a hotel in Harrogate. Agatha Christie never explained her disappearance, and there is still speculation about her motives and her mental health.
And that brings us to the mystery: what was she doing over those eleven days?
Now let's play, "What if?" - what if, during that time, she had been writing something - something which has never been discovered. For example a never-produced, never published play?
Now suppose you were a collector of valuable mystery-related books, first editions and manuscripts. What would you pay for an unpublished play written by Agatha Christie at the time of her disappearance?
What I have just outlined is the basis for a clever little "cozy" mystery called The Christie Curse, by Victoria Abbott, published just a few months ago. While I'd hardly describe it as "classic," the premise of the plot ought to lure anyone who enjoys traditional and classic puzzle mysteries to give it a try.
Our protagonist and narrator is a young woman named Jordan Bingham. She needs a job and is not overly scrupulous about what she may need to do in order to get and keep one. She manages to get herself hired as an assistant to the most hated woman in town - Vera Van Alst, a woman who is, among other things, an avid book collector, particularly of mysteries. Jordan's new job will be to find rare books and manuscripts - and, in particular, to track down that elusive rumor about a missing Christie manuscript. Of course, it doesn't necessarily help matters when Jordan discovers that the last person to hold the job was murdered. And it quickly becomes clear to her (if not to the police, who appear uncommonly dense) that anyone who knows anything about the search for a Christie manuscript is going to become a target.
It's definitely a cozy, a mystery about books, a mystery about Agatha Christie and, overall, a good deal of fun. There are some genuine surprises packed into the book, though I do think some of the clues might have been handled better. As with other cozies, all the violence is pretty much off-stage, there are at least a couple of cats and a dog wandering through the story - and there are a couple of recipes included as well.
"Victoria Abbott" is the pen name for the writing team of Mary Jane Maffini, who has three other series of her own, and Victoria Maffini, her daughter. I was lured in by the Christie connection. Apparently the next in the series will have to do with Dorothy L. Sayers. I'll keep you posted.