Excerpt from The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

by Marie Benedict

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict X
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
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    Dec 2020, 288 pages

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Why doesn't his home bear this level of perfection? Why must he be constantly assaulted by its lack of household rigor and the emotions and needs of its inhabitants? With these thoughts, a sense of righteous indignation blooms within him, and he feels perfectly justified.

"I do believe that a toast is in order," his host, Sam James, announces with a nod to his wife, Madge. She in turn signals to the uniformed parlormaid, who reaches for a bottle of champagne that has been chilling in a crystal bucket on the sideboard.

"Archie, we had wanted to toast your plans last evening, but the unexpected visit by Reverend—" Madge starts to explain.

A soft pink hue begins to spread across Nancy's cheeks, and though she looks lovely with her cheeks aflame, Archie understands that the Jameses' focus on their situation is the cause of her discomfort and wants to placate her. Raising his hand, he says, "The gesture is much appreciated, my dear Madge, but not necessary."

"Please, Archie." Madge holds fast. "We are well pleased with your plans. And you will have little enough opportunity to celebrate."

"We insist," Sam echoes his wife.

To protest further would be impolite, which Nancy implicitly understands. This sense of decorum is a quality they share, and he relishes it in her. It obviates the need for the firm guiding hand toward properness that he must exercise elsewhere in his life. His home, in particular.

"Sam and Madge, thank you. Your support means the world," he answers. Nancy nods in agreement.

The crystal flutes sparkle with the honey-colored champagne as the maid fills each of their glasses in turn. Just as she finishes pouring the final glass, a knock sounds at the dining room door.

"Pardon the interruption, sir," a woman's voice, thick with a country accent, calls through the closed door, "but there is a telephone call for the colonel."

He exchanges a quizzical glance with Nancy. He hadn't expected a call so soon, if at all, particularly since he'd kept his weekend where-abouts as quiet as possible. For the obvious reason. Nancy sets her glass down and gently touches his elbow over the crisp linen tablecloth. It is a silent acknowledgment of their shared concern about the call.

"Pardon me," he says with a nod to their hosts, who place their flutes back down on the table. Standing, he buttons his suit jacket and nods to Nancy with a confidence he does not feel. He strides out of the dining room, quietly shutting the door behind him.

"This way, sir," the maid says, and he follows her into a tiny room tucked under the intricately carved main staircase of Hurtmore Cottage, a misnomer for the grand home. There, the candlestick telephone, its receiver sitting on the desktop, awaits him.

Sitting down at the desk chair, he places the receiver to his ear and the mouthpiece to his lips. But he will not speak until the maid has closed the door behind her.

"Hello?" He hates the uncertainty he hears in his voice. Nancy prizes his self-assurance above all else.

"My apologies, sir. This is Charlotte Fisher."

What in the devil is Charlotte thinking, ringing him here? He had entrusted her with the Hurtmore Cottage information with the gravest of admonitions. Even though he'd gone to great lengths in recent months to curry favor with the family secretary and governess—necessary, he believes, to effectuate the smooth transition for which he hopes—he makes no effort to coddle her now by keeping the anger from his voice. Damn the consequences. "Charlotte, I thought I instructed you not to contact me here except in the case of an extreme emergency."

"Well, Colonel," she stammers, "I am standing in the foyer of Styles next to Constable Roberts."

Charlotte stops speaking. Does she really think that the mere mention of the presence of a police officer in his home should explain all? What does she want him to say? She waits for him to speak next, and in the quiet, dread fills him. He can find no words. What does she know? More importantly, what does the constable know? Every word seems a trap he'll spring.

Excerpted from The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. Copyright © 2020 by Marie Benedict. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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