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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Print Excerpt

The letter flutters on the desk, almost keeping time with the footsteps thundering across the floor. Back and forth, back and forth, the feet pace, and the thick writing paper quivers to the same rhythm. The black, spiky words that possess the ivory page seem to come alive and pulsate with each heavy tread.

How do you want this story to end? It seems to me that there are two paths from which you can choose, the first involving a softer landing than the second, though neither are without bumps and bruises, of course. These small injuries are simply a necessary consequence of this entire exercise, as I'm sure you must understand by now. Or have I overestimated you and you haven't guessed? No matter. My goal—which you will undoubtedly find utterly unacceptable—will be met regardless of your awareness. Freeing myself of the shackles of your judgment and your malfeasance will be a delightful result of your duplicity, a result you never intended. Because you only ever intended to serve your own needs and satisfy your own desires. I was never in the forefront of your mind, not even in the early days, even as I was told that you should always be at the forefront of mine.

The room, already dark despite the morning hour, grows even blacker. Seconds later, a gust of wind blows open the lightly closed but unlatched window, and the pages of the letter blow off the desk and onto the carpet. Darkness blankets its words until a crack of thunder sounds—how very fitting and typical that it is a dark and stormy night, the letter's recipient thinks—and lightning suddenly illuminates the room. And the words make themselves known again.

Read on and follow my instructions closely if you wish the safety of the first path and the security of its conclusion. It will not be easy. You will have to be stalwart, even when the road is rocky and you suffer from doubts and shame. Only by following my directions at each crossroads in this journey will the story end well for us all.



PART ONE

Chapter One
THE MANUSCRIPT

October 12, 1912
Ugbrooke House, Devon, England

I could not have written a more perfect man."Lose your dance card," a voice whispered to me as I passed through the crowd and onto the dance floor. Who would dare say such a thing? Particularly since I was on the arm of Thomas Clifford, distant relation of my hosts, Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh, and quite the focus of the unattached ladies at the Ugbrooke House ball.

Impertinent, I thought to myself, even rude. I imagined the scene if my dance partner had overheard him. Even worse, imagine if my dance partner was the one—our Fate, as my friends and I liked to describe prospective husbands—and had been distracted from his attentions. Still, a frisson passed through me, and I wondered who would hazard such impudence. I turned in the direction of the voice, but strains of Elgar's Symphony No. 1 began to play, and my partner pulled me out to dance.

As we waltzed, I tried to identify the man from among the throngs lining the vast ballroom floor. Mummy would chastise me for not focus-ing my attentions upon the young Mr. Clifford, but from rumors, I knew that the eligible, well-connected gentleman needed to marry an heiress and could have no legitimate interest in me anyway. I was nearly penni-less with only the inheritance of Ashfield villa to offer, an estate many would consider a curse rather than a blessing, particularly since I had no funds to support it and the villa was in constant need of repair. A lost opportunity Mr. Clifford was not. But I had no doubt that opportunity would indeed present itself. Wasn't that the destiny of all us girls? To be swept away by a man and then swept into the tidal pull of our Fate?

Dozens of men in evening dress stood in the corner of the gilded ballroom, but none seemed a likely candidate for such a brash invitation. Until I saw him. A fair, wavy-haired man stood on the fringes of the dance floor, his eyes on me. Never once did I see him engage in con-versation with any of the other gentlemen, nor did I see him attempt to escort any of the ladies onto the floor. His only movement occurred when he walked over to the orchestra and spoke to the conductor, after which he returned to his spot in the corner.

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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