I freely admit that I’m not the intended audience for this book. I only have a limited amount of patience for the problems of teenager main characters these days, so when I realised The Agathas was YA (I ordered it online mainly for the title), I wasn’t sure I would keep reading. I’m glad I kept on with it, as it turns out to be a good, engaging mystery.
The aspect I enjoyed most about this mystery was the relationship between the two main characters. On the face of it, Alice and Iris shouldn’t be friends: they are from completely different social spheres, even though they attend the same school and have had various classes together over the years. But they are thrown together when Alice’s wealthy but distant parents hire the quiet and studious Iris to tutor Alice after she misses a few months of school. Iris is happy to take the money, even if she expects Alice to be a snob.
Alice is, or rather was, a ‘Main’, the term used to describe the in-crowd at their school. Alice is now ostracised from the Mains after a stunt she pulled over summer (the book opens at Halloween and continues through to Thanksgiving, so a few months after summer), when she emulated Agatha Christie and just vanished for a week after finding out that her ex-boyfriend, Steve, was dating her (then) best friend, Brooke. She has never explained this absence to anyone. The book opens with her returning to school after being kept under house arrest for a few months.
Iris doesn’t judge Alice for her vanishing act. She just wonders why Alice, having made it out of the town, ever came back. Iris has dreams of escaping the town as well. But she wants to escape from a life of abuse and fear, taking her mother with her. She knows she needs money for this, so she accepts the job to tutor Alice.
The Mains have a Halloween party at which Brooke and Steve have an argument which ends in Brooke running off alone into the woods. The next morning everyone is surprised to find Brooke is still missing. No one seems particularly worried at first. They just think that Brooke has emulated Alice and will be back in a few days. But Alice knows her friend better than anyone else, and knows that she isn’t the type of person who would behave like that. She presses the police to take the disappearance seriously, then teams up with Iris to investigate. It takes them a few days, but Alice and Iris eventually find Brooke’s dead body in the ocean at the bottom of a cliff, under a local lookout. The police arrest Steve for the murder, without much of an investigation.
Alice, having read every Agatha Christie mystery written, doesn’t believe Steve is guilty and determines to solve the case herself, again assisted by Iris, but spiritually guided by Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The girls’ methods are highly questionable, and none of the evidence they find can be used legally, but they are effective and they feed all they learn to Steve’s lawyer, who just happens to be Iris’s former babysitter (it’s a small town). It all gets a bit convoluted, with the lawyer guiding them to manipulate social media to get a movement started that forces the police to investigate further. The police succumb to the pressure and actually start investigating, but it is still Alice and Iris who solve the case and find the real murderer.
The book is told from both Alice and Iris’s viewpoints, with occasional excerpts from other media, such as group chats, news reports and social media posts. The Alice and Iris viewpoints are easy to distinguish: the differences between the girls comes out clearly. I only realised when I read the acknowledgments at the end that the two authors each wrote one of the viewpoints. Lots of references to Christie’s books are scattered throughout the story, and there are little bits of Christie’s history woven in as well. These of course are more prevalent in the Alice chapters, including the Christie quote at the beginning of each of these chapters, but even Iris eventually starts making the occasional reference, and uses the example of Miss Marple to goad Alice into do something she is reluctant to do.
I was a little disappointed at the end when Alice explains where she had been over those five days back in summer and why she disappeared. I thought the book would continue to echo Christie’s personal story and leave it to our imaginations to decide for ourselves what Alice had been doing. But I do accept that Alice telling Iris what happened is important for the relationship between the characters, especially as Alice had learned the truth about Iris’s life, something that Iris had been desperate to keep secret from everyone. But this is a minor quibble at the end of an enjoyable mystery. I thought the ending seemed to suggest that there may eventually be a sequel, and I’ve now discovered that a second book, The Night In Question, has just come out. I liked this one enough that I will look out for the new book.