Unusual Suspects

Real Unsolved Mysteries In True Crime & Fictionalized

Hi mystery fans! I have two real life unsolved mysteries, one in a true crime book and one in a novel that imagines what may have happened during a famous author’s disappearance.

The Golden Thread: The Cold War and the Mysterious Death of Dag Hammarskjöld by Ravi Somaiya

This has it all: spies, history, governments planning assassinations, the founding of the United Nations, unsolved mystery, conspiracy theories, and a reminder that history continues repeating itself if we don’t learn from it–“Nobody could call them off-only wind them up, set them off, and semi-legitimately deny any involvement in the destruction that followed.”

Dag Hammarskjöld was a Swedish economist and the second Secretary-General of the United Nations whose death, along with the deaths of everyone on board, in a plane crash on Sept. 17, 1961 has remained unsolved. The fact that a prominent political figure, with many enemies, died in a plane crash that went unchecked until the next day; that there were over 10 known spies from various countries in the area; that the investigation deemed a dozen witnesses who all saw the same thing (another plane in the sky) as not reliable; and more, fed the flames of conspiracy theories for years. And it wasn’t until 2014 that the U.N finally appointed someone to reexamine this case.

Here, Somaiya–who narrates the audiobook–which I highly recommend!–unravels the man, Hammarskjöld; the politics, including the history of the Congo, the creation of the U.N., and the hatred towards it; and looks at all the theories that have been presented over the years. “Never believe anything until it is officially denied.”

I liked that I didn’t need to pause to go look up footnotes etc for more information, but, rather, Somaiya makes clear in the narrative whether it is one person’s uncorroborated or corroborated account, and the source material, or when it’s unknown, without this ever feeling like a textbook. There is a lot of interesting information in here, especially if you don’t know much about the Congo or the U.N. Spoiler: colonizers ruin everything. While the book does not end with a pretty bow and a “solved” stamp, it does make clear from all the gathered evidence and information the most likely theory, including explaining the points that work and don’t, and why, for each of the main theories over the years, including mercenary planes, hijackers, and government assassination plots.

(TW attempted suicide recounted, detail/ mentions group rape not detailed or graphic)

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Did you know that the queen of crime Agatha Christie has a very real mystery from her life that has remained unsolved? She disappeared for 11 days in 1926 and claimed memory loss of that time when she was found. I mean if anything is prime for conspiracy theories, a mystery author disappearing and almost 100 years later it still being unsolved should do it.

Here, Benedict has imagined a why/how for the part we don’t know by writing a novel that alternates between Agatha Christie and her husband Archibald Christie. We start with Agatha Christie loosely engaged to a man when she meets Archie. We watch their courtship, her home life with her mother, her relationship with her sister, and how she started writing. Archie’s chapters alternate starting with his learning of his wife’s disappearance, the case that ensues, the media focus, and him becoming a suspect.

For a book that is based on a mystery I already know, and had assumptions about what it was going to do before reading, I still found myself very much turning the pages late into the night fascinated by Christie and enraged by the “life lessons” she was taught about marriage. While I generally very much move away from things that impose themselves on very real people without their consent, something about the hundred year time span let me pick this one up. Watching Christie’s life unfold as she became a mystery writer and became a mystery herself was clever and I think has a broad reader appeal. I will note that if you’ve still never read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd it will be spoiled for you (if it hasn’t already), and also you may be left with a very strong desire to (re)read all of Christie’s work.

(TW brief lore summarized vaguely alludes to assault and suicide/ a discussion about suicide not being a possibility)

From The Book Riot Crime Vault

(now available!) Y’all, I’m Getting Pretty Excited About Agora’s Diverse Crime Fiction

If Crime Novels Were Food

Browse all the books recommended in Unusual Suspects previous newsletters on this shelf. See upcoming 2021 releases. Check out this Unusual Suspects Pinterest board and get Tailored Book Recommendations!

Until next time, keep investigating! In the meantime, come talk books with me on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Litsy–you can find me under Jamie Canavés.

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