Mary Westmacott is the pen name Agatha Christie used for six novels which are usually referred to as romances. It may baffle some people that Agatha Christie, Queen of Crime, ever wrote romance. Actually the baffling thing is that these books are considered romances. Perhaps the genre has changed, but one of the defining elements of the romance genre is the happy ending, the resolved issues and the blissful relationship.
Mary Westmacott does not write these kinds of stories. One could argue that many of Agatha Christie’s crime novels have happier endings and healthier relationships than those that feature in these supposed “romances.” That being said, I would recommend these for Christie fans. These plots have the same care and attention to detail as she gives to her mysteries. In fact, you could argue that the Mary Westmacott novels are mystery novels – only they are exploring the mysteries of the human heart. These mysteries are much more difficult to solve, much harder to explain with a neat detective monologue. The twists are not about unexpected murderers, but rather reinterpretations of people and actions you might have thought you knew.
If you were looking for a genre romance, on the other hand, reading Mary Westmacott may disappoint you. There are levels of unhappy endings, though, so I’ve compiled a handy ranking sheet of these novels by how well I think they fit into the romance genre. Be warned: while I am trying to describe these in the broadest possible terms, I don’t think I can completely avoid spoilers when talking about how happy (or not) these endings are. Let the countdown begin!
6. Unfinished Portrait.
I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but this is also my least favourite of the six. The idea behind this novel is that a man meets a woman who is about to commit suicide, and stops her, and then hears her life story. The story is his attempt to ‘paint’ a portrait of her. So it is basically her life story, and in my opinion lacks a bit of a point. Given that we know the events lead to her seeking death, well, it’s not a happy ending.
5. Absent in the Spring
This story, like Unfinished Portrait, is an attempt to delve into one person’s life and character, and it does a far better job. A woman is forced to spend some days without any company or anything to do, so she reflects on her life and makes some unpleasant discoveries. It is fascinating to watch her happiness be revealed as denial. Unfortunately, this does not lead to her improving her life and relationship.
4. The Rose and the Yew Tree
A disabled man watches the drama of small town politics unfold around him. In particular, he focuses on Gabriel, the boorish but strangely attractive working-class politician, and Isabella, the beautiful and dreamy upper-class woman. An interesting and evocative story that could have been a romance with a few tweaks (that would have made it less interesting and evocative). There’s no happy relationship at the end though.
3. Giant’s Bread
The story of a musician and his ever-changing relationship with his art and certain women in his life. I really enjoyed this book, it had some fun twists and explores the balance between art and humanity. Whether the ending is happy quite possibly depends on your definition of happy, but I can tell you it’s not romance-genre happy. The only reason it comes this far up is that a couple of secondary characters do get together, so that’s nice to see.
2. The Burden
This book follows the lives of two sisters, where one sister loves another so much that it becomes the titular burden. This actually could qualify as a romance, in that the main character does end up in a fairly happy romantic relationship. However, the other partner is a character who just shows up out of the blue near the end, which I personally found a little unsatisfying. Also, the focus is on the sisterly relationship, and explores the dark side of love, so not something to read if you want to actually watch two characters fall in love.
1. A Daughter’s a Daughter
A mother starts a relationship that her daughter disapproves of. Sounds like a simple concept, but the story went in a direction I wasn’t expecting. An enjoyable read with vivid characters, and guess what? Not only do the mother and daughter resolve the issues in their relationship, they also both find romantic love in the end! This novel is definitively the most romantic of the Mary Westmacott novels – although I guess that isn’t a high bar to clear.