My Day With Mysteries at the Museum

Now it can be told; nine months later than I wished and about a week later than I should have.

I committed television.

mysteries at the museum between the covers

The Scene of the Crime: Between the Covers Rare Books in Gloucester, N.J.

Early last year, an email appeared in my inbox from a producer from the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” show. They were looking for an Agatha Christie expert to narrate a segment about her 11-day disappearance back in 1926.

They found me instead.

At first, I was reluctant to cop to being an expert. While I’ve researched her life as part of annotating her first two novels, there were people far more qualified to talk about Christie. There are her two biographers Janet Morgan and Laura Thompson. There’s John Curran, who edited and annotated two volumes of her working notebooks. There’s even Jared Cade, who wrote an excellent book about her disappearance, a book that angered Christie’s relatives.

But, they explained, they needed an American expert. “Mysteries at the Museum” is shot in the U.S. They use artifacts from U.S. museums to tell the stories. An American authority they needed.

So on Easter Sunday, I drove to Between the Covers Rare Books in Gloucester, New Jersey, and played an Agatha Christie expert on TV.

I don’t know what was more fun: sitting down to talk about Christie, or meeting bookstore owner Tom Congalton and seeing his precious treasures, such as the Beatles’ “Butcher” album cover, or the first edition “Great Gatsby.”

Mysteries at the Museum Between the Covers Rare Books

With Tom Congalin, owner of Between the Covers Rare Books, holding my non-existent pipe.

Or maybe it was holding his first edition of “Unfinished Portrait,” the novel Christie wrote as Mary Westmacott that described the collapse of her marriage. (It’s still for sale for a modest $700; I’m sure Tom would be happy to talk about it.)

And on Dec. 26, the show’s finale episode led off with “Dial M for Missing,” a 4-minute video clip can be found at the Travel Channel website.

So for most of the year, bound by a contract not to tell, I had to keep quiet about my first appearance on national television. Of course, I screwed it up when, after being told I could talk about it, I didn’t; but that’s on me.

So how am I? Pretty damn good if I say so myself.

Really? Pinky swear?

Truth be told: I haven’t seen it. I haven’t been able to work up the nerve.

I’m sure it’s fine. The “Mysteries” crew were pros at their job, and they handled my commentary as if they dealt with people who had never been on TV before all their lives (which it must seem like sometimes).

Also, they played the odds. My session before the camera took two hours. From the time Agatha published her latest book (“The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”) to the revelation that, despite all that Archie Christie did to her marriage and spirit, she still loved him, and had kept his love letters by her side until her death.

From two hours of film, they needed only about 25 bits of narration and images for a segment that lasted about eight minutes. They shot a lot of material.

Fortunately, I was used to speaking up. I acted in stage plays, gave book readings, and delivered a talk on Christie the previous month at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop (and I’ll be returning there March 29th to talk about Sherlock Holmes). Even when I speak gibberish, it’s enunciated gibberish.

So I’m sure it’s fine. I just need to have a drink or three first.

As for seeing the episode, I can only suggest checking out the website. I’ll embed their YouTube link to the show below, but I’m not sure how long this will be active. Mine is the first episode.