A generous and meticulous biography of the legendary crime writer.
In a book originally published in England in 2008 as Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, Somerset Maugham Award winner Thompson (The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters, 2016, etc.) offers an affectionate take on the beloved British mystery writer. Thompson calls Agatha Christie (1890-1976) an “entirely private person” who loved to write. As a young girl living a privileged life with servants on the English coast, she published a poem in a local newspaper and never stopped. Her output was prodigious. She wrote her first mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (in which Hercule Poirot—“unreal, unbelievable, yet mysteriously alive”—makes his first appearance) in 1916, after her sister said, “I bet you couldn’t.” After it was published in 1920, Christie published novels, plays, and stories, including the “obviously autobiographical,” pseudonymous Mary Westmacott books, virtually every year. Thompson writes that Christie became a better writer “by degrees. By intelligence; by instinct; by confidence; by courage.” The author is unquestionably a fan of Christie’s works, which she knows intimately, discussing them in a somewhat reverential tone, but she also admits that Christie wasn’t always “at her best.” Christie’s “dazzling” and “elegantly” structured novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) is “exquisite.” Five Little Pigs (1942) is a “masterly piece of writing.” Thompson has a penchant for mixing the biography with the works, quoting extensively from them to help reinforce her discussions of events in Christie’s life. She is excellent with her almost novelistic, day-by-day accounting of Christie’s famous disappearance in 1926 when she was distraught after learning about her first husband’s affair with another woman. She made the reporters covering the story “look silly. Now she would suffer for it.” Thompson admits Christie “probably was something of a snob” and a “writer first, mother second.”
Christie lovers will revel in this comprehensive, authoritative book.