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Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life

Review

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life

Bestselling author Laura Thompson (LIFE IN A COLD CLIMATE, THE SIX: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters) offers a deep, reverential glide through the quiet life of one of the great writers of the 20th century.

Agatha Christie was raised by a strong mother whom Thompson calls “an original.” Significantly, Clara took her to Cairo, giving her a love for exotic locales. The youngest child, Christie was sharply intelligent but rather withdrawn. That insularity was her lifelong hallmark. Her writing began early and became her saving grace. At an appropriate age, she determined to marry, and being harshly rejected by one suitor, she immediately took up with the next man who came around, Archie Christie, whose service in the military in World War I meant that for the first years of their marriage they were almost never together. Once united again, the couple had one child, Rosalind, and Christie began to write, composing her first Hercule Poirot novel in 1916. It was sold to a publisher after some rejections, for a pittance.

"This rhapsodic biography is an account of Christie’s real life with passages from her fiction artfully interwoven, illustrating how the very private Christie really felt about things."

Ten years and several books later, Clara died, and shortly afterwards, Archie asked for a divorce so he could marry a young woman with whom he’d been having an affair, aided in the deception by mutual friends. It was then that Christie disappeared, in a 10-day absence that had police, the media and the public mightily roiled. Thompson, who had access to all of Christie’s private papers, depicts Christie spending the entire sojourn at a spa hotel in the north of England where she was eventually discovered. But she had left her car at the edge of a chalk quarry, raising speculations of suicide.

The episode doubtless resulted from grief and the humiliation of rejection, and some claimed, on her behalf, that she’d had amnesia. The precise details will never be known, but it is certain that, as a writer of mystery fiction whose work thrived on diversion, Christie grew and learned from this traumatic period. On a trip on the Orient Express in 1928, she met and later married a charming, much younger man, archaeologist Max Mallowan. With Max, she lived out the rest of her years as a highly regarded, highly rewarded writer.

As Thompson styles it, Christie wrote about herself by writing stories about others, not an uncommon pattern. But in Christie it became a salient feature, a sort of template for the cool, distanced Englishness of her stories. This rhapsodic biography is an account of Christie’s real life with passages from her fiction artfully interwoven, illustrating how the very private Christie really felt about things. Thompson’s Christie emerges as a woman canny enough to imagine hidden evil lurking behind any smiling face, and talented enough to create some magnificently memorable sleuths pitted against devilish villains. Yet she was wistful enough to write once, to Max, “I think it would be very nice if at the end of our lives we could feel that we’d never done anyone any harm --- don’t you?”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on March 9, 2018

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life
by Laura Thompson

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2018
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • ISBN-10: 1681776537
  • ISBN-13: 9781681776538