Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life
“As every dedicated mystery reader knows, a gifted investigator sees what most of us mere mortals are blind to,” said Maureen Corrigan in NPR.org. This “triumph of a biography” confirms as much, because author Laura Thompson is far from the only writer who’s probed the eventful life and sphinxlike character of Agatha Christie (1890-1976). Because Thompson is such “a fine close reader” of the beloved crime writer’s personality, it barely matters that her book is arriving in the U.S. more than a decade after it was published in Britain. Thompson’s portrait “catches things others have missed.”
Thompson is especially good on the first half of Christie’s life, said Anna Mundow in The Wall Street Journal. Raised in a genteel but eccentric family, Agatha Miller learned to read at 4, over her mother’s objections, and at 15 she was living alone in Paris and developing into a fine, though not stage-worthy, singer. Writing, for her, was thus a fallback, a quiet pursuit she maintained through her marriage at 24 and a stint as a wartime nurse. While working in a hospital dispensary, she became fascinated by poisons—“the potential for mayhem contained within order,” as Thompson writes—and worked that knowledge into her first Hercule Poirot novel, published in 1920. Six years later, her husband left her, and she disappeared for 11 days, leaving clues that suggested murder or suicide. She was found unharmed, and Thompson convincingly frames the episode as the moment Christie was reborn as a mystery-writing juggernaut.
Christie’s third act was happier, said Sarah Weinman in The Washington Post. She married an archaeologist, traveled widely, and cranked out dozens of books, including a series of romance novels. Still, “any Christie biography must ultimately be about the mystery novels,” and Thompson’s ably pinpoints the reasons for the mysteries’ extraordinary success. Though Christie is known for her plotting, she was best with character—understanding that everyone wants something, and that anyone who wants is capable of murder. “That’s why we still read her—and always will.” ■