This book was published in 1975 just before Agatha Christie’s death in January of 1976. It includes a few chapters of biography about Dame Agatha and how she became such a success. There are also chapters about her most famous characters, her theater plays, and movie adaptations of her works. There is an analysis of the components of a good mystery, and whether or not mystery novels can be considered as artistic literature. There is an entire chapter full of quotes from her critics. The last chapter is a Mystery Quiz, where the reader can try to guess which Christie book has some particular factor or item.
I was disappointed in this book. First of all, the author includes several major spoilers for some of her most popular novels, such as the ending of Murder on the Orient Express. I started skipping ahead anytime that I saw the title of one of her books that I haven’t read yet, so that I would not get spoiled!
Secondly, the information about Christie’s life and background does not look reliable at all. At one point, the author says that “Frederick Miller figures in his daughter’s life mostly by his demise, for he passed away while Agatha was still quite small. … Agatha herself remembers only her mother.”
However, the truth is that Agatha’s father died when she was 11 years old. But this book makes it sound as if Agatha either has no memories from before the age of 11, or as if her father must have died when she was 3 or 4 years old (before a person would normally have long-term memories of childhood). The information in this book makes no sense at all, and it is misleading.
In another place, the author says “The family tree of Mrs. Miller… is generally surmised that she was from an extremely wealthy, multiply-titled family.” However, Agatha’s mother was quite poor, and her family were certainly not titled. Wikipedia says “Christie’s mother Clara was born in Dublin in 1854 to British Army officer Frederick Boehmer and his wife Mary Ann Boehmer née West. Boehmer died in Jersey in 1863, leaving his widow to raise Clara and her brothers on a meagre income.”
Yes, the author did say that it is “generally surmised”, but seriously, a little investigation would have given you the facts. I didn’t feel that I could trust anything this author wrote after that.
I did enjoy the quotes from Christie about how much she loves Dickens and Trollope and Jane Austen. I was delighted to find out that her favorite Dickens is Bleak House, which is also one of my favorites!
I also enjoyed the chapter that compares Christie’s writing to other famous detective story writers like Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, and one of the first mystery writers, Edgar Allan Poe. It was interesting to explore what made all these mysteries so great and so widely loved.
I had high hopes for the chapter about Christie’s famous characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I was hoping for a deep analysis of the characters, but the chapter was pretty superficial and just talked on and on about how popular the characters are and how they have found a place in literature that makes them memorable. Not what I was hoping for. I’m not really sure what the author’s qualifications are as a literary critic or biographer, but this is not very well written.
It was okay, but not particularly good.