Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack is a moving, highly readable portrait of one of my favorite authors. I have grown up reading Agatha Christie's books- I am proud to say I have read every single one of her mysteries and almost all of her short stories. For being such an avid fan it is surprising that I knew so little about the author's personal life.
Hack's Duchess of Death draws from over 5,000 unpublished letters, notes and documents. Hack weaves each of these resources into an enthralling biography. The prologue starts with the greatest mystery of Agatha Christie's own life- the period of time she mysteriously disappeared for 11 days in 1926. That incident has never been fully explained and was a topic left out of Christie's own autobiography. The incident was largely explained here, providing answers that I have yet to find anywhere else.
Christie's life had its share of hardships- from her first husband leaving her for another woman to living through the trying and life altering period of two world wars- but on the whole she lead a fruitful and abundant life with her closely knit family and her second husband, Sir Max Mallowan.
As a writer the part that fascinated me the most in the Duchess of Death was the beginning of Christie's writing career. She wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot’s first mystery) for fun- to see if she would be able to fool her sister with the ‘whodunit’. She sent it off to publishers and received several rejection letters. Over a year after submitting Styles, she received a letter that changed her life. Someone was interested in publishing The Mysterious Affair at Styles- and thus, her writing career was born. The rest, as they say, is history. Agatha Christie is still credited as being the best selling author of all time.
I found myself strangely emotional as I finished this biography. Hack’s affection for Agatha Christie is abundant throughout the book. I found myself rooting for her from page one. And as I continue to reread her books and watch her specials on television I will remember and cherish the special life she led and her contribution to the world as a true artist.
Duchess of Death can be purchased from www.amazon.com
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