Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie

Although I’ve always been a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, I must admit that I knew little about the author’s life. So when I heard of Richard Hack’s Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie, I knew that I had to get my hands on this book!

Thus, I was very happy when I received a copy from Phoenix Books and I just couldn’t wait to read it! After having read some positive reviews, I knew that this book would be delightful! I just couldn’t put it down and was sad when I finished it, since it is such a wonderful book!

Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie is different from other Agatha Christie biographies, since it is the first to draw “from over 5,000 unpublished notes, letters, and documents”. Therefore, it “provides the most complete and knowing portrait of this famed author to date” and it allows us to have the most intimate look at the private and literary life of Agatha Christie. Best-selling author Richard Hack has done an excellent job narrating Agatha Christie’s personal story, giving us an extraordinary glimpse into the author’s mysterious world.

It is no secret that Agatha Christie disliked the press; she wanted to keep her private life out of the public eye and thus, avoided interviews and parties. The famous author led a life full of isolation and secrecy; therefore, she remains a mystery even to her biggest fans. Nevertheless, Richard Hack has accomplished the impossible: he allows us readers to see behind the curtain and to gain an exceptional insight into the author’s personal and professional life. Hack has a unique way of telling Agatha Christie’s story and captives his readers by revealing the mysteries of a talented and fascinating woman, whose life was full of romance, betrayal, wealth, travel, and scandal!

This brilliantly written biography reveals interesting and intriguing facts about Agatha Christie’s life and the reader gets to know a charismatic and romantic woman, who despite her enormous success, has managed to remain true to herself! Agatha Christie is regarded as the most popular modern author in the world; she wrote 157 short stories and 95 books and managed to sell over two billion copies, translated into 105 languages. She is also remembered for her successful theatre plays, The Mousetrap being the longest-running stage play in history. Nonetheless, she never wanted to become a writer and regarded her work “as of no importance”. In fact, Agatha Christie has hoped for a musical career as a teenage girl and trained her voice in order to become an opera singer. However, when a friend with connections to the Metropolitan Opera in New York wasn’t too enthusiastic about her singing (“the songs you sang tell me nothing”), Agatha knew that she would never become a professional singer. After being denied her dream, she devoted herself to writing, simply because she needed distraction and because she felt the need to “produce something, anything”. When publishers rejected her first stories, Agatha was not disappointed, since she had never considered writing a career.

During World War I, Agatha Christie joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and worked as a nurse in order to help the war effort. She later worked at a pharmacy, a job that influenced her work, since it was during that time that Agatha Christie created her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. In 1920, she published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a detective story centred around poison. In this novel, the famous author has made perfect use of her pharmaceutical knowledge. Other mystery stories followed, but Agatha couldn’t rejoice in her professional success due to the fact that her personal life has taken an unexpected turn. After twelve years of marriage, her husband Archibald Christie revealed that he was in love with another woman and therefore, demanded a divorce. That’s when Agatha’s bizarre eleven-day disappearance took place. Despite a “massive manhunt”, Agatha could only be found after eleven days at a hotel in Yorkshire. While two doctors have diagnosed her with amnesia and others suggested that she has suffered a nervous breakdown (because of her mother’s death and her husband’s affair), the reasons for Agatha’s disappearance remained unclear. There were also speculations that Agatha was trying to make the police think that her husband murdered her as revenge for his infidelity. Whatever her reasons were, Agatha Christie gave no account of her disappearance.

Two years after her divorce, Agatha married archaeologist Max Mallowan. Her second marriage was a happy one; it was a marriage full of adventure, understanding and admiration. Agatha often accompanied her husband on his archaeological trips to the Middle East and hence, found inspiration for several of her novels.

The beloved mystery writer died at the age of eighty-five, from natural causes, and was buried in a private service at the Parish Church of St. Mary’s in Cholsey. She will always be remembered as the “Queen of Crime” and will always remain in the hearts of her fans.

With Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie, Richard Hack has created a work that will please and delight Agatha Christie fans all over the world. This skillfully written biography provides us with information about the secretive life of a gifted author and at the same time draws an intimate portrait of an extraordinary and fascinating woman!

I would like to thank Lindsay Murphy from Phoenix Books for giving me the opportunity to review such a remarkable and outstanding book!


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandy
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 21:11:41

    I love biographies that have such detail…sometimes their lives are better than anything fiction you could ever find!


  2. J.E.
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 22:03:03

    would like to read her bio as I liked her mysteries..


  3. Jemima
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 23:36:07

    I also love literary biographies. Writers often seemed to lead such interesting lives themselves. This sounds like a great book.


  4. Nymeth
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 23:45:49

    I’ve yet to read any Agatha Christie – shame on me, right? Anyway, this book sounds really well done and I’m sure her fans will enjoy it a lot. Probably that will include me when I finally get around to her 😛


  5. Tina bell
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 03:42:54

    Wow where can i locate these books


  6. ds
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 05:20:50

    I loved reading Agatha Christie. Will have to keep an eye out for this book. Thanks for the review!


  7. Andreea
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 09:25:56

    Sandy: You’re right. Some biographies are really fascinating and this one was just perfect:)

    J.E.: Thank you for stopping by. Yes, I think you will like it as much as I did.

    Jemima: Yes, writers often lead interesting lives full of mysteries and scandals.

    Nymeth: You should definitely read some of her work. I really like her Hercule Poirot novels, since he is my favorite detective:)

    Tina Bell: Thanks for stopping by. You should try Amazon or Ebay.

    Ds: You’re welcome. Yes, you should definitely read this biography! I am sure you will like it.


  8. savidgereads
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 11:46:58

    This sounds brilliant I am a huge huge fan of Christie and would love to know more about her. Especially that ‘vanishing act’ she did it intrigues me.


  9. Jenny
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 01:43:49

    I have an award for you here


  10. Andreea
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 13:43:09

    Simon: It’s a wonderful biography and you will love it!

    Jenny: Thank you so much. It really means a lot to me!


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