Thursday, June 3, 2010

Duchess of Death by Richard Hack

Could someone please write a definitive biography of Agatha Christie? Because I still haven't found one. I have her very good 1977 autobiography, but of course people rarely write the whole truth about themselves, and I thirst for a chunky, scholarly biog with scads of footnotes. And photos. I love lots of photos in a biography. Hey, just because she was a scrivener of popular fiction doesn't mean she can't have a scholarly tome written about her!

I bought Richard Hack's Duchess of Death in the hopes that this might be "it." Alas, no. I feel a little lukewarm about this book; it wasn't bad, it wasn't great. It's useful for the exhaustive-looking list of AC publications in the back. Do you know, she had 82 books published in her lifetime? And was still writing up to her 80s? And has sold more than TWO BILLION books? Holy moly. I guess I never paid enough attention to Agatha (who's not my favorite mystery writer: Dorothy L. Sayers did it better, but anything from the Golden Age is worth attention).

Anyway, wonderment aside, I feel a bit let down. The splash on the front cover that promises Hack is "drawing from over 5,000 unpublished letters, notes, and documents" made me hope that the famous "missing days" in 1926 would be, if not explained, at least theorized with backup from lots of these unpublished sources: but, alas, at this point the endnotes only refer to newspaper publications and earlier biographies. Although Hack's version of the events is quite plausible in its mundanity.

For an author with 14 books to his credit, I was quite surprised to come across quite a few clunky sentences, awkward phrases, downright mistakes and a couple of real howlers. Did the publisher rush things? Anyway, final verdict is sort of meh, but I'll go "beach read" because as biographies go, this is on the lighter side and might make a nice summer read to get you out of that fiction rut you're in.


Claire Dawn said...

Agatha Christie's a writing mutant. I don't understand how people churn out that many books. :o

Jane Steen said...

Claire, she had servants. Which meant she never had to cook a meal, clean the house or go grocery shopping. Women of her class at that time simply did not have jobs, either. In fact her husband was a little miffed at first that she was bringing in money by her writing.

When you look at it that way, her output seems more reasonable. Still, kudos to her for finding ideas for all her books!