Ms. Thompson’s is not, of course, the first excavation. There have been many previous portraits and studies of Christie, the most satisfying perhaps being Janet Morgan’s measured, conscientious biography, published in 1984. Where Ms. Morgan is restrained, however, Ms. Thompson is ardent and opinionated ... Stepping back more often to view Christie in this historical context would have been worthwhile. But Ms. Thompson’s is an avowedly intimate analysis. And of a subject who expertly deflected investigation.
But derivative works and adaptations can’t fully explain why Christie’s work endures. A splendid biography by Laura Thompson, however, does. Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life was published in Britain over a decade ago and took an inexplicable amount of time to cross the pond. Yet the timing is perfect because Thompson’s thorough yet readable treatment of Christie’s life, in combination with artful critical context on her work, arrives at the reason for her endurance.
Almost since the beginning of her career, there have been two passionate camps on the subject of her oeuvre. There are the devotees ... And then there are the skeptics ... Neither group will find much to like in Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, a book that makes mysteries where none are to be found ... Part of the problem is that she draws heavily on Christie’s published writing, seemingly determined to illustrate nearly every episode of Christie’s actual life with an episode from her fiction. The general effect is that of a high school student trying to meet a word limit on an English paper ... Thompson has little regard for chronology ... It’s too bad that Thompson is so intent on larding her book with her subject’s own writing, because when she stops for a moment she’s capable of sparkle and insight.
Thompson is a sympathetic yet objective biographer. This large, eminently readable and well-documented book follows a generally but not strictly chronological account of Christie’s life, and it is laced with snippets from Christie’s novels where Thompson saw parallels to the writer’s life ... In the end, Agatha Christie is portrayed here as a driven, at times vulnerable, woman who found what she wanted and needed to do with her life. For that, and for Laura Thompson’s new biography, we are all richer.
Whether by accident or design, something of the oddly pale quality of Christie's fiction has leached into Thompson's own book. Agatha Christie, as she appears here, is as elusive as ever - which is, I'm afraid, exactly the way she would have wanted it.