and the eleven
By Jared Cade
258 pp., $39.95
Agatha Christie was one of the creators of the modern English murder mystery. Along with Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Edgar Wallace, among others, she invigorated and transformed a rather musty, Gothic, cobwebbed genre into something streamlined, bright, and modern. Her plots were complicated, artful, cunningly conceived, and backed up by a good deal of technical knowledge of subjects like poison.
The youngest child of an American father and a British mother, she was raised in her native England. Her father's death when she was 11 reduced the family's comfortable financial circumstances and shattered her idyllic childhood. Keenly interested in religion, philosophy, and other spiritual realms, she had some training as an apothecary and worked in a hospital dispensary. These oddly disparate elements in her background helped form her unique brand of mystery writing.
It is unfortunate that the most famous fact about Agatha Christie's life is her disappearance in 1926, when for many days she was feared to have met, like so many of her characters, death by misadventure. The celebrated mystery writer, however, was discovered living comfortably in a hotel in the Yorkshire spa of Harrogate, where she was registered under the name of her husband's mistress!
Christie's marriage to Col. Archibald Christie broke up shortly thereafter. There has been endless speculation as to what motives this lady might have had in vanishing. Jared Cade thinks it was a calculated exercise in humiliating the husband who had scorned her for another woman. On this point, Cade is quite convincing in his new biography "Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days." But the story of Christie's disappearance, as told here, is simply not interesting enough to merit being the dominating centerpiece of an otherwise skimpy biography.
*Merle Rubin reviews books regularly for the Monitor.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society