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Agatha Christie

Captivating 'Autobiography'

November 28, 2011
By REGINA M. ANGELI - Books Writer , The Daily News

The year 2010 marked the 120th anniversary of Agatha Christie's birth.

In celebration of the queen of mystery writers, HarperCollins has reprinted in paperback her wonderful mysteries and has published two fascinating books on the great lady: "Agatha Christie: An Autobiography" (542 pages) and John Curran's "Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making." (430 pages)

Christie began her autobiography while on an expedition to Iraq in 1950 and took fifteen years to complete. It is not a chronology, but an assortment of memories, or as she puts it " what I plan to do is to enjoy the pleasures of memory."

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And what captivating memories she recalls for her fans.

As a bonus, this edition includes a CD recording of Dame Agatha reminiscing on her life and work.

She was born in the Victorian age, when houses had names and a staff of servants. (As for servants, her mother always insisted they be treated with the utmost respect as they were very skilled laborers.)

Agatha Miller was the youngest of three children. Though her family struggled financially, money troubles could be eased by traveling abroad. (I am sure the modern reader would love to be able to pinch pennies by spending a summer in Paris.)

Following the death of her father, her mother decided, for the sake of economy, to take the young Agatha to Cairo for her "coming out."

It was a dare from her sister Madge (who was a published writer) who suggested she try writing a mystery. But it was her experience working in a hospital dispensary during the First World War that provided her with the keen knowledge of poisons that would be her trademark.

Her first mystery novel, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," introduced the world to her endearing Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, whose character was inspired by the Belgian refugees in London during the First World War.

Of her second great sleuth, the spinster of St. Mary Mead, she writes that "Miss Marple insinuated herself so quietly into my life that I hardly noticed her arrival." She thoroughly enjoyed her Tommy and Tuppence characters, though she seemed to be most satisfied with her Mr. Quin stories.

Her favorite books were not the mysteries for which she is most remembered, but her novels written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

When her marriage to Archie Christie failed following the death of her mother, she did not languish in self pity, but embarked on a journey aboard the fabled Orient Express.

Alas, the luxurious train was infested with bedbugs and the poor lady was attacked mercilessly. (The reader cannot imagine the fastidious Monsieur Poirot tolerating such pests.)

One of the more touching confessions concerns her apprehension to marrying a much younger man, Max Mallowan, an archaeologist who became her second husband. Her love of archaeology and the Middle East would surface in a number of her stories.

Her thoughts on marriage, while traditional, are not staid and humorless as this passage reveals: " I take an old-fashioned view that respect is necessary. Respect - which is not to be confused with admiration. To feel admiration for a man all through one's marriage life would, I think, be extremely tedious."

The modern reader may be a bit shocked at the original title of her mystery, "And Then There Were None," and may find her thoughts on crime and punishment provocative.

Christie was a firm believer in the morality of the death penalty and asserted that life imprisonment was far more cruel than death, though she did propose a path of redemption. The convicted murderer could submit to medical experimentation for a time and would attain redemption and reprieve by having served humanity.

On a much lighter note, Christie writes of her love of surfing in Hawaii and her favorite beverage - cream - as well as the two greatest thrills of her life which were driving her first car and dining with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

At seventy-five, she ends her memoir graciously with simple words of gratitude: "Thank God for my good life, and for all the love that has been given to me."



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