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Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie

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Although she is the most popular novelist in history, with over two billion books sold worldwide, Agatha Christie lived a life shrouded in secrecy and fueled by curiosity. Nearly as notorious for her aversion to the press as she was for her 80 books and collections of short stories, Christie made no secret of her need for privacy. Utilizing over 5,000 previously unpublishe Although she is the most popular novelist in history, with over two billion books sold worldwide, Agatha Christie lived a life shrouded in secrecy and fueled by curiosity. Nearly as notorious for her aversion to the press as she was for her 80 books and collections of short stories, Christie made no secret of her need for privacy. Utilizing over 5,000 previously unpublished letters, notes, and documents, award-winning biographer Richard Hack allows Christie to write again, 33 years after her death. DUCHESS OF DEATH is her story, as full of romance, travel, wealth, and scandal as any mystery Christie ever crafted. There have been numerous biographies of the Queen of Crime, all of which claim to be definitive. However, DUCHESS OF DEATH is the first to draw from such an enormous number of previously unpublished correspondence and notes, effectively establishing it as the most authoritative, penetrating look at the personal and literary life of Christie.


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Although she is the most popular novelist in history, with over two billion books sold worldwide, Agatha Christie lived a life shrouded in secrecy and fueled by curiosity. Nearly as notorious for her aversion to the press as she was for her 80 books and collections of short stories, Christie made no secret of her need for privacy. Utilizing over 5,000 previously unpublishe Although she is the most popular novelist in history, with over two billion books sold worldwide, Agatha Christie lived a life shrouded in secrecy and fueled by curiosity. Nearly as notorious for her aversion to the press as she was for her 80 books and collections of short stories, Christie made no secret of her need for privacy. Utilizing over 5,000 previously unpublished letters, notes, and documents, award-winning biographer Richard Hack allows Christie to write again, 33 years after her death. DUCHESS OF DEATH is her story, as full of romance, travel, wealth, and scandal as any mystery Christie ever crafted. There have been numerous biographies of the Queen of Crime, all of which claim to be definitive. However, DUCHESS OF DEATH is the first to draw from such an enormous number of previously unpublished correspondence and notes, effectively establishing it as the most authoritative, penetrating look at the personal and literary life of Christie.

30 review for Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I've never read an Agatha Christie but I am glad I listened to this. I have decided that it is certainly time I check out and read at least one of her 90? books. Her excitement for life and adventure probably added to her imagination. The writer had nothing but high praise over Christie's skill, modesty and lack of interest in critical acclaim. Most interesting was with all she wrote she never was financially flush. Also it's amazing to me how far reaching her writing was in terms of languages t I've never read an Agatha Christie but I am glad I listened to this. I have decided that it is certainly time I check out and read at least one of her 90? books. Her excitement for life and adventure probably added to her imagination. The writer had nothing but high praise over Christie's skill, modesty and lack of interest in critical acclaim. Most interesting was with all she wrote she never was financially flush. Also it's amazing to me how far reaching her writing was in terms of languages that translated her books. The beginning of her story shares the drama that engulfed her when her first husband asks for a divorce. I'd love to know if he was sorry once she became so renown. She remarried a MUCH younger man, and while she continued to write prolifically, she preferred the role of wife and grandmother.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joy H.

    Added 10/24/12. I listened to the audio version of this book. It's an interesting account of Agatha Christie's life. 2/5/13 - ADDENDUM I posted the following at my GR group: ========================================= Werner wrote: "My Fans of British Writers group is doing a common read this month, offering a choice of two alternate selections. The one I'm reading is Agatha Christie's genre classic Murder on the Orient Express..." Werner, I haven't read the book but, of course, I've seen the movie. "Mur Added 10/24/12. I listened to the audio version of this book. It's an interesting account of Agatha Christie's life. 2/5/13 - ADDENDUM I posted the following at my GR group: ========================================= Werner wrote: "My Fans of British Writers group is doing a common read this month, offering a choice of two alternate selections. The one I'm reading is Agatha Christie's genre classic Murder on the Orient Express..." Werner, I haven't read the book but, of course, I've seen the movie. "Murder on the Orient Express". There have been several movie versions, with the character of Hercule Poirot being played by different actors: ---Albert Finney (1974): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071877/?... ---Alfred Molina (TV 2001): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0279250/?... ---David Suchet (2010)(TV Episode): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1554113/?... http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1722102/?... http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Masterpi... Personally, I love David Suchet in the role of Poirot. He is so droll. I recently listened to an audio version of Agatha Christie's biography: Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie. It was interesting to learn about the beginnings of Agatha Christie's career as a writer and how she came up with her ideas. PS-Another interesting aspect of Agatha Christie's biography, was the behind-the-scenes difficulty she experienced when her books were published in the USA. There were huge back taxes to be paid on her profits, a legal issue. due to certain laws, which most readers aren't aware of. =========================================== Addendum 4/1/15 - My notes from the audio version state: "ABOUT THE HOME OF AGATHA CHRISTIE [now open to the public in the UK]: "Greenway House" ... a place ... overwhelmed by nick-nacks and brick-a-back, for Agatha Christie was a collector of things, not expensive perhaps, but full of memories that linger still." (Disc #10)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lana

    The book begins with a few chapters on Agatha Christie's mysterious disappearance, which I found quite intriguing and which helps draw the reader in. It is marketed as "immensely readable" and it is. It reads like a novel, again a nice touch for a biography. There are a few spots where I found myself thinking "is this known or speculation?" but when you really think about it, that only happens for superficial facts...and if I want my biographies to read like a novel I will need to accept some in The book begins with a few chapters on Agatha Christie's mysterious disappearance, which I found quite intriguing and which helps draw the reader in. It is marketed as "immensely readable" and it is. It reads like a novel, again a nice touch for a biography. There are a few spots where I found myself thinking "is this known or speculation?" but when you really think about it, that only happens for superficial facts...and if I want my biographies to read like a novel I will need to accept some interpolation (just like I would see in a movie about someone's life). This questioning only occurs at places like her hugging her dog before she leaves or when peoples emotions are described. All the important parts are substantiated with resources including Christie's autobiography, letters and other documents. I get the impression that this book adds much more than was in her autobiography (though I have not read it). There are a few slow places. I knew very little about Christie's life and overall this bio was an enjoyable read. I think most Christie fans would really appreciate this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Adds some valuable information to the subject of Agatha Christie, but not written in a compelling manner. It appears Richard Hack spent much of his efforts on the first half of the book. The latter part tends to be little more than a recital of Agatha's new book titles/plays as they came out. One sentence towards the end of the work gives an example of the less than stellar writing on the part of the biographer: "...they arrived in America, where they would remain for the remainder of the year." Gu Adds some valuable information to the subject of Agatha Christie, but not written in a compelling manner. It appears Richard Hack spent much of his efforts on the first half of the book. The latter part tends to be little more than a recital of Agatha's new book titles/plays as they came out. One sentence towards the end of the work gives an example of the less than stellar writing on the part of the biographer: "...they arrived in America, where they would remain for the remainder of the year." Guess that one slipped through the editing cracks.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I'm not sure I appreciate the author's intent in writing this story as he did. At time it was hard to figure out if this was a biography or a fictional story. For me it smacked of sensationalism and something I could read in the National Enquirer. I may give it a disc or two more, only because I don't have any other back up audio to listen to, but I can say without doubt that I will not be finishing it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    A fairly insightful biography of mystery diva Agatha Christie, written after the death of both Christie and her daughter, who zealously guarded her mother’s literary estate. Christie’s output was nothing short of astonishing, 87 books including collections, over 157 individual short stories, 25 plays, numerous films made from her stories, as well as TV series. The longest running play (The Mousetrap) ever. One wonders how in the world she did it as well as accompany her second husband, an archeo A fairly insightful biography of mystery diva Agatha Christie, written after the death of both Christie and her daughter, who zealously guarded her mother’s literary estate. Christie’s output was nothing short of astonishing, 87 books including collections, over 157 individual short stories, 25 plays, numerous films made from her stories, as well as TV series. The longest running play (The Mousetrap) ever. One wonders how in the world she did it as well as accompany her second husband, an archeologist to mid-eastern digs, and decorate houses and plan gardens. According to those who knew her, she was a fount of energy even in old age plagued with arthritis exacerbated by her weight. Christie’s ability to concoct complicated plots that foiled her readers as well as convincing dialogue made her the most-read author following the bible.

  7. 4 out of 5

    astried

    Heard it with a bit of parallel reading of her autobiography. I like the bit explaining about her mysterious dissapearance, I can understand why she did her dissapearing act and I enjoyed listening how it gave her a new confidence and new sense of self. I don't like how her love life with her 1st husband was portrayed though. It has too much sense of foreboding of the future doom. Of course there's a saying how an outsider can see things clearer and of course there's nothing more powerful than h Heard it with a bit of parallel reading of her autobiography. I like the bit explaining about her mysterious dissapearance, I can understand why she did her dissapearing act and I enjoyed listening how it gave her a new confidence and new sense of self. I don't like how her love life with her 1st husband was portrayed though. It has too much sense of foreboding of the future doom. Of course there's a saying how an outsider can see things clearer and of course there's nothing more powerful than hindsight. But still, no matter how doomed a pair of lover is, they went into it sincerely and blindly enough and there were happy times, there were happiness inside it; which this book did it's best downplay & hide, I suppose to highten the sense of drama and simply made it a less believeable life to me. Afterwards it's just bliss and list of all her books along with littany of literature&archeological life. My advice to read this book only if you're curious about her mysterious dissapearance and wanted to read his version on it. Otherwise Christie's autobiography is a lot more interesting.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Brainerd

    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the story of Agatha Christie's life as read by Nicolas Coster. (Coster's British accent took some getting used to - Raatherrr...but I ultimately found his voice to be pleasant car company.) The book hooks you with the mystery and disappearance of Agatha herself during a time of marital strife. Although this incident casts her as a bit unstable, it turns out to be an anomaly in her long, productive life. In addition to her incredible ability to churn out novel af I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the story of Agatha Christie's life as read by Nicolas Coster. (Coster's British accent took some getting used to - Raatherrr...but I ultimately found his voice to be pleasant car company.) The book hooks you with the mystery and disappearance of Agatha herself during a time of marital strife. Although this incident casts her as a bit unstable, it turns out to be an anomaly in her long, productive life. In addition to her incredible ability to churn out novel after novel, she wrote plays and short stories, traveled to the Middle East extensively with her husband, and maintained a real sense of family privacy. Using passages of her detailed correspondence over her many years, in addition to excerpts from book reviews, Richard Hack paints a very complete picture of Agatha and she sounds like someone anyone would like to have known.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

    It was interesting to read about Agatha Christie's childhood, young adulthood, and first marriage, but after that it wasn't so interesting. I'd give four stars to the first half of the book, and two stars to the last half, so that averages out to be three stars. The best part is that reading this book has inspired me to reread some Christie mysteries, which I always enjoyed very much but haven't read in a long time.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Janel

    This book reads like a text book, at least in the beginning, but as I got used to the style I did enjoy it. It is current with details about her country home, Greenway in Devon, being opened to the public earlier this year. For a more enjoyable read of Agatha Christie's life I recommend An Autobiography Agatha Christie by the Queen of Mystery herself.

  11. 5 out of 5

    PastAllReason

    This book is okay, I suppose, but inferior in to the biography by Laura Thompson, both in writing quality, in the careful analysis of Christie's character and motives, and the degree to which Thompson linked aspects of Christie's character to its expressions in her work. If I were going to be reading only one book about Christie, it would be the Thompson one, not this one.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    Thoroughly enjoyable biography. Made me want to start over again with her first book and read through them all again. Balanced view of Christie: some aspects of her likable, others not so much. Easy reading style - almost reads like a novel.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tiffy

    DNF... This book was putting me to sleep. So I gave up on it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Agatha Christie, world-renowned mystery novelist, shunned publicity and fame, and so Hack uses her letters, her autobiography, and her few public appearances to piece together her "unauthorized biography" and present readers with the real woman who preferred to hide behind her books. Beginning with the compelling story of her disappearance early in her writing career, Hack captures readers' interest before diving into her childhood, her "coming out," her marriage to Archie Christie, the rise of Agatha Christie, world-renowned mystery novelist, shunned publicity and fame, and so Hack uses her letters, her autobiography, and her few public appearances to piece together her "unauthorized biography" and present readers with the real woman who preferred to hide behind her books. Beginning with the compelling story of her disappearance early in her writing career, Hack captures readers' interest before diving into her childhood, her "coming out," her marriage to Archie Christie, the rise of her writing career, her marriage to Max Mallowan, the years of play writing, and eventually her death. The biography is engrossing and does a nice job of differentiating the various stages of life and the books produced there within. The book also balances her personal and professional life, and when one influenced another, made note of it. The focus on Christie's travel - especially throughout the Middle East - added an interesting facet to the life of Agatha Christie. This is a great read for anyone interested in the life of the famous mystery novelist!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ant

    Very informative. It's not great literature nor do I think it intends to be. I do like how the author takes certain liberties in portraying how AC would have felt (or how other people might have felt), although these speculations are backed up by the citing of AC's autobiography. All in all, I feel like this is a very well written Wikipedia entry, and I meant it as a complement. You really do get a good overview of the events happen in AC's life, and their contexts. I think it probably can be ex Very informative. It's not great literature nor do I think it intends to be. I do like how the author takes certain liberties in portraying how AC would have felt (or how other people might have felt), although these speculations are backed up by the citing of AC's autobiography. All in all, I feel like this is a very well written Wikipedia entry, and I meant it as a complement. You really do get a good overview of the events happen in AC's life, and their contexts. I think it probably can be expanded, but it's just the right length for the interested fan like me (but not obsessed fanatic who must know every single details of her life...not sure there would be many like that unless you are an AC scholar...but you get my meaning). Now I want to read her autobiography.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Backer

    The title made me think this was going to be some kind of scandalous, dirt-digging biography. I am happy to say that is not the case at all. It starts out with an introduction recapping the infamous time when Agatha Christie inexplicably disappeared; an episode of her life she refused to address. I learned a lot of about Christie's early life, how she started writing, and continued writing to the end of her life. If you're even a casual Christie fan, you'll enjoy this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    KathyNV

    Fascinating biography of a superstar cozy mystery writer. If you love Agatha Christie mysteries you will be entranced with this retrospective of her life. From her childhood through her two marriages and her death Richard Hack gives you a very intimate look at the person behind the writer. Thought provoking and personal “Duchess of Death” introduces you the rich and privileged lifestyle of a legend! I highly recommend it!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Avril Merwe

    A well researched and entertaining biography of a fascinating author and a life well lived. Reading this on the heels of having read Dickens' Favourite Daughter, it was interesting to note some overlap in the people their families knew - like Henry James. As a writer, I have learned so much from reading about the life and work of Agatha Christie.

  19. 4 out of 5

    ✿ Deni

    I really enjoyed this book, mainly because it's written as a novel so it flows easily. This, however, means that sometimes I wasn't sure if what I was reading was a fact or just the author's imagination: I've learned many new thing about Christie, very interesting facts and a bit of straw to make the book a bit longer ;)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Shoop

    Readable, concise biography of the "Queen of Crime," a woman who never thought she could write but who became the best-selling novelist of all time (over 2 billion copies sold worldwide in 105 languages); who published 95 books (under two names), plays, and short stories; who continued writing almost until her death at the age of 86, and whose titles have never been out of print.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sister

    I was curious about the woman who could create Hercule Poirot & Miss Jane Marple. Until I read this book, I had no idea she'd actually created about 5 different detectives! The writing can be a bit florid in places. but I did learn more about her. I was curious about the woman who could create Hercule Poirot & Miss Jane Marple. Until I read this book, I had no idea she'd actually created about 5 different detectives! The writing can be a bit florid in places. but I did learn more about her.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Highlandtown

    Interesting read about a favorite writer.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Martina

    I thought the book was excellent!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Excellent and well-researched book on one of the best female mystery writers!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Interesting telling of the life of one of literature's greats. Not much of where her inspiration came from though, which I would have liked.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Leda

    A slow read, but an interesting life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maygirl

    Awesome Book. Insightful. Take you deep into the mystery lady's life.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Enjoyed learning about Agatha Christie’s life and how much of it ended up in her various books.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    Read my book reviews at http://www.jactionary.com Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack "Defeated, Agatha returned home and sat alone that night at the dinner table. The scene of that morning's confrontation replayed itself in an endless loop, always ending with the same bitter threat. Desperate, yet hardly without resources or the determination to save her marriage, she began to craft a plan worthy of any Agatha Christie mystery. The plot was subtle, yet Read my book reviews at http://www.jactionary.com Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie by Richard Hack "Defeated, Agatha returned home and sat alone that night at the dinner table. The scene of that morning's confrontation replayed itself in an endless loop, always ending with the same bitter threat. Desperate, yet hardly without resources or the determination to save her marriage, she began to craft a plan worthy of any Agatha Christie mystery. The plot was subtle, yet obvious enough for those who knew where to look for clues. Only the ending was left to fate.... Hugging her dog for luck, she picked up her valise and, without looking back, left the security of the house and the only world she knew." -- The Prologue In Duchess of Death, Hack tackles one of the most formidable biographies in all of detective, mystery, and crime fiction, that of its greatest author Agatha Christie. Having previously authored best-selling books on historical figures Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, and Margaret Jackson, Hack is undoubtedly aware of the high risk in portraying the private life of such a beloved literary figure. Hack's unauthorized biography of begins with a prologue as deftly written as the greatest climactic scenes in Christie's mystery novels. In part this may be due to the fact that it features the greatest mystery of Christie's own life, the one she crafted herself and rarely spoke of later--her eleven day disappearance following the news that her husband wanted a divorce. Agatha Christie's disappearance capture the attention of Britain and the world at large. Why she left, where she went, and how she carried on are questions that any fan of detective and crime fiction will enjoy parsing. This engaging, page-turning introduction to the life of the greatest mystery writer of all time whets readers' appetites and spurs them onto Chapter One in which Hack backtracks to the beginning of Christie's life and from there proceeds chronologically. Hack's text and research is based upon Christie's own biography and non-fiction publications (Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, Come, Tell Me How You Live, and The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery) as well as letters, notes, and other documents the writer and those closest to her left behind. In using these clues, Hack pieces together the fullest representation of the life of the world's best-selling mystery author. For those both familiar and unfamiliar with Agatha Christie's biography, the text is truly fascinating. Christie loved foreign travel, swimming, her dogs, the company of actors, and spending her time in sand dunes in the Middle East while on archaeological digs with her second husband. She detested interviews, the limelight, and watching the majority of the adaptations of her work on the stage and screen. Many fans might be aware that beyond her iconic status as a writer, Christie is an intriguing feminist figure--committed to writing as a source of income and yet admittedly in need of the love, companionship, and support of a marriage partner. Hack details Christie's life, incorporating her own words wherever possible, while interweaving her publication history. Finding out which of Christie's novels were her favorite and least favorite while learning what was happening in her personal life during their publication is both insightful and intriguing. Though there are a few plot spoilers here and there while Hack accounts for Christie's many publications featuring famed detectives Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, and others, the majority of the major clues and whodunnits are kept under wraps so as not to discourage readers just beginning their discovery of Christie's body of work to continue reading. Duchess of Death is a great read for anyone interested in mystery, crime, or detective fiction, or those who can appreciate a finely crafted biography of one of literature's most famous writers. Hardback | Kindle | Audible | Audio CD

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    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 h 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.

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