Originally published in 2021
This work is exclusively available through Audible
Meet Agatha Christie, the best-selling novelist in human history. Her writing career spanned six decades, during which time she wrote 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels (including romances), and over 150 short stories. Not only was she a phenomenally successful novelist, but she is also the most successful female playwright of all time – her play “The Mousetrap” is the longest-running show in history.
As you learn about Christie’s experiences and her storied career, you will better understand how the circumstances of her life shaped her work and vice versa. Along the way, consider some fascinating questions:
- How did becoming a nurse and an apothecary’s assistant influence her crime stories?
- Would her literary career have been different if she had not been a part of well-to-do British society?
- Why did Christie disappear at the height of her fame – and will we ever know the whole truth about that fateful event?
Agatha Christie’s works have been read by millions and have been adapted into film, television, plays, and more since her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, introduced the world to Hercule Poirot in 1920. Her famous detectives, Poirot and Miss Marple, have become beloved staples of pop culture around the world. With such a legacy, it can sometimes be surprising how much of her life remains a mystery to her readers. In The Mysterious Case of Agatha Christie, you will get an intimate glimpse of her private life, investigate the secrets of her greatest novels, and perhaps solve a few mysteries yourself.
An enjoyable and well-organized introduction to the life and works of Christie. Best suited to newcomers but still an entertaining listen even if the facts given are familiar.
Just over two months ago I wrote about a Great Courses series released on Audible discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories. I ended that review by noting that I’d be very happy to see a similar series of lectures released discussing the works of Agatha Christie. As you can see, my wish came true and so I naturally made a point to listen to the audiobook as soon as possible.
Before we begin I ought to offer up a short word about the way that this has been released. Like its Holmesian predecessor this is an Audible Original meaning that it is exclusive to that service. In the United States this is currently included in that service’s Premium Plus package, allowing you to listen without spending a credit while that membership is active. This may be different in other territories however.
The Mysterious Case of Agatha Christie is written and delivered by Maureen Corrigan who you may know as the book critic from NPR’s Fresh Air or mystery columnist for the Washington Post. This course is divided into ten lectures of around thirty minutes length. While they are referred to as lectures however and each part has its own themes, there is a much stronger connection and sense of development between them than was present in the Holmes series. That reflects that Corrigan’s approach is to center her discussion around the events of Christie’s life, exploring how they influenced her writing.
This results in a course that feels very accessible, even to those who do not already possess an encyclopedic knowledge of Christie’s works. Corrigan tries to avoid giving spoilers in her discussions of the stories though occasionally they might be inferred in spite of the authors’ efforts. I would advise listeners to have already read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express to be safe though I suspect almost everyone who would be interested in this course would likely have done that already.
Listeners should expect the coverage of books and stories to be somewhat uneven with a focus on some key titles that represent turning points in her career or that clearly draw on things from the author’s life. It means that the course feels more focused on the works produced in the first ten years of her career than those produced later. This is inevitable given the length of Christie’s life and also the sheer number of works she had published. Fans of Passenger to Frankfurt may be disappointed but it makes sense in the context of the author’s approach to exploring Christie as a person and as a writer.
Corrigan makes a point to discuss Christie’s accomplishments beyond the world of mystery novels, talking a little about her theatrical successes. While this could certainly have been expanded upon, I think it was proportionate to the discussion of her books which are no doubt the main point of interest for most listeners. Her romance novels however arguably deserve a little more attention than they receive here.
The discussion of Christie’s life however is excellent and organized very clearly, once again focusing on some key moments and themes that can be observed. There is quite a bit of discussion concerning Christie’s childhood and relationships with her family, her marriage to Archie and later to Max, as well as her travels around the world. Inevitably there is discussion of her famous disappearance and the different theories offered about how to interpret it, but Corrigan’s reason for discussing this is ultimately to reflect on how it would affect her career.
I also enjoyed the discussion of some key criticisms of Christie, particularly those offered by Chandler, Wilson and Barnard (the latter of whom she draws heavily on throughout the course). Corrigan’s responses feel fair and considered, offering a view of Christie that is broadly appreciative but not without acknowledging some of points of criticism such as those concerning her social and class attitudes.
It makes for an excellent broad introduction to the life and works of Christie and would offer most value to those who are taking their first steps into her fiction or who may have seen one of the movies about her life and want to learn more. If you are much more widely read, particularly if you have read her Autobiography, there may be less new information here but it is still an enjoyable and worthwhile listen. Corrigan is an engaging and entertaining speaker and I enjoyed the time I spent in her company.
Finally, if someone from Audible or The Teaching Company is reading this, I’d be very interested to listen to a similar series about the works of John Dickson Carr or Dorothy L. Sayers… (No, I don’t think that will happen this time but worth a chance, eh?)
- The Making of a Master
- Miss Agatha Miller in Love and War
- On the Road with Agatha Christie
- Agatha Christie: “The Hour of Lead”
- Murder Most Foul!
- The Mystery of the Vanished Mystery Novelist
- Recovery and Reinvention beyond Mayhem Parva
- Love amidst the Ruins
- Agatha Christie during World War II and Beyond
- “Death Comes as the End”: Christie and her Legacy