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Duchess of Death: The Unauthorized Biography of Agatha Christie

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  723 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Phoenix Books
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Joy H.
Oct 24, 2012 Joy H. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 28, 2009 Lana rated it liked it
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
Dec 20, 2010 Nancy rated it liked it
Shelves: listening-to
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 ...more
Jan 31, 2010 Rebecca rated it liked it
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."

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.
Mar 25, 2011 astried rated it it was ok
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 ...more
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 ...more
Nov 17, 2009 Vicki rated it liked it
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.
Sep 07, 2009 Janel rated it liked it
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.
Sep 07, 2009 PastAllReason rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, read-2009
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.
Dec 16, 2009 Barb rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Christie fans
Shelves: biography
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.
Oct 28, 2016 Tiffany added it
Shelves: dnf
DNF... This book was putting me to sleep. So I gave up on it.
Jackie Harris
Read my book reviews at

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
Jul 14, 2010 Jane rated it did not like it
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
Jan 04, 2015 Sherri rated it liked it

My observations along the way as I listen to the audiobook:

* I am enjoying listening to it but it felt like the first cd ended abruptly. The book opens with Agatha's disappearance which occurred as her first marriage was ending due to her husband's infidelity. Just when we think she has been found, cd one ends. The second cd actually begins with chapter one and her birth.
* Now at CD 5 the book has returned to her disappearance and has begun describing her life after her divorce. Some parts of t
Jun 13, 2010 Peg rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Agatha Christie fans
This is an unauthorized biography of Agatha Christie based on 5,000 unpublished notes, letters, and documents. The book covers her life, the people in her life, her two marriages, relationship with her daughter, and the story of her development into writing the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series of mysteries.
Her references to Exeter, the Exeter Cathedral and Devon all had personal meaning due to my friendship with a British couple who lived in Devon, as well as an historic link of a teacher's
Sep 08, 2010 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, this is a decent book, although the audiobook reader is somewhat stuffy. I haven't read other biographies of Christie, so I can't compare, but this at least gave me a bulk of facts.

The book opens with a long chapter all about Christie's disappearance in 1926, before commencing the next chapter with the details of her parents prior to her birth. This was a tactic designed to pull the reader in, but for me, it didn't work. Instead, it started the book off with a bang of intrigue, making t
May 31, 2009 Laura rated it really liked it
I read this for two reasons: one is, quite simply, I enjoyed reading Agatha Christie's mysteries when I was younger; the other is that our 6th grade students do research on mystery writers and this might be a good resource for them. It satisfies on both accounts.

This isn't so scholarly that younger readers won't be able to understand it, nor is it so simple that adults will give up. For many of us, the world into which she was born is so foreign (a minimum of two servants?!) that it's difficult
Apr 08, 2014 Elderberrywine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
This was a great read because I honestly knew very little of Christie herself, and have only read a handful of her books. What an amazing life, not to mention being an all time champ at passive aggressive behavior.

So you have gained a certain amount of fame for your mysteries but you find that your husband is screwing around? What better than to disappear off the face of the earth, causing an immense flurry of publicity, only to be found eleven days later hiding in plain sight pretending to be s
Oct 05, 2013 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having loved the movies, I have finally begun reading her books and couldn’t believe how prodigious a writer she was. I was sure there was a ghost writer somewhere. Happy to report I was wrong.

Her life was as intriguing as her books. She was certainly correct in referring to herself as a sausage machine. She churned out books so quickly.

I listened to the audio. At first I felt the narrator took away from the book. He was obviously theater trained and had that wonderful British accent. He made
Jan 27, 2014 Larisa rated it really liked it
I fell in love with Agatha Christie's books when I read my first one at the age of 9, and by the time I was 18 I finished all 84 Christie books (saving "Curtain" and "Sleeping Murder" for last of course). While this biography gave only a few small insights into the inspiration for any of the works, it was an engaging look at Christie's life and a slice of early 20th-century privileged (but not artistocratic) life. And I did learn some fun tidbits, such as that Christie's daughter recommended Dav ...more
Doug Long
Aug 04, 2010 Doug Long rated it really liked it
Wonderful, detailed history of Agatha Christie's life. My favorite sections where when the author drew us to coincidings of her life and writing, such as her work with her archaeologiest husband is reflected in "Murder in Mesopotamia" and her experience on a stalled Orient Express shows up in "Murder on the Orient Express." The lengthy section on her self-imposed disappearance in the 1920s which shows up as the opening and chronologically, is a little unusual since the author moves into omniscie ...more
Jan 03, 2010 Eleni rated it liked it
I enjoyed many sections of this book - especially the plausible explanation of Christie's disappearance for 11 days before her divorce and an account of all her travels of which I had not known. At times, though, the style of the book turned me off - it had almost a precious approach to Christie - making her seem to be a petulant child.... It was interesting also to see what relationship she had to those adapting her novels as plays or for movies. The situation with MGM changing sleuths and maki ...more
Dec 28, 2010 Joyce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This unauthorized biography corrects previous errors of date, time, and place, and gives a more complete account of Mrs. Christie's 10-day disappearance, which does not appear to be a publicity stunt as some have alleged, but neither is it a case of memory loss as Archie Christie put it to the press. It looks to me to be a way of embarrassing her soon-to-be ex-husband. There is lots of information on her relationships with her daughter Rosalind and Max Mallowan, her second husband, as well as he ...more
Jul 08, 2009 Roberta rated it liked it
The book is well written and, judging from the end notes, well researched and includes an enormous number of short quotations but, having read Christie's autobiography and two earlier biographical works, I don't really feel that I've learned anything new about Agatha Christie. This book may have said a little more about her daughter, Rosalind, than previous books. I wondered if the publisher added the subtitle, The Unauthorized Biography, to imply that dirt would be dished. (view spoiler) ...more
Aug 06, 2014 Jack rated it liked it
A fascinating look at the world's most successful and prolific author. It was interesting to see how the events in her life influenced her work. And the book also gave insights into what influenced her characters and some of the real people that she patterned her characters on. Also interesting to hear about other sleuths that she created aside from Peroit and Marple. Would love to visit her home in England and I am primed for a Agatha-thon with DVDs of Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the ...more
Mar 23, 2011 Amy rated it it was ok
I picked up this biography originally because of Dr. Who. I know that's a strange leap, but one of the Dr. Who episodes involved Agatha Christie and referenced a mysterious period where Christie disappeared. I wanted to find out if Dr. Who was completely pulling my leg.

Despite some of the flaws of the biography (lack of good photographs, an unwieldy prologue), I did come away with a sense of just how interesting Christie's life was. And, yes, the book did have an explaination for her disappearan
Sep 27, 2009 Jill rated it liked it
At first I didn't like this book. There were actually too many details/personal thoughts that the author could not have known. If those little things are not true, how do I trust the rest of the book?

As I got into the book however I enjoyed it more. The book is well annotated and so I feel that most of the facts are correct.

If you have a big interest in Agatha Christie you will enjoy the book.

Now I want to go and re-read all my AC mysteries!
Aug 14, 2010 Jen rated it liked it
This book was not as good as Laura Thompson's biography of Agatha Christie. I can't remember why I put both of them on my "to read" list, other than that both were recommended in an article I read about Agatha Christie. It's really hard to separate fact from speculation in Hack's work, and I felt like the second half of the book was just a list -- this book was published, she traveled here, repeat.
Nov 05, 2009 Marjorie rated it really liked it
Agatha Cristie was smart, unlucky in love, and took care of herself and her family when her first husband utterly failed her. The mystery of what happened to her during her spearation is explained here--although I wonder if some liscense was taken with the truth. She had the last laugh though and lived to know that she was respected as a writer and well loved by her younger 2nd husband. What a life she had.
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Born in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, Hack attended the Lynnewood School, and Haverford High School, on the Main Line in suburban Philadelphia. He later attended Pennsylvania State University and holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Design.

Hack moved to Los Angeles where he was hired by TV Guide magazine as its West Coast national programming editor. By the early 80s, Hack began writing the TeleV
More about Richard Hack...

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