I attempted Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie An English Mystery (2007). On the excellent advice of a friend I read the chapter entitled ‘An English Murder’ first, but of the rest only managed about five pages. Thompson’s analysis of Christie’s books is readable but inadequate – when she announces that A Murder is Announced marks the start of a decline one knows one is not going to be faced with anything very substantial (it is one of Robert Barnard’s favourites in his book A Talent to Deceivethe – the best on Christie as a mystery writer). Thompson simplifies Christie’s morality, overestimates her powers of characterisation and vastly underestimates her genius at plotting (as usual). She does give some tantalising glimpses of the Christie notebooks on which a new book is scheduled to appear this autumn. However it is on moving back to the start of the biography that the real weaknesses become instantly apparent – we are presented with a sequence where we are told to imagine how Christie would see present-day Torquay, which becomes jumbled with Thompson’s personal jeremiad on general architectural and social decline. Who knows and much more pertinently who cares? Certainly not me. Interested as I am in Christie, life is definitely too short for this.

(April 2009)