the guardian Fri 25 July 2008
Rarely can a fine book have started so badly. Imagining the elegant Torquay of Christie's childhood turns Thompson's prose purple, and in contrasting it with the resort today she sounds like a Daily Mail leader penned by Basil Fawlty. The lush writing vanishes after this unpromising opening, however, and it becomes clear this is an astute and insightful biography, full of discoveries resulting from immersion in Christie's novels and papers. The received view is that her 11-day disappearance in 1926 was the only interesting incident in a desk-bound life. Thompson offers a persuasive theory of her flight to Harrogate - as a panicky ploy to win back her first husband - but also shows that every phase of that life has fascinating aspects: the transformation of 20s housewife into bestselling author; the eyebrow-raising second marriage to a younger archaeologist and their annual trips to Iraq; her awkward relationship with her daughter; the battles with tax authorities; and her spiky views on actors cast as Poirot and Miss Marple.