Review by Jamie McNeil
Widely known as the “Queen of Crime” and the mother of the ‘whodunnit’ mystery novel, her books have inspired many adaptations from film to theatre, still one of the most widely translated authors in the world. She even has her own wax statue in Madame Tussuad’s but is there more to Agatha Christie than her body of literary work? As it turns out, Christie led quite the interesting and remarkable life outside her writing, in many ways a thoroughly modern woman filled with curiosity and an almost insatiable zest for life.
Agatha recounts the life of the English author- ironically- told by a trio of Frenchmen. Well, a woman and two men. Anne Martinetti and Guillame LeBeau certainly know their stuff, specialists in the crime genre who previously worked together on the encyclopaedic The A-Z of Agatha Christie. Their Christie is more than just an author, also a mother, a daughter, a nurse, a tourist, a wife, an archaeologist and a playwright. Even then that isn’t sufficient to describe her as a plethora of small and interesting facts fascinate.
It is fittingly a mysterious event that is the focus of the creative team’s attention. For ten days in 1926 Agatha Christie completely vanished. Did her husband murder her? Had she committed suicide? Her disappearance sparked a public furore and national manhunt and then- suddenly- it was over. Christie reappeared without fanfare refusing to reveal where she had been or why. 66 novels and this event remains her greatest mystery. Martinetti and Lebeau don’t claim to know exactly what happened, but they do piece together a compelling scenario from the information they have, exploring events in Christie’s life at the time to speculate and ponder while never drawing final conclusions. It’s well researched, even providing appendices that date events in her life, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are immune to a spot of sensationalism to make the story more attractive. For instance, Christie first learned to surf in South Africa while on tour with her first husband, but the authors choose Hawaii as their first location. It is a choice that lends a biopic feel to the biography, told in flashbacks from her disappearance to various points in her progressing life story while still fostering an aura of mystery around her.
Illustrator Alexandre Franc employs a simple and straightforward approach by using caricatures and a cartoonist’s style to facilitate the narrative. Well placed frames allow Christie’s characters to pop in and out of conversations with her when she has ideas for her stories, Poirot frequently seen in conversation with her, serving as a conscience, a muse or even playing devil’s advocate. Franc has an incredible eye for colour, whether light or dark, using shades to great effect. You feel present in Agatha’s life whether peering over pyramids in Egypt or watching the Luftwaffe blitz London from her apartment balcony during World War II The strength lies in believable character interaction, their emotions and thoughts riveting. The flow of dialogue isn’t always clear and occasionally a panel or two flummoxes slightly, but it remains very beautiful in an understated fashion.
In Agatha, Martinetti, LeBeau and Franc present a picture of a forthright, pragmatic, independent and thoughtful woman who encouraged others to chase their passions, even creating opportunities for them to do so. Despite her share of sadness and tragedy, Agatha was a generous soul and this is a remarkable book about a remarkable individual, a great starting point for finding more about Agatha Christie.