Laura Thompson: Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life Thursday, Oct 1 2020 

What better way to celebrate fall than with the stunning biography Laura Thompson wrote on the queen or mystery. Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life is a complete, fully researched examination of the woman whose crime novels are only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare.

From the Edwardian idyll that was her childhood, Agatha was closest to her mother, although she loved her father. After his death, mother and daughter became even closer, although there was an older brother and sister in the family. Clara’s influence would be clearly felt by Agatha for the rest of her life, in ways large and small, and in her attitude towards money.

The tall, slim girl with the lovely golden hair soon grew into an athletic and graceful young woman, one who wrote poetry and had a leaning to writing. She was a listener, one who absorbed what people said and how they behaved. When she falls for Archie Christie, handsome but without means, her mother is less than impressed with her new son-in-law.

As her writing takes off and a child appears, daughter Rosalind, Agatha’s maternal attitude became diffident, and while she loved her daughter, they never had the same connection Agatha had with Clara. Too long the beloved daughter to be an effective mother, Agatha allows nannies and boarding schools largely to care for her daughter after a few years.

And then the unthinkable happens: Archie has fallen for another woman and wants a divorce. Agatha’s subsequent breakdown, manifested in her disappearance for eleven days that caused an international sensation, is cleverly explained by Thompson, who spins what seems to be the most realistic story of what really happened.

Once Agatha is found at a Harrowgate spa, the divorce occurs and her life changes. She would refuse to discuss the incident ever again, and if anyone dared question her about the period, that person would be obliterated from her life.

Her second marriage several years later to archeologist Max Mallowan was more of a reassurance to Agatha, and her books took off as her writing flourished when she traveled with him. She helped him in his work; theirs was a comfortable relationship that brought Agatha emotional security.

There were multiple houses, too, including the lovely summer home Greenway in Devon that Auntie M visited in 2013. There were also multiple tax issues her ‘fortune’ created, with UK high taxes and the US suddenly deciding they were owed back taxes, a situation that literally dragged on for decades until settled, leaving her an employee of a trust created in her name to control the debt.

Thompson takes issue with those who have called Agatha’s stories simple. They were created out of her deep knowledge of human nature, with almost geometric plots. “But at the heart was her fascination with human nature. This is the great joke: Agatha Christie was not interested in murder.”

Thompson makes a grand case with supporting documentation for this, and also explores the dame’s writings as Mary Westmacott, where she allowed herself to explore the emotions she usually kept in check.

For anyone interested in understanding the evolution and influences of Dame Agatha Christie, look no further than this compelling and highly readable examination of her life that is Highly Recommended.

Elizabeth George: Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel Monday, Apr 27 2020 

Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series is one of Auntie M’s favorites. She was also fortunate to take a Master class from George one year at New England Crime Bake, and that experience alone made her relish the thought of reading through George’s new book on the complicated task of putting together a novel in Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel.

George is quick to point out that her method may not suit everyone, although it closely mirrors Auntie M’s own. Indeed, finding one’s particular method that works for that individual is part of the challenge for any writer. Still, there will be something in these pages for any writer, even if one’s own way of writing doesn’t follow George’s.

She starts off with setting, the backdrop for her crime novels, and uses actual photographs she took on her research trip for her novel Careless in Red to illustrate her points. The landscape is the stage upon which writers place their action and their characters, so it’s one the reader must come to understand, and sometimes, manipulate. It influences what can and cannot be found between the pages, and often suggests plot.

While the area may be changed or rearranged to fit the writer’s plot, having done thorough research eliminates a blank page as the starting point. Any points that are needed afterward that memory or photos can’t provide, of course, can be added by Google, maps, and other information about the chosen area.

George moves on to characters and how she develops them, as her plot starts to form. She emphasizes understanding the core needs and also the psychopathology for each one. By creating background needs, combined with an underlying behavior that influences reactions, the character become fully fleshed out. This helps the writer understand how a particular character would act, react, and even speak.

Of course there are chapters on dialogue, viewpoint, plot development, scene structure, and more, all aided by concrete examples from this same novel. By using pages from her book to illustrate each point, the reader comes away with a clearcut view of how George puts together her book. She even includes a special device she calls a THAD, the Talking Heads Avoidance Device.

You’ll have to read the book to find out exactly how that functions, but reading this book is not something that should be just limited to writers. Any reader looking for a clearer understanding of a writers process, or any fan of George’s novels, for that matter, who wants to understand her personal process, will enjoy this book that contains so much useful information, written in a clear and entertaining way.

And many will find, just as Auntie M did, that a re-reading of Careless in Red after brought the entire thing together in a way that showed what was explained in delightful action. Highly Recommended.

Lee Lofland

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews