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Cracking Christie

Historian Lucy Worsley delves into the fascinating life of legendary mystery novelist Agatha Christie

When it comes to television viewers, there are several types. From those who prefer action-packed procedurals to those who are most absorbed by soapy family dramas, the world of visual media caters to the entire gamut when it comes to pleasing the audience. Similarly — and admittedly for far longer than movies and TV have been around — books have had the same effect on readers; while some enjoy learning something new by way of a well-researched piece of non-fiction, many others opt to escape into another world entirely.

With that in mind, PBS serves up the three-part series Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen, that blends television with literature to show how one woman’s real-life experiences influenced some of the world’s all-time bestselling fiction.

Hosted by British investigative historian, presenter and author Lucy Worsley, the series presents new insights into one of literature’s most famous figures.


Widely known for such novels as Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and Five Little Pigs — not to mention the many film and television adaptations of her work — Agatha Christie gained popularity long before her death in 1976. In fact, more than 100 years following the release of her first book in 1916, Christie maintains her reign as “the most successful novelist of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible” (per PBS).

But what of the woman behind the mystery? Luckily, that’s where Worsley comes in.


Also well known the world over, Lucy Worsley (The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain) has made a name for herself by investigating (or “re-investigating,” as PBS points out) “some of the most dramatic chapters in British history.” From exposés on the royal family to the impact of the Second World War, Russian Czarism and other major historical events on (predominantly English) society, Worsley creates a bridge between often inaccessible archives and curious TV viewers.

This time around, Worsley takes a deep dive into Christie’s life and times to get to the bottom of her clever mind, sinister thoughts and chilling attention to even the darkest of details. The first of the three instalments, “A Cat Among Pigeons,” begins with the author’s childhood and early adulthood, detailing “the surprising roots of the author’s most compelling themes, the inspiration for some of her greatest creations, and the secrets that the enigmatic Christie kept carefully hidden from public view.”


The following week, the second episode — “Destination Unknown” — sheds light on the mystery that enveloped the author when she disappeared for several days in 1926 and claimed to remember nothing of the time she had been missing.

“[Worsley] digs into the mystery, visiting the site where the author crashed her car, and Abney Hall, the grand house where she took refuge,” the PBS release for the episode reads. “Lucy reveals connections between Christie’s real-life experience and her novels and uncovers new evidence on her mental health and the cutting-edge psychiatric treatment she went on to receive.”

“Destination Unknown” also touches on the nature of her relationships, occasional but persistent bouts of writer’s block, and exotic trips that would lead to life-changing decisions, noteworthy characters and astounding plots that have stood the test of time.


In the third and final instalment of the series, “Unfinished Portrait,” Worsley charts the final third of Christie’s life, including whirlwind romances, a rise in popularity, her so-called Golden Era of writing and a “personal crisis,” all while Christie emerged “into the most prolific and successful chapter of her career,” the PBS release for the finale reads. “[Worsley] follows in the novelist’s footsteps to discover the roots of some of her classics, from the luxurious Egyptian steamship that inspired Death on the Nile to Burgh Island, the inspiration for her most successful but most controversial mystery, And Then There Were None.”

Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen airs Sunday, December 3, on PBS

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