'Best-Selling Novelist of All Time'
The strangled body of a showgirl is left in a library. A scheming multi-millionaire has his throat slit during Christmas. The corpse of an old harridan keels over on a plane, struck by a poisoned dart. Ten strangers on an island are killed off one after another by an unknown force…
These are just a few of the juicy murders from the Queen of Crime. Born to an affluent upper-middle-class family, Agatha Christie has become one of our most enduring British novelists. She wrote 66 detective novels, 6 romances (under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott), 14 short story collections and the world’s longest-running play (The Mousetrap). From her lively imagination sprung t2 of our favourite sleuths: Hercule Poirot, the fastidious little Belgian of coiffed mustachios, and Miss Marple, the fragile blue-eyed elderly spinster, who’s shrewd analysis of humanity’s evil always surprises. Reportedly, Agatha’s works have only ever been outsold by Shakespeare and the Bible.
Her youth was spent in the conventional manner for a lady of comfortable means. There were piano lessons and schools in Paris, and later on, ‘seasons’ in Cairo where she went to balls, made titled friends and looked for a suitable husband. She was swept off her feet by Archibald Christie rather fitting, since he was an aviator - and they married in 1914. But the War kept them apart for some years, and when they finally began living together they found they’d made a poor match.
Discovery of Archie’s affair with a family friend frightened Agatha. She needed to make a success of writing to guarantee her and her daughter’s financial future – she couldn’t rely on her fickle husband. Probably the stress of this situation led to Agatha’s sensational disappearance: after an argument with Archie (who wanted a divorce) she went missing for 10 days. Despite a thousand police-officers, 15,000 volunteers and the high-profile support of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, nobody found her until she appeared in a Yorkshire hotel with no memory. This is perhaps the only mystery Agatha left unsolved: she never explained her vanishing act.
Eventually Agatha married Max Mallowan, an archaeologist whom she accompanied on many expeditions in the Middle East. Exotic travels often frame her stories, along with allusions to the spirit world (she believed in psychics) and detailed poisonings (her expertise was learnt volunteering at a pharmacy during WWII). Agatha’s oeuvre spans the 1920s to the 1960s, tracing a beautiful life of cocktail dresses, carefree travel and old English customs, as well as holding up a mirror to the attitudes, economy and changing social norms.
Agatha coined a detective formula: a group gathers for an occasion, someone’s murdered, the detective investigates, everyone reunites and the murderer is accused, but she’s worth reading for more than just the delicious dénouement of a classic whodunnit. Her work is a whydunnittoo, offering searing psychological insights and a razor-sharp understanding of human nature. Whether you want to be a businessman, politician or parent, there’s a lot to be learnt from Agatha’s discerningly penned characters.
Want more Agatha?
Visit The Home of Agatha Christie to learn about her books, films and upcoming projects run by her Estate here
Browse through Agatha's titles and go on a compulsory book buying binge here!
Or indulge in David Suchet's superb portrayal of Poirot on ITV3 here (trust me, Suchet's film adaptations are the only ones worth watching!)
Agatha Christie's own autobiography is as well written as you expect a writer's story to be. Honest and self-examining in this book we get a rare insight into one of the sharpest minds of our time.