Agatha Christie, born Agatha Miller, is one the best-loved mystery writers of the 20th century. She is certainly the most easily recognizable, and no mystery or crime writer since has had the same level of success. She was born in 1890, and died, much to the disappointment of her admirers in 1976. In addition to enjoying financial success from her books and plays, Agatha Christie was honored by Queen Elizabeth II when she gave her the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971.
Her early years gave her much inspiration for later books. She married in 1914, and divorced her first husband, Archibald Christie, 14 years later. He is described as good-looking but cruel, and many such males in Christie’s books are thought to have been modeled on her unhappy life with her first husband. Christie had her only child Rosalind, in 1919.
Agatha Christie remarried in 1930, to Sir Max Mallowan, who was an archaeologist. Together the two traveled frequently to the Middle East, and several of her later books are set in Egypt, with her most famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express set on the train itself.
Prior to becoming a mother, Agatha Christie worked as a nurse during WWI. She later worked in a pharmacy, which gave her significant information about poisons, which was instrumental in some of her plots. After the war ended, she published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced her very popular Belgian detective character, Hercule Poirot. Almost every year of her life afterwards, she published at least one book, and sometimes several.
Agatha Christie was thought to be quite innovative in form. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd published in 1926 has a surprise ending that is particularly unpredictable given the first person narration she employs. Christie published her first play in 1928, but it was two of her later plays that have gained the most critical attention.
Ten Little Indians, which was published in 1943, was based on her 1939 novel which has appeared under several titles including And Then There Were None. The book was a great success, with a fantastic surprise ending. The Mousetrap was first produced in 1952 at the Ambassador’s Theater in London and is the longest running play in history. It is still performed today in London, and there is no intention of stopping production.
Agatha Christie developed several characters that soon became fan favorites and appeared in many of her books. As well as Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, and Ariadne Oliver all make several appearances. Miss Oliver is a mystery writer, who many feel may be a semi-autobiographical, yet parodied, version of Christie. She always appears in the Poirot novels, often taking center stage over Poirot’s parts of the stories. As well, Captain Hastings plays Poirot’s “Watson” on many cases.
In addition to her “character” novels, Agatha Christie published numerous short stories. Her books have sold 2 billions copies in English translation alone, and have been translated into over 100 languages. Her last two novels, Curtain concerning the death of Poirot, and Sleeping Murder, the last Miss Marple case, were published posthumously by her request.
Agatha Christie’s novels and plays have been made into feature films, radio shows and television productions. Many of the film adaptations lack merit. Truer adaptations can be found in BBC productions of the late 1980s and 1990s. The Miss Marple series featuring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple is considered the best adaptation of the Christie novels. Many of her fans also agree that David Suchet brilliantly played Poirot in more than ten separate episodes. The Poirot series may disappoint some of the more meticulous readers of Christie, as they frequently alter major characters and events. A more recent adaptation of Miss Marple books has also been produced on BBC, but many find it lacks the faithfulness and performance quality that rendered the Joan Hickson version so charming.
In her lifetime, Agatha Christie published over 70 novels, 24 plays, and several collections of short stories. She is one of the most prolific writers, amassing a stunning amount of work in her lifetime. Her work is eminently approachable, and always makes for a fun and easy read.