Agatha Christie was an English crime novelist, short story writer, and playwright. She wrote 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, several stage plays, and six romances (written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott). That’s prolific. Her books have sold more than 2 billion copies only next to the Bible and Shakespeare and have been translated into 103 languages worldwide. No wonder why she’s referred to as the Queen of Crime.
I became more fascinated with her when I read my first Christie, Ordeal By Innocence. Imagine me, a 12-year old girl, reading a mystery surrounding a murder. As I turned each page, I wondered who killed the victim. I hung on to my guess only to find out that my guess was not right. I found it brilliant and my love for Agatha Christie began.
Childhood and Youth
She was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, England. Being in a wealthy upper middle class family, she described her childhood as happy. Her mother insisted that she undergo home schooling. It was her parents who taught her the three R’s (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic). Also, she learned music especially the piano and the mandolin. Later on, she continued her formal education in a finishing school in Paris, France. She said that she grew up surrounded by independent women.
She read a lot of children’s books during her youth and later, moved on to reading Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Also, she became a fan of detective novels like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. This might have influenced her character Hercule Poirot.
I’ve read in her autobiography that it was her sister who challenged her to write a detective novel. She rose up to the challenge when her first novel The Secret Affairs at Styles came out in 1920 introducing Hercule Poirot.
The Mysterious Disappearance
She married Archibald Christie, an army officer in the Royal Flying Corps, in 1914. However, Archie later fell in love with Nancy Neele and asked Agatha for a divorce in 1926. On the night of 3 December 1936, Archie and Agatha had a quarrel. Archie left their home and stayed with his mistress. At around 9:45 pm, Agatha disappeared leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car was later found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving licence and clothes.
Her disappearance caused a public outcry and extensive search. After ten days, on 14 December 1926, she was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs. Teresa Neele from Cape Town, South Africa. This incident was never mentioned in her autobiography despite the headlines it brought worldwide. Until now, no one knows the real reason of her disappearance. Doctors theorized that she suffered from amnesia brought about by depression secondary to her mother’s recent death and the imminent divorce. Others said that it was a publicity stunt staged by Agatha to embarrass her husband.
In 1928, Archie and Agatha divorced. Archie eventually married Nancy Neele while Agatha retained custody of daughter Rosalind and the last name Christie for her writing. During their marriage, she published six novels, an anthology of short stories, and a number of short stories in magazines.
Her Second Marriage and Later Life
In 1930, Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan. Their marriage was happy and lasted until Christie’s death in 1976. She toured with her husband, even paying for her trip so as not to be included in Mallowan’s expedition budget. Her travels have been the inspiration of most notable novels like Murder on the Orient Express, Death Comes as the End, etc.
It was also during the war that she became an apothecary’s assistant where she learned about poisons. This experience helped her shape some novels like The Pale Horse. To honor her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1956 New Year Honours. Then in the 1971 New Year Honours, she was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), three years after her husband had been knighted for his archaeological work in 1968. They were one of the few married couples where both partners were honored in their own right.
During the World War II, Christie wrote Curtain and Sleeping Murder, intended as the last cases of her two great detective characters, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for over thirty years and were released for publication only in the mid-70’s, when she realized that she could not write any more novels. That’s the reason why there are a few inconsistencies found in Sleeping Murder which was released after her death.
Queen of Crime
Christie’s reputation as “The Queen of Crime” was built upon the large number of classic motifs that she introduced, or for which she provided the most famous example. Christie built these tropes into what is now considered classic mystery structure: a murder is committed, there are multiple suspects who are all concealing secrets, and the detective gradually uncovers these secrets over the course of the story, discovering the most shocking twists towards the end.
Not only did she employ different plot twists, she also derived her titles from famous nursery rhymes, the Bible, Shakespeare, and other literary works. Many of the authors, I included, read Christie’s novels first, before other mystery writers, in English or in their native language, influencing their own writing, and nearly all still view her as the “Queen of Crime”, and creator of the plot twists used by mystery authors.
As I’ve said awhile ago, my first Christie novel was Ordeal By Innocence but my favorite novels are And Then There Were None and The Pale Horse. My first English e-book, however, was inspired by The ABC Murders. And if there is one wish I haven’t reached, it’s to become the “Agatha Christie of the Philippines”.