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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Agatha Christie: The Queen of Crime Fiction

The works of this famous writer of mystery fiction sold billions of copies and is best known for titles like Murder on the Orient Express, The Mystery of the Blue Train and The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. She also wrote plays and romantic novels.

inspiring-lives Updated: Sep 13, 2019 15:18 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Author Agatha Christie has written more than 70 detective novels which have earned her titles such as the Queen of Crime and the Queen of Mystery. According to an estimate, only the Bible has sold more copies than her works.
Author Agatha Christie has written more than 70 detective novels which have earned her titles such as the Queen of Crime and the Queen of Mystery. According to an estimate, only the Bible has sold more copies than her works.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)

Born to Frederick Alvah Miller, an American stockbroker and his Ireland-born wife Clara Miller née Boehmer, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay, Devon (England) on September 15, 1890, as the youngest of three siblings.

Educated at home, her mother often encouraged her to write. As a child, she had rich fantasies and, at 16, was taken to Paris for a short period to undergo training in vocals and piano.

Marriage & Early career

She married an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps, Archibald Christie, in December 1914. The marriage ended in a divorce in 1928. In 1930, she married archaeology professor Max Mallowan. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920. It featured the character of a Belgian detective named Hercule Poirot. The book was based on the murder of a rich heiress.

When her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was published in 1926 during a time of great personal difficulties for the author, critics termed it as a one-of-its kind classic. She went on many expeditions with Mallowan and wrote about the experiences in the 1946 memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live.

In 1930, she published Murder at the Vicarage. It had a character named Miss Jane Marple, who was an inquisitive village lady, and the book also became a classic. During World War II, she worked in the pharmacy of the University College London, an experience that gave her murder plots for her novels. Over those years, her works grew in international popularity.

Mystery expertise

Some critics have said that the plots of many of her novels were based on a formula. Murders were committed by ingenious methods which often involved the use of poison, about which Christie had great knowledge.

In many of her novels, the detective interrogated the main suspects, brought the main characters in a drawing room and explained who was the murderer. Her works were psychological thrillers and readers often attempted to solve the crimes themselves as they read along.

In 1952, her play The Mousetrap was staged at the Ambassadors Theatre in London. It has been performed off and on since then. In 1971, she was named Dame Commander of the British Empire for her literary contributions.

Legacy, Death

She created the well-known detective characters Poirot and Miss Marple. Poirot has made most appearances in her novels such as Ackroyd, The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) and Death in the Clouds (1935). Miss Marple was featured in novels like The Moving Finger (1942) and A Pocket Full of Rye (1953). Other popular Christie characters are Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, Colonel Race, Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver.

She has written more than 70 detective novels which earned her the titles of Queen of Crime and the Queen of Mystery. Under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, she also wrote romance novels such as Unfinished Portrait and A Daughter’s a Daughter.

According to an estimate, only the Bible has sold more copies than her works. Several of her works, including Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, were made into movies. She died in 1976 at the age of 85.

Interesting facts

Her play The Mousetrap holds a record of the longest running play in the world. It opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been running since. its 25,000th performance happened in Nov, 2012.

Christie’s mother believed that she should not learn to read until the age of 8 and insisted on home schooling till 15. However, she taught herself to read and was later sent to school in Paris.

Christie’s older sister, Madge, challenged her to write a novel. Accepting the challenge, she wrote a story titled The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was a mystery featuring a soldier on sick leave who gets involved in a poisoning incident at a friend’s house. This novel also featured Hercule Poirot. Although rejected by six publishers at first, the novel was eventually published in 1920.

Hercule Poirot’s character was apparently inspired by a real person. Christie saw a Belgian man getting off a bus in the early 1910, who looked odd and had a questioning expression.

Sources:, and

First Published: Sep 13, 2019 15:17 IST