Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, Agatha Christie (15.9.1890 – 12.1.1976) is the best-selling novelist of all time.
She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap.
Described as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie was born in Torquay, Devon in September 1890. Educated at home, she taught herself to read and was soon writing poems and short stories.
It was during the First World War that Agatha turned to writing detective stories. Her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles took some time to finish and even longer to find a publisher. She started writing partly in response to a bet from her sister Madge that she couldn’t write a good detective story and partly to relieve the monotony of the dispensing work which she was now doing.
It was not until 1919 that a publisher, John Lane of The Bodley Head (the fourth to have received the manuscript) accepted The Mysterious Affair at Styles for publication and contracted Agatha to produce five more books. She chose a Belgian refugee detective, Hercule Poirot as her sleuth – Belgian refugees were a common feature in England during the war.
Subsequent books introduced new characters – Tommy and Tuppence and Miss Marple who were to feature in many further titles.
“The Agatha Christie novel I remember most clearly is the one-off Endless Night. Part romantic gothic, part murder mystery, the story is unlike most other Christies I’d read and I can still remember my shock and disquiet at the ending.
“I love Murder on The Orient Express. The plot is so well organised, so many red herrings, you could not possibly work out who the murderer(s) are. A complicated homicide as the murder depicted here would never happen in real life.
“A murder is announced – our family listened to it in the car on talking book cassette (borrowed from our local library of course) on a very long drive all the way down to the Pyrenees. Despite it being very sunny and French outside we were all enraptured by the rather old and stuffy villagers of Chipping Cleghorn. It is the first Agatha Christie I came across and do to this day prefer Miss Marple to Poirot.”
“I love Lord Edgware Dies because it’s the perfect example of Agatha Christie’s skill in creating a murder mystery which seems utterly impossible, but once explained feels so simple you can’t believe you didn’t solve it yourself.”
Christie’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1928. She travelled to the archaeological site of Ur where the following year she met Max Mallowan who was to become her second husband. Several books were influenced by their travels in the Middle East such as Death on the Nile and They came to Baghdad.
From 1928 Agatha also wrote non-crime novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott. She continued writing through the war and post-war period, although now there was much time-consuming work with theatrical productions which limited the time Agatha could devote to writing.
On 3 December 1926 Agatha Christie’s life featured a real life mystery when she left her home alone. Her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. A nationwide search ensued. The press and public enjoyed various speculations as to what might have happened and why but no one knew for sure. It eventually transpired that Agatha had somehow travelled to Kings Cross station where she took the train to Harrogate and checked into the Harrogate Spa Hotel under the name of Theresa Neale, previously of South Africa. She was eventually recognised by the hotel staff on 14 December, who alerted the police. She did not recognise her husband when he came to meet her. Possibly concussed but certainly suffering from amnesia, Agatha had no recollection of who she was. An intensely private person, made even more so by the hue and cry of the press, Agatha never spoke of this time with friends or family.
Agatha Christie died in January 1976 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Cholsey, near Wallingford.
You can find out about events being held all over the country to celebrate Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday by visiting www.agathachristie.com. If you’d like to read books by Christie, take a look at our new Agatha Christie reading list.