Agatha Christie: The Queen Of Crime Lives On In Her Body Of Work
“That is why most great love stories are tragedies,” said Agatha Christie in Death on the Nile.
Why am I writing about Agatha Christie? Well, she is in the news for two reasons. Her birthday falls on September 15, and secondly because of the recent news of the adaptation of her 1937 detective fiction novel, Death on the Nile. Although adapted earlier back in 1978, starring legends, including Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Mia Farrow and others, this new adaptation will be directed by Kenneth Branagh. The director, who has previously helmed movies like Murder on the Orient Express and the Thor series, will himself play detective Hercule Poirot in the film. The other stellar cast, include Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, Indian actor Ali Fazal (previously seen in Victoria & Abdul) and Armie Hammer, to name a few. Excited? Yes, I am as a die-hard fan of Agatha Christie, having read as many of her books as I could from the school library.
What does one write about an author who was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare? Agatha Christie is known as the best-selling novelist of all time. She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections and the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap. Under the pen name Mary Westmacott, she has to her credit six romances.
What does one write about an author who was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare? Agatha Christie is known as the best-selling novelist of all time. She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections and the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap.
According to Index Translationum, she remains the most-translated individual author, having been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie’s best-selling novel, with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. Christie’s stage play, The Mousetrap holds the world record for longest initial run. It opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End on 25 November 1952, and as of April 2019 is still running after more than 27,000 performances.
Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple – The two believable characters she created
Christie’s first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920 and introduced the detective Hercule Poirot to the world. Who is not familiar with the world-renowned Belgian private detective, famous as much for his magnificent moustaches as his grey cells. It is said that Christie’s inspiration for the character came from real Belgian refugees who were living in Torquay and the Belgian soldiers she helped to treat as a volunteer nurse in Torquay during the First World War. The character that she created is unsurpassed in his intelligence and understanding of the criminal mind, respected and admired by police forces and heads of state across the globe. Since the time Christie created him over 100 years ago, Poirot has stolen the hearts and minds of audiences across the world. He features in 33 original novels and in over 50 short stories.
Her lovable Jane Marple, introduced in the short-story collection The Thirteen Problems in 1927, was based on Christie’s grandmother and her “Ealing cronies.” Both Jane and Gran “always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.” Miss Marple appeared in 15 novels and 20 stories.
But like all writers, Christie too became increasingly tired of Poirot, much as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of his character Sherlock Holmes.
But like all writers, Christie too became increasingly tired of Poirot, much as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of his character Sherlock Holmes. By the end of the 1930s, Christie wrote in her diary that she was finding Poirot “insufferable,” and by the 1960s she felt that he was “an egocentric creep.” However, unlike Conan Doyle, Christie resisted the temptation to kill her detective off while he was still popular.
In contrast, Christie was fond of Miss Marple. However, the Belgian detective’s titles outnumber the Marple titles more than two to one. This is largely because Christie wrote numerous Poirot novels early in her career, while The Murder at the Vicarage remained the sole Marple novel until the 1940s. Christie never wrote a novel or short story featuring both Poirot and Miss Marple. In a recording discovered and released in 2008, Christie revealed the reason for this: “Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist. would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady. Hercule Poirot – a professional sleuth – would not be at home at all in Miss Marple’s world.” Poirot is the only fictional character to date to be given an obituary in The New York Times, following the publication of Curtain. It appeared on the front page of the paper on August 6, 1975.
Following the great success of Curtain, Christie gave permission for the release of Sleeping Murder sometime in 1976 but died in January 1976 before the book could be released. In 2013, the Christie family gave their backing to the release of a new Poirot story, The Monogram Murders, which was written by British author Sophie Hannah. Hannah later released a second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, in 2016 and The Mystery of the Three Quarters in 2018.
Her disappearance caused a public outcry so much so that the home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape.
Those 11 mysterious days when the author disappeared
Agatha Christie married Archibald Christie in December 1914 but the couple were divorced in 1928. In late 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. He had fallen in love with another woman named Nancy Neele. It is said that on December 3, 1926, the Christies quarrelled, and Archie left their house. Christie too disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her car, a Morris Cowley, was found at Newlands Corner, perched above a chalk quarry, with an expired driving licence and clothes. The disappearance caused a public outcry so much so that the home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, pressured police, and a newspaper offered a £100 reward. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes scoured the rural landscape. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle her contemporary gave a spirit medium one of Christie’s gloves to find her. Crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers visited the house in Surrey, and used the scenario in her book Unnatural Death. Christie’s disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times. Despite the extensive manhunt, she was not found for 10 days. On December 14, 1926, she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, registered as Mrs Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband’s lover). As far as Christie was concerned, she did not remember how she reached the hotel.
Not for nothing is she known as the mystery of the ‘Queen of Mystery’ or ‘Queen of Crime’.
In September 1930 Christie married the archaeologist Max Mallowan. The pair travelled frequently on archaeological expeditions and she used the experiences as a basis for some plots, including Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and Death on the Nile (1937) before her death.
Why is Agatha Christie still a force to reckon with? My take
So why is Agatha Christie is still so popular 129 years after her birth? I would say her books are still read because readers want to solve the puzzle that she puts her readers into. This says so much about the quality of Christie’s imagination—readers get the sense that there’s more than that is apparent, which holds the reader. After all, isn’t that what all crime and mystery writers want when writing?
Smita Singh is an editor with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are her own.