Agatha Christie is the world’s best-known mystery writer. She is also one of the most prolific, with eighty mystery novels, dozens of short stories and more than fifteen plays to her name. She holds numerous records:
+ According to the Guinness Book of World Records, she is the best-selling book author of all time, and is tied with William Shakespeare as the best-selling writer ever.
+ Her books have sold over four billion copies, a record outstripped only by sales of the Bible.
+ Her play The Mousetrap opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952 and is still running, setting the record for the longest-running play in history.
Born in Torquay, Devon, on 15 September 1890, Agatha Christie was married twice: first to Archibald Christie, from 1914 to 1928, when they were divorced; and second to Sir Max Mallowan from 1930 until her death. In 1926, during a stormy period in her first marriage, Christie “disappeared” for eleven days. Neither her husband, her publisher nor the media could locate her. She was finally discovered at a hotel in Yorkshire, registered under an assumed name. She never publicly explained the incident.
Her most famous characters are Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. Poirot is a retired Belgian detective with an “egg-shaped head” who depends heavily on interviewing suspects and examining clues; his “little grey cells” then help him unravel mysteries. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Christie’s first novel), The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile are some of her most popular works featuring Poirot.
Jane Marple appears in twelve novels, as well as a number of short stories. She is an aged spinster who lives in the fictional village of St. Mary Mead. Although those around her sometimes assume she is “a bit ga-ga,” she is very sharp, and she takes a generally dim view of human nature. Her social contacts and life experiences enable her to solve perplexing crimes. She first appears in The Murder at the Vicarage.
Other recurring characters include Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, Ariadne Oliver (a self-parody), and Mr. Harley Quin. Christie also wrote six “romance” novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.
The popularity of Christie's work stems largely from her unrivalled ability to craft elegant “whodunits” that keep readers delightedly guessing (usually wrongly) who the real murderer is. The settings of her novels (often aristocratic British homes) and even her use of stock characters (such as the retired British military officer) also appeal to many readers.
In 1971 Christie was made Dame Commander of the British Empire. She had one child, Rosalind Margaret Hicks, born in 1919. Rosalind's son, Mathew Prichard, has contributed to The Blog at agathachristie.com.
Agatha Christie died of natural causes on 12 January 1976. Her last novel was a Tommy and Tuppence book, Postern of Fate (1973). Her autobiography was published posthumously, in 1977.