Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare...

 

Agatha Christie 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.

 


She was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, on September 15, 1890, in Torquay, England, Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920, and went on to become one of the most famous writers in history, with mysteries like Murder at the Vicarage, Partners in Crime and Sad Cypress. She sold billions of copies of her work, and was also a noted playwright and romance author.

 





The youngest of three siblings, she was educated at home by her mother, who encouraged her daughter to write. As a child, Christie enjoyed fantasy play and creating characters, and, when she was 16, moved to Paris for a time to study vocals and piano.

 

In 1914, she wed Colonel Archibald Christie, a Royal Flying Corps pilot, and took up nursing during World War I. She published her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920; the story focused on the murder of a rich heiress and introduced readers to one of Christie's most famous characters—Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

 (personally, I prefer Miss Marple !)

 

 



In 1926, Christie released The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a hit which was later marked as a genre classic and one of the author's all-time favorites. She dealt with tumult that same year, however, as her mother died and her husband revealed that he was in a relationship with another woman. Traumatized by the revelation, Christie disappeared only to be discovered by authorities several days later at a Harrogate hotel, registered under the name of her husband's mistress.

 

 

Christie would recover, with her and Archibald divorcing in 1928. In 1930, she married archaeology professor Max Mallowan, with whom she travelled on several expeditions, later recounting her trips in the 1946 memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live. The year of her new nuptials also saw the release of Murder at the Vicarage, which became another classic and introduced readers to Miss Jane Marple, an enquiring village lady.




Poirot and Marple are Christie's most well-known detectives, with the two featured in dozens of novels and short stories. Poirot made the most appearances in Christie's work in titles that included Ackroyd, The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) and Death in the Clouds (1935). Miss Marple has been featured in books like The Moving Finger (1942) and A Pocket Full of Rye (1953), and been played on screen by actresses like Angela Lansbury, Helen Hayes and Geraldine McEwan (my favorite Miss Marple). Other notable Christie characters include Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, Colonel Race, Parker Pyne and Ariadne Oliver.


 Writing well into her later years, Christie wrote more than 70 detective novels as well as short fiction. Though she also wrote romance novels like Unfinished Portrait (1934) and A Daughter's a Daughter (1952) under the name Mary Westmacott, Christie's success as an author of sleuth stories has earned her titles like the "Queen of Crime" and the "Queen of Mystery." Christie can also be considered a queen of all publishing genres as she is one of the top-selling authors in history, with her combined works selling more than 2 billion copies worldwide.

Christie was a renowned playwright as well, with works like The Hollow (1951) and Verdict (1958). Her play The Mousetrap opened in 1952 at the Ambassador Theatre and—at more than 8,800 showings during 21 years—holds the record for the longest unbroken run in a London theater. Additionally, several of Christie's works have become popular movies, including Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978).

 


Christie was made a dame in 1971. In 1974, she made her last public appearance for the opening night of the play version of Murder on the Orient Express. Christie died on January 12, 1976.

 


Agatha Christie Trivia

Her Disappearance

On December 3, 1926, Christie’s husband Archie confronted Christie with the revelation that he’d been having an affair with a joint acquaintance. He then scampered off to spend the weekend with her. Christie, already upset by the recent death of her mother, was traumatized still further. That evening she disappeared, leaving her car abandoned near the spookily named Silent Pool in Surrey. Police from four counties were drafted in to look for her and the Daily News offered [around $7,700 in today’s money] for information. Eleven days later, the Evening Standard revealed she was staying at the Hydro Hotel in Harrogate under the alias ‘Mrs Theresa Neele’. (Bizarrely, Nancy Neele was the name of Archie’s mistress.) Doctors diagnosed amnesia, and she never publically spoke about the ‘missing 11 days’. Critics claimed it was a publicity stunt, but current thinking is she experienced the psychiatric disorder known as ‘dissociative fugue’ brought on by sudden huge stress.

 

She’s slightly less popular than God.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie’s popularity is only bettered by the Bible and the Bard. She is indisputably the best-selling novelist of all time. A 1959 UNESCO report claimed her books had been translated into 103 language, and to date she’s sold over two billion copies—more than the entire population of China and America combined.

 

She’s a very weighty writer….

In 2009, HarperCollins published all her Miss Marple stories in one volume: it had 4,032 pages, weighed over 17 pounds and cost an eye-watering $1500.00. The thickest book in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records (them again), thankfully it also came with a carrying handle.

 

She wrote a stage play that’s been running for longer than all of 

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows put together.

That might be an exaggeration—just—but The Mousetrap is nothing short of a phenomenon. It opened in London almost 63 years ago—on October 6, 1952, eight months before Elizabeth II’s coronation. It opened at the Ambassadors Theatre, then switched to the St Martin’s Theatre next door in 1974, and it is still there today. Some 26,190 performances. Cannily described on the theatre’s website as a “great piece of theatrical history”, rather than as a great piece of theatre, its longevity seems unstoppable. It was based on her short story Three Blind Mice (itself a version of her 1947 radio play) with Christie re-naming it after the ‘play within a play’ in Shakespear’s Hamlet. But there the similarities must end. In 1954, she had three shows running in the West End at the same time: The Mousetrap, Witness For the Prosecution and Spider’s Web.

 

She kept the death of Hercule Poirot secret for over 30 years.

Christie wrote Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case in the early 1940s (the exact date is uncertain) and stored it in a bank vault, heavily insured against its destruction by Nazi bombs. Intending it to be published after her death, she was persuaded to release it in 1975 when it became clear she was too aged to write a new book for Christmas. In it, the wheelchair-bound Poirot behaves in a decidedly un-Poirot-like fashion. To say more would spoil the surprise(s). Charmingly, the New York Times published his obituary on its front page, the only time a fictional character has been afforded this accolade.

 


She was also a successful romantic novelist.

Silencing those critics who complained that she only wrote ‘glorified crosswords’, Christie penned six surprisingly absorbing romantic novels under the pseudonym ‘Mary Westmacott’. One of them, Unfinished Portrait (1934), was a deeply personal story about a female novelist who attempts suicide after her marriage falls apart. It has been seen by many as a thinly-disguised retelling of her own real-life break-up and subsequent ‘disappearance’. She also wrote children’s stories, poetry and memoirs of her archaeological experiences in Iraq.

 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) is the single greatest whodunit ever written.

Without wanting to give the game away, this is the kind of novel that movie director M. Night Shyamalan can only dream about. A cunningly plotted murder mystery with a cast of likely suspects, Hercule Poirot exercises his “little grey cells” to their limit. And the solution? Well, you can only get away with this sort of trick once in a lifetime, and God bless her, Christie does. With bells on.

 

                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012