Agatha Christie September 12, 1890 – January 12, 1976
Agatha Christie is recognized as the most famous mystery author of all time. Known as the Queen of Crime, she is published in more languages than Shakespeare and is second only to the bible for the number of tongues that her books have been translated. Her play the Mousetrap opened in London in 1952, and to date, it is the longest running play in world history. She achieved all of this without attending school; whatever education she received came at home. Christie’s interest in the genre of detection began early on. At the age of eight, she was introduced to the stories of Sherlock Holmes by an older sister. About the same time, her mother read aloud to the family from novels by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
Christie began writing while in her early 20’s. During World War I as part of the war effort, she volunteered at a Red Cross dispensary. Here she worked with medications and learned about chemicals and poisons. This knowledge was put to use in her first novel, the Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1930, this book introduced her great detective, Hercule Poirot. Poirot went on to appear in 39 novels and 50 short stories. His sleuthing style was founded on method and order, the psychology of the criminal mind, clues and eventually eliminating a fair number of red herrings. He said, “Hercule Poirot solves crimes by use of the little grey cells.” Upon his death in the novel Curtain, Poirot became the only fictional character ever to be honored with an obituary on the front page of the New York Times.
Christie modeled her other prominent literary sleuth after her grandmother. The elderly spinster Miss Jane Marple was introduced in 1930 in Murder at the Vicarage. Although Miss Marple only appeared in twelve novels, she was portrayed so many times in film, her screen fame eclipsed her literary reputation. Jane Marple generally solved crimes by putting to use the wisdom that comes with old age, nosiness, cunning, and, more important, she was always willing to believe the worst of people. She used experiences of life in a small English village to unravel crimes. According to Miss Marple, “human nature is the same world over, whether in tiny St. Mary Mead or cosmopolitan London. Circumstances might be altered, externals may change, but people’s reactions will tend to be the same, given the same set of human passions.”
40 years before Christie’s death, she wrote two novels intended as the last cases of her important detectives. Poirot’s last appearance was Curtain and Miss Marple’s last case was the Sleeping Murder. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for four decades and released when Christie was at the end of her life. She died in 1976 at the age of 85. She was a publishing phenomenon and a master story teller.