Agatha Christie – a name synonymous with mystery, thrillers, and detectives. In fact, only the works of Shakespeare and the Bible have outsold her! So it’s clear that she has captured the imaginations of millions over the last 100 years. But who was she? What was her private life like? And what events transpired in her life to inspire some of the greatest works of literature the world has ever seen?
Agatha Christie was born in Devon, England in 1890. Her parents were a New York stockbroker named Frederick Alvah Mille and Clara Boehmer - the daughter of a British army officer. The third of three children, her mother was very protective of her, even going so far as to avoid sending her to school. It has been posited that Christie suffered with a learning disorder, and her mother’s efforts to keep her away from standard education may have been undertaken to avoid placing Agatha under unnecessary stress. Instead, Clara home-schooled Christie, during which she learned to read and write by the age of 4.
Christie’s sisters were much older than her, and when they were sent away to school, she spent much of her time alone. It was during these formative years that she dove into books, reading anything that she could find and feeding her imagination with tales from around the world. Jules Verne, Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, the Bronte sisters, and Rudyard Kipling were some of the authors who were known to have opened a young Agatha’s eyes to the possibilities to be found inside the covers of a great book.
Christie considered her childhood to be a very happy one, and she was grateful to her family for this.
She began to express herself through writing short stories. Her first story was titled “The House of Beauty”, which she wrote following a bout of flu. The story contained strong elements of the supernatural, which some believe may have been inspired by delirium she suffered while ill.
Family friend and writer, Eden Phillpotts, was impressed with her work and made many recommendations which helped her to hone her own unique style. During this time Christie submitted numerous short stories to magazines, in the hope of having them published. However, she had little success initially. But her luck was about to change.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
With no-one willing to publish her short stories, legend has it that her sister Madge dared her to try her hand at writing a full-length detective novel. Madge would have been well aware that Christie was a tremendous fan of detective novels, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and the work of Wilkie Collins.
Chrsitie had spent time as a volunteer nurse during World War I, and in that role, she had met many recovering gentlemen from Belgium. These men inspired her to create a character who would go on to become legendary, and feature in 33 of Christie’s novels as well as 54 short stories. Hercule Poirot was a former Belgian police officer turned detective. Known for sporting a trademark moustache, having a head resembling an egg, and solving mysteries in beloved stories such as “Death on the Nile”, “Murder on the Orient Express “The A.B.C. Murders”, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” (which the Crime Writers’ Association voted as the best whodunit ever written, in 2013).
Poirot eventually went on to become such a worldwide sensation that the New York Times wrote an obituary for his character, shortly before the release of “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” – the first and only time the paper printed an obituary for a fictional person.
But back to the breakthrough - before the character could gain popularity, Christie needed to find someone to publish her book. She sent her documents to three publishers and waited. Eventually the responses came back. Hodder & Stoughton and Methuen had both rejected the book. Several months later, some good news arrived. The Bodley Head were interested, but they wanted some minor adjustments. Christie agreed, and was signed up, not just for one book, but for what became a five book deal. Good call by the publishers!
And although Christie later reflected on the book deal as being exploitative, it launched her and Poirot into the public’s conscience. Poirot’s legend has only grown throughout the years, with many awards, including the Poirot books being awarded the title of “Mystery Series of the Century” at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in May 2000.
At the same convention, Agatha Christie was deemed to be the “Mystery Writer of the Century”, not surprising for the author who gave us, not one, but two of the most celebrated characters in the mystery genre….
In 1927, Christie released a short “The Tuesday Night Club”, which marked the debut of her other famous character, Miss Jane Marple. This began a series of short stories featuring Miss Marple, which were later collected and titled as “The Thirteen Problems”.
Much as Poirot’s character was drawn from people in real life, there was speculation that Miss Marple was a representation of someone she knew. A kind but astute and elderly spinster, many believed that she was an embodiment of Christie’s grandmother. However, Christie would later reveal that the character had far more in common with her step-grandmother, a woman by the name of Margaret Miller. Christie would describe Miller as someone who always “expected the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right”.
Christie’s ability to draw on real life, to present such believable characters in works of fiction, may be the reason why her books have connected with so many people throughout the years.
Fittingly, for a woman who wrote so many timeless mystery stories, her personal life also contained events which have left us with more questions than answers.
Agatha Christie’s Disappearance
Agatha Christie’s disappearance made headline news, inspired wild conspiracies, and was the catalyst for searches which spanned the world, due to the belief that she may have been murdered. What were the events that led to this mysterious disappearance, and can they help shed some light on what could have happened?
1926 had been a difficult year for Christie. Her mother had passed away, and her husband, Archie Christie had admitted to having an affair with Nancy Neele. When she got that news, Christie took off in her car, and it took 11 days before her whereabouts became known.
Not far from her home, her car was found crashed into a ditch, with Christie nowhere in sight. Some believed that her husband may have murdered her, and Scotland Yard were called in to supplement the already over 100 local police involved in the investigation.
Stunningly, the reality of the situation was far more bizarre than a simple murder. Christie had fled the crashed car, and though nobody knows how, she made her way to a friend’s house before embarking to Harrogate by train. Upon arrival, she checked into a hotel, and with a detail which could have been pulled from one of her novels, used the name Neele – the same name as the woman her husband had cheated with.
She is said to have gone into a fugue state, a type of mental condition which involves unusual behaviour and a loss of memory. The terrible stress she had been under may have caused this break with reality. There she remained until she was recognised by other guests, and the whole episode came to a close.
Christie never spoke about the event, beyond claiming that she had no memory of it, so we are left to speculate as to exactly what occurred during this unusual turn in her life.
How Many Agatha Christie Books Are There?
Given how prolific Christie had been throughout her career as the world’s foremost mystery author, earning herself the monikers the "Mistress of Mystery", the "Queen of Crime", and the “Duchess of Death” in the process, it’s not surprising that many wonder just how many books Agatha Christie has written. The answer is astonishing.
Christie has written 75 novels, 165 short stories, 3 poems, and 16 plays. Many of which can be found here.
Another fact worthy of note is that, despite creating two of the world’s most famous murder mystery characters in Hercule Poirot and Ms Marple, her bestselling book features neither.
“And Then There Were None” has sold over 100 million copies. It takes place on an island, where eight people with hidden criminal histories have been invited. At 80 years old, this novel, Agatha Christie’s masterpiece, is still as riveting as the day it was released.
Now that you know a little more about Agatha Christie’s background, you might be tempted to dive into our collection of her works, which you can find here. For those who have greatly enjoyed her murder mysteries, but are looking to read something new, you can find all sorts of titillating tales in our Crime Fiction Collection.
In the meantime – here’s the Top 9 Christie books that our own staff recommend