Authors: Agatha Christie

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

British novelist, short story writer, and dramatist best known for writing mysteries

September 15, 1890

Torquay, Devon, England

January 12, 1976

Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England

Biography

The acknowledged “queen of crime,” Agatha Christie is probably still the world’s best-known and most popular mystery writer. Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, Christie was the child of an English mother, Clarissa Boehmer Miller, and an American father, Frederick Alvah Miller. After her father’s death, Christie was educated at home by her mother, who encouraged her talents as a storyteller. She later studied piano and voice in Paris. Hers was a typically upper-middle-class British upbringing; the environment in which she was raised would form the basis for nearly all of her later novels.

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In 1914, she married Colonel Archibald Christie, with whom she had a daughter, Rosalind. During her husband’s service in World War I, Christie worked in a Red Cross hospital in Torquay, where she began writing her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Completed toward the end of the war, the book was rejected by several publishers before it finally appeared in print in 1920. The Mysterious Affair at Styles introduces Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, a small, eccentric man with a waxed moustache and an unshakable belief in the deductive powers of his “little grey cells.” During the course of Christie’s long and prolific career, Poirot would appear in dozens of her novels, including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express. To this day, he is surpassed in fame as a fictional sleuth only by Sherlock Holmes.

Agatha Christie

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(Library of Congress)

It was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published in 1926, that firmly established Christie’s reputation as a mystery writer. Its surprising and controversial conclusion won for her an international following and demonstrated what would become the hallmark of her style: a talent for devising fiendishly clever plots that lead her readers away from the true solution while still presenting them with all the relevant clues to the killer’s identity. The year 1926 also marked what would remain the most mysterious episode in Christie’s life: her still-unexplained ten-day disappearance. After vanishing from her home one day in December, she became the object of a widely publicized search and was eventually found at a hotel in Harrowgate, registered under the name of her husband’s lover. Doctors ruled that Christie had been suffering from temporary amnesia, and she refused until her death to discuss the episode, omitting it entirely from her autobiography fifty years later. In 1928, she and Archibald Christie were divorced, although she retained his name professionally throughout her life.

Two years later, Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan and wrote her tenth book, The Murder at the Vicarage, which introduced Miss Jane Marple to her reading public. An elderly, white-haired spinster, Miss Marple relies on intuition and an uncanny understanding of human nature to solve her cases, hiding a shrewd intelligence behind woolly scarves and her ever-present knitting needles. Christie’s sleuths have also included Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard; the retired government statistician Mr. Parker Pyne; and Tuppence and Tommy Beresford, a wealthy crime-solving couple, but only Miss Marple has shown herself to be a worthy rival to Poirot in the public’s affections. Among the best of the Miss Marple mysteries are The Body in the Library, A Murder Is Announced, 4:50 from Paddington (better known as What Mrs. McGillacuddy Saw!), and The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.

In 1930 Christie also wrote the first of six romantic novels under the name Mary Westmacott, but the books never approached the popularity of her mysteries. It was during this period that she began accompanying her husband regularly on his archaeological digs throughout the Middle East. The region, as well as Christie’s growing knowledge of archaeology, inspired several of her mysteries, including Murder in Mesopotamia and Death on the Nile. As Agatha Christie Mallowan, she also wrote a travel book describing her experiences titled Come Tell Me How You Live. In 1939, Christie published one of her best-known books, Ten Little Niggers (later retitled And Then There Were None; known in the United States as Ten Little Indians), in which ten people stranded on an island estate are murdered one by one. The book became a popular stage play in 1943, adapted by Christie herself. During World War II, Christie worked in the dispensary of a London hospital but continued to write steadily. Indeed, throughout her career, she would produce an average of one book a year, in addition to numerous plays and some thirty collections of short stories. Each book took approximately six weeks to complete, and she maintained in interviews that her best ideas came to her in the bathtub.

In 1952, Christie wrote The Mousetrap, a play that would go on to become London’s longest-running production. She followed it with Witness for the Prosecution, for which she received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1955, and Spider’s Web. Some of Christie’s critics complained that her later books were sluggish and less imaginative than her earlier efforts. In 1975, the year before her death, the last of the Hercule Poirot mysteries was published. The novel, Curtain, had been written many years earlier and set aside until Christie was certain that her writing career was nearing its close. The book contains not only Poirot’s final case but his death as well, a fact which led The New York Times to run a front-page obituary notice, the first time in the newspaper’s history that a fictional character had been so honored. The final Miss Marple mystery, also written earlier in her creator’s career, appeared in 1976, shortly after Christie’s death at the age of eighty-five.

During Christie's lifetime, a number of film adaptations were made of her novels, among them Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, Murder on the Orient Express in 1974, and Death on the Nile in 1978. Several of Christie's plays—Black Coffee, The Unexpected Guest, and Spider's Web—were novelized by Charles Osborne after her death.

In the 2010s, Christie's literary estate granted permission to Sophie Hannah to pen a couple of novels about her beloved protagonist Hercule Poirot, The Monogram Murders (2014) and Closed Casket (2016).

Agatha Christie’s work enjoys a worldwide following, and her books have been published in more than one hundred languages. Her mastery of the techniques of the mystery plot has had an extensive influence on those writers who have followed her into the genre, and the simplicity of her books—there is very little description, and her characters are often two-dimensional—is the result of a writing style in which everything is centered on a strong, intricately constructed story line. Christie has been criticized for focusing her stories on a narrow segment of society and for her ordinary use of language, but her brilliant plotting and her ability to disguise clues even as she reveals them have been praised. In a way that is true of perhaps no other writer, her name remains synonymous with the murder mystery.

Author Works Long Fiction: The Mysterious Affair at Styles: A Detective Story, 1920 The Secret Adversary, 1922 The Murder on the Links, 1923 The Man in the Brown Suit, 1924 The Secret of Chimneys, 1925 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926 The Big Four, 1927 The Mystery of the Blue Train, 1928 The Seven Dials Mystery, 1929 The Murder at the Vicarage, 1930 Giant’s Bread, 1930 (as Mary Westmacott) The Sittaford Mystery, 1931 (pb. in U.S. as The Murder at Hazelmoor) The Floating Admiral, 1931 (with others) Peril at End House, 1932 Lord Edgware Dies, 1933 (pb. in U.S. as Thirteen at Dinner) Murder on the Orient Express, 1934 (pb. in U.S. as Murder on the Calais Coach) Three-Act Tragedy, 1934 (p.b. in U.S. as Murder in Three Acts) Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, 1934 (pb. in U.S. as The Boomerang Clue, 1935) Unfinished Portrait, 1934 (as Mary Westmacott) Death in the Clouds, 1935 (pb. in U.S. as Death in the Air) The A. B. C. Murders: A New Poirot Mystery, 1936 (pb. in U.S. as The Alphabet Murders) Cards on the Table, 1936 Murder in Mesopotamia, 1936 Death on the Nile, 1937 Dumb Witness, 1937 (pb. in U.S. as Poirot Loses a Client, Mystery at Littlegreen House, Murder at Littlegreen House) Appointment with Death: A Poirot Mystery, 1938 Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, 1938 (pb. in U.S. as Murder for Christmas: A Poirot Story, A Holiday for Murder) Murder Is Easy, 1939 (pb. in U.S. as Easy to Kill) Ten Little Niggers, 1939 (retitled And Then There Were None; pb. in U.S. as Ten Little Indians, 1940) One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, 1940 (pb. in U.S. as The Patriotic Murders, 1941) Sad Cypress, 1940 Evil under the Sun, 1941 N or M? The New Mystery, 1941 The Body in the Library, 1942 Five Little Pigs, 1942 (pb. in U.S. as Murder in Retrospect) The Moving Finger, 1942 (pb. in U.S. as The Case of the Moving Finger) Death Comes in the End, 1944 Towards Zero, 1944 (pb. in U.S. as Come and Be Hanged) Absent in the Spring, 1944 (as Mary Westmacott) Sparkling Cyanide, 1945 (pb. in U.S. as Remembered Death) The Hollow: A Hercule Poirot Mystery, 1946 (pb. in U.S. as Murder after Hours) Taken at the Flood, 1948 (pb. in U.S. as There Is a Tide . . .) The Rose and the Yew Tree, 1948 (as Mary Westmacott) Crooked House, 1949 A Murder Is Announced, 1950 Mrs. McGinty's Dead, 1951 (pb. in U.S. as Blood Will Tell) They Came to Baghdad, 1951 They Do It with Mirrors, 1952 (pb. in U.S. as Murder with Mirrors) A Daughter’s a Daughter, 1952 (as Mary Westmacott) After the Funeral, 1953 (pb. in U.S. as Funerals Are Fatal) A Pocket Full of Rye, 1953 Destination Unknown, 1954 (pb. in U.S. as So Many Steps to Death, 1955) Hickory, Dickory, Dock, 1955 (pb. in U.S. as Hickory, Dickory, Death) Dead Man’s Folly, 1956 The Burden, 1956 (as Mary Westmacott) 4:50 from Paddington, 1957 (pb. in U.S. as What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, Murder She Said) Ordeal by Innocence, 1958 Cat among the Pigeons, 1959 The Pale Horse, 1961 The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, 1962 (pb. in U.S. as The Mirror Crack’d, 1963) The Clocks, 1963 A Caribbean Mystery, 1964 At Bertram’s Hotel, 1965 Third Girl, 1966 Endless Night, 1967 By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 1968 Hallowe’en Party, 1969 Passenger to Frankfurt, 1970 Nemesis, 1971 Elephants Can Remember, 1972 Postern of Fate, 1973 Curtain: Hercule Poirot’s Last Case, 1975 Sleeping Murder, 1976 (posthumous) Short Fiction: Poirot Investigates, 1924 Partners in Crime, 1929 The Mysterious Mr. Quin, 1930 The Thirteen Problems, 1932 (pb. in U.S. as The Tuesday Club Murders, 1933) The Hound of Death, and Other Stories, 1933 The Listerdale Mystery, and Other Stories, 1934 Parker Pyne Investigates, 1934 (pb. in U.S. as Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective) Murder in the Mews, and Other Stories, 1937 (pb. in U.S. as Dead Man’s Mirror, and Other Stories) The Regatta Mystery, and Other Stories, 1939 The Labours of Hercules: Short Stories, 1947 (pb. in U.S. as Labors of Hercules: New Adventures in Crime by Hercule Poirot) The Witness for the Prosecution, and Other Stories, 1948 Three Blind Mice, and Other Stories, 1950 The Under Dog, and Other Stories, 1951 The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, and Selection of Entrées, 1960 Double Sin, and Other Stories, 1961 13 for Luck: A Selection of Mystery Stories for Young Readers, 1961 Star over Bethlehem: Poems and Holiday Stories, 1965 (as A. C. Mallowan) Surprise! Surprise! A Collection of Mystery Stories with Unexpected Endings, 1965 13 Clues for Miss Marple: A Collection of Mystery Stories, 1965 The Golden Ball, and Other Stories, 1971 Hercule Poirot’s Early Cases, 1974 Miss Marple’s Final Cases, 1979 Problem at Pollensa Bay, and Other Stories, 1991 While the Light Lasts, 1997 The Harlequin Tea Set, and Other Stories, 1997 Drama: Black Coffee, pr. 1930 Love from a Stranger, pb. 1936 And Then There Were None, pr. 1943 (pb. in U.S. as Ten Little Indians, pr. 1944) Appointment with Death, pr., pb. 1945 Murder on the Nile, pr., pb. 1946 The Hollow, pr. 1951, pb. 1952 The Mousetrap, pr., pb. 1952 Witness for the Prosecution, pr. 1953 Spider’s Web, pr. 1954 Towards Zero, pr. 1956 (with Gerald Verner) The Unexpected Guest, pr., pb. 1958 Verdict, pr., pb. 1958 Go Back for Murder, pr., pb. 1960 Rule of Three, pb. 1963 Fiddlers Three, pb. 1971 Akhnaton, pb. 1973 (also known as Akhnaton and Nefertiti) Poetry: The Road of Dreams, 1925 Poems, 1973 Nonfiction: Come Tell Me How You Live, 1946 (as Agatha Christie Mallowan) An Autobiography, 1977 Bibliography "About Agatha Christie." Agatha Christie, www.agathachristie.com/about-christie. Accessed 16 Mar. 2017. A time line and biography of Agatha Christie on the official website of her literary estate. Bargainner, Earl F. The Gentle Art of Murder. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1980. With an extensive bibliography and two indexes of characters and short-story titles, this book is a boon to those searching for an elusive reference. Bargainner analyzes Christie’s works as separate achievements and praises her ability to experiment with detective fiction “by employing elements not generally considered compatible with it.” Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1980. Intended to inform and entertain the casual Christie reader, this book follows Christie’s writings as they developed in theme and plot throughout her lifetime. Contains exhaustive indices and annotated lists—including films—compiled by Barnard’s wife. Bayard, Pierre. Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? The Mystery Behind the Agatha Christie Mystery. London: Fourth Estate, 2000. Detailed study of Christie’s unfinished final project. Bloom, Harold, ed. Agatha Christie. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002. Compilation of essays on Christie’s work and its place in the detective genre and in English literature by leading literary and cultural scholars. Bibliographic references and index. Bunson, Matthew. The Complete Christie: An Agatha Christie Encyclopedia. New York: Pocket Books, 2001. Comprehensive reference volume contains alphabetical entries on all characters in Christie’s works, cross-referenced to the works in which they appear; plot synopses; listings of all film, television, and radio adaptations of Christie’s works and of documentaries about Christie; a biography; and a bibliography. Cade, Jared. Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days. London: Peter Owen, 1998. Questions Christie’s disappearance. Includes bibliographical references, a list of works, and an index. Christie, Agatha. An Autobiography. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977. Although published the year after her death, this book, which was written over a fifteen-year period, concludes in 1965, when the author was seventy-five years old. Although she does not explain her mysterious disappearance in the 1920’s, probably because of her desire for privacy, she provides interesting details about happier events and invaluable commentary on the creation of her works. Christie, Agatha. Come Tell Me How You Live. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1946. Published under the name of Agatha Christie Mallowan, a lighthearted book of reminiscences about archaeological experiences with Max Mallowan, her husband, in the Middle East. Reflects the happiness of Christie’s second marriage, as well as her own sense of humor. Fido, Martin. The World of Agatha Christie: The Facts and Fiction Behind the World’s Greatest Crime Writer. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media, 1999. A critical account of Christie and her fiction. Gerald, Michael C. The Poisonous Pen of Agatha Christie. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993. An in-depth analysis of how Christie incorporates pharmacopeia and medical knowledge into her fiction. Lists the medications, poisons, and other chemicals that appear in Christie's novels and stories as well as their uses in each. Gill, Gillian. Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries. New York: Free Press, 1990. Short and highly readable biography employing as chapter titles seven different names used at one time or another by the mystery writer (including the assumed name she used during her infamous disappearance in 1926). Emphasizes Christie’s dedication to her art and the discipline of her life. Haining, Peter. Agatha Christie’s Poirot: A Celebration of the Great Detective. London: Boxtree, 1995. Describes the creation of the Hercule Poirot character as well as a television series produced on Poirot. Contains interviews, behind-the-scenes production details, plot synopses, and cast and crew lists. Hart, Anne. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot: The Life and Times of Hercule Poirot. London: HarperCollins, 1997. A companion text to the Hercule Poirot series. Hart, Anne. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple: The Life and Times of Miss Jane Marple. London: HarperCollins, 1985. A companion text to the Miss Marple series. Ibarguengoitia, Jorge. “Agatha Christie: An Unlikely Obituary,” translated by F. Soicher. The Literary Review 38 (Fall, 1994): 45-46. Claims he finds Christie’s detective fiction unreadable because he either uncovers the murderer early on or else is unable to understand the detective’s explanation. Irons, Glenwood, and Joan Warthling Roberts. “From Spinster to Hipster: The ’Suitability’ of Miss Marple and Anna Lee.” In Feminism in Women’s Detective Fiction, edited by Glenwood Irons. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Discusses Christie’s creation of Miss Marple as the archetypal British sinister detective figure in stories and novels. Analyzes Marple’s basic methodology in The Tuesday Club Murders. Keating, H. R. F., ed. Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977. A collection of essays by several writers on topics varying from sales figures and Christie’s audience in the United States to her plays and films. Also includes interesting “portraits” of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Maida, Patricia, and Nicholas B. Spornick. Murder She Wrote. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1982. Divided neatly into sections by detective, this book allows its reader to go right to a necessary section without paging through much unneeded information. The authors confirm that Christie’s characters and their “creative puzzles” gave the world a lasting gift. Makinen, Merja. Agatha Christie: Investigating Femininity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Sets out to disprove what many critics have asserted: that Agatha Christie created her female characters to be weak and inferior to their male counterparts. Emphasizes the ways in which the female characters play vital roles outside the domestic sphere and therefore challenge traditional notions of femininity. Mallowan, Max. Mallowan’s Memoirs. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1977. Finished just before his wife’s death, this autobiography of Mallowan is helpful both for the details concerning Christie and for the revelation of Mallowan’s own personality. Because both he and his profession were of central importance to Christie, an important source. Makinen, Merja. Agatha Christie: Investigating Femininity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Makinen sets out to disprove what many critics before her have asserted: that Agatha Christie created her female characters to be weak and inferior to their male counterparts. She does this by emphasizing the ways in which the female characters play vital roles outside of the domestic sphere and therefore challenge traditional notions of femininity. Ultimately, Makinen succeeds in proving that Christie’s female characters are as successful and strong as her male characters. Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie: A Biography. 1984. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. A lengthy official biography that draws on previously unreleased family papers. Osborne, Charles. The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie: A Biographical Companion to the Works of Agatha Christie. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. Presents a chronological listing of Christie’s works accompanied by biographical notes that place the writings within the context of the events of the author’s life. Includes bibliographical references and index. Paul, Robert S. Whatever Happened to Sherlock Holmes? Detective Fiction, Popular Theology, and Society. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991. A study of detective fiction based on the general premise that detective stories mirror the morals and theological assumptions of their time. The chapter on Agatha Christie explores how her stories reflect what happens in a society when compassion is lacking. Riley, Dick, and Pam McAllister, eds. The Bedside, Bathtub, and Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979. Containing more than two hundred illustrations, this handbook also provides plot summaries of all Christie’s novels, plays, and many of her short stories arranged chronologically by first date of publication. Robyns, Gwen. The Mystery of Agatha Christie. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978. Provides a well-written and well-rounded popular biography of Christie. Richly illustrated and contains an appendix with a chronological listing of all Christie’s writings. Sanders, Dennis and Len Lovallo. The Agatha Christie Companion: The Complete Guide to Agatha Christie’s Life and Work. Rev. ed. New York: Delacorte Press, 1989. An exploration of Christie's entire oeuvre, including her works of nonfiction and poetry as well as her fiction. Also provides biographical details. Shaw, Marion, and Sabine Vanacker. Reflecting on Miss Marple. New York: Routledge, 1991. Presents a brief chronology of Christie’s life and then devotes four chapters to one of her most memorable detectives, making a case for viewing Miss Marple as a feminist heroine. Reviews the history of women writers and the golden age of detective fiction as well as the social context of Christie’s Miss Marple books. Shenker, Israel. “The Past Master of Mysteries, She Built a Better Mousetrap.” Smithsonian 21, no. 6 (1990): 86-95. Provides a concise portrait of Christie. A carefully written biographical article completed in honor of the one hundredth anniversary of her birthday. Sova, Dawn B. Agatha Christie A to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life and Writings. New York: Facts on File, 1996. Provides information on all aspects of Christie’s life and career. Symons, Julian. Mortal Consequences: A History from the Detective Story to the Crime Novel. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1972. An illuminating study which places the Christie books in a larger perspective, pointing out the later deviations from the conventions of the classic mystery. Thompson, Laura. Agatha Christie: An English Mystery. London: Headline Review, 2007. Comprehensive biography, written with the cooperation of Christie’s family and with full access to the author’s unpublished letters and notebooks. Includes information about Christie’s disappearance in 1926 and about the novels she wrote under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Toye, Randall. The Agatha Christie Who’s Who. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980. Traces the many appearances of characters such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Identifies minor characters. Particularly useful for the Christie enthusiast. Wagoner, Mary S. Agatha Christie. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Scholarly but readable study of Christie and her writings. A brief biography of Christie in the first chapter is followed by analytical chapters focusing on the different genres of her works, such as short stories. Contains a good bibliography, an index, and a chronological table of Christie’s life. York, R. A. Agatha Christie: Power and Illusion. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Reevaluates Christie’s novels, which traditionally have been described as “cozy” mysteries. Asserts that although these works may appear to depict a stable world of political conservatism, conventional sex and class roles, and clear moral choices, this world is not as safe as it appears to be. Notes how Christie’s mysteries also depict war, social mobility, ambiguous morality, violence, and, of course, murder.

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