The Reigning Queen of Crime
You’ve most likely witnessed first-hand the mass hysteria of groundbreaking author, J.K. Rowling. You’ve seen the infamous Romance novels by Danielle Steel & Barbara Cartland on your mother’s, aunts and grandmother’s bookshelves. But there is another female author that has made such a deep impact on the world, she has forever altered an entire genre. She has sold more books than any author between the 19th and 21st century. She is parallel only with the legend William Shakespear in sales, and comes second to none. She is the mystery murder guru and the infamous queen of crime. Her name is Agatha Christie.
Facts Only: Agatha Christie has sold over 2 billion novels, making her the highest selling author of all times. She produced sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short stories, many of which revolved around Poirot and Mrs. Marple. She’s written six novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. And finally, she is the author of the longest-running play, The Mousetrap which just came to an end due to COVID-19.
Upbringing & Early Inspiration: Agatha was from an upper class family in Torquay, but was always described as being cosmopolitan. After watching many interviews and documentaries, it’s easy to see that she had a very worldly and culturally rich perspective of the world that translated in her writing. In Clare Lewins’ The Mystery of Agatha Christie with David Suchet, David is able to view some of her writing examples from her childhood. Even at 10 years old her stories were polished and well written. She didn’t attend school but was educated at home by her mother and governesses. She always loved Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the Gaston Leroux detective novels. Against her mother’s wishes to wait until she was eight, she learned to read by age four. It’s very clear now that she was a writing and intellectual prodigy. So it comes as a big surprise that she was originally unsuccessful.
Glass Ceilings: Several of her works were rejected multiple times at the start of her career. She even tried writing under different pseudonyms but wasn’t finding much success. Her luck changed with the novel The Mysterious Affairs at Styles, a story she wrote in 1916 as a challenge to her sister Mag who told her she would not be a successful writer. The book was initially rejected by six major publishing companies. But in 1921, after keeping the submission for several months, John Lane at The Bodley Head offered to accept it if Christie changed how the murderer was revealed. This book put her in position for mainstream success and by 1926, she had broken-through with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd novel.
Poison & Poirot: It was so much fun learning the origins of some of her most popular characters as well as her affinity with poison. When Agatha’s husband (Archie Christie) was away at war, she volunteered at hospitals. In 1917 she qualified as a dispenser where she would acquire her knowledge of poisons. This would be the genesis of her use of various poisons as the method for murder in so many of her novels. It was also the work in these hospitals that inspired her most popular character, Hercule Poirot. Christie’s inspiration for the character came from Belgian refugees living in Torquay and the Belgian soldiers she helped to treat during the first world war. She originally described him as being short with a “magnificent moustache,” and having a head shaped exactly like an egg.
Tragedy: At the height of her success in 1926, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce. Around the same time, Agatha’s mother died. She disappeared for twelve days and it was massively publicized. The speculation caused quite the frenzy as publishers decided the news would add to the hype of her career as a murder mystery writer and encouraged media coverage. Although she returned safely, no one truly knows where she was during that time. The only clue she ever left the world is that she had no recollection of the time she was away.
Mesopotamia: Later in Agatha’s life she fell in love with archeologist, Max Mallowan. They got married and she frequently began participating in his archeological digs in areas like Egypt, Syria & Iraq. These experiences laid the foundation for novels like Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile & Murder on the Orient Express, which was inspired by the many trips she had taken by train to Baghdad for the digs.
Filmme Fatale: Agatha was such a special person and her talent was truly a gift to the world. Her genius and writing ability have carved a unique niche in novels and films for murder mysteries. Her understanding of human behavior is truly unmatched in her genre. She has set the bar for the entire world of writers and should forever be celebrated for her contribution to the use of our “little grey cells.”