Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)

Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, DBE (September 15, 1890- January 12, 1976), was a British crime fiction writer.

She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott.

Agatha Christie is the world's best-known mystery writer and, apart from William Shakespeare, is the all-time best-selling author of any genre. Her books have sold over two billion copies in the English language and another billion in over 45 foreign languages (as of 2003). As an example of her broad appeal, she is the all-time best-selling author in France, with over 40 million copies sold in French (as of 2003) versus 22 million for Emile Zola, the nearest contender. She is famously known as the 'Queen of Crime' and is, arguably, the most important and innovative writer in the development of the English mystery novel.

Her stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest run ever in London, opening at the Ambassadors Theatre on November 25, 1952, and as of 2006 is still running after more than 20,000 performances.

Christie published over eighty novels and stageplays, mainly whodunnits and locked room mysteries, many of these featuring one of her main series characters, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Although she delighted in twisting the established detective fiction form - one of her early books, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, is renowned for its surprise denouement - she was scrupulous in "playing fair" with the reader by making sure information for solving the puzzle was given.

Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, some many times over (4.50 from Paddington). The BBC has produced television and radio versions of most of the Poirot and Marple stories. A later series of Poirot dramatizations starring David Suchet was made by Granada Television. In 2004, the Japanese broadcasting company Nippon Housou Kyoukai turned Poirot and Marple into animated characters in the anime series Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple, introducing Mabel West (daughter of Miss Marple's mystery-writer nephew Raymond West, a canonical Christie character) and her duck Oliver as new characters.

Christened Agatha May Clarissa Miller, in Torquay, Devon, England, she was the daughter of a United States-born father and a British mother. (However, she never held U.S. citizenship.)

Christie's first marriage, an unhappy one, was in 1914 to Colonel Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind Hicks, and divorced in 1928.

During World War I she worked at a hospital and then a pharmacy, a job that also influenced her work: many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison.

In December 1926 she disappeared for eleven days, causing quite a storm in the press. Her car was found abandoned in a chalk pit. She was eventually found staying at a hotel in Harrogate, where she claimed to have suffered amnesia due to a nervous breakdown following the death of her mother and her husband's confessed infidelity. Opinions are still divided as to whether this was a publicity stunt or not. A 1979 film, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Christie, recounted a fictionalised version of the disappearance.

In 1930, Christie married (despite her divorce) a Roman Catholic, Sir Max Mallowan, a British archaeologist 14 years her junior, and her travels with him contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. Other novels (such as And Then There Were None) were set in and around Torquay, Devon, where she was born.

In 1971 she was granted the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Agatha Christie died on January 12, 1976, at age 85 from natural causes, at Winterbrook House, Cholsey near Wallingford, Oxfordshire. She is buried at St. Mary's Churchyard in Cholsey, Oxon.

Christie's only child, Rosalind Hicks, died on October 28, 2004, also aged 85, from natural causes. Christie's grandson, Matthew Prichard, now owns the royalties to his grandmother's works.

Two of her novels were written at the height of her career but held back until after her death: they were the last cases of Poirot and Miss Marple. In the final Poirot novel Sleeping Murder and return to the solitude of her village. However, since Sleeping Murder had been written quite a while previously, at least one character (Colonel Arthur Bantry, husband of Jane Marple's friend, Dolly) who had been declared deceased in earlier-released mysteries reappeared alive and well.

Books by Agatha Christie