Unraveling Agatha Christie: The Greatest Mystery Writer of All Time
Sun, April 18, 2021

Unraveling Agatha Christie: The Greatest Mystery Writer of All Time

One of the most renowned authors in the genre was Agatha Christie, a nurse-turned-fiction-writer after World War I. Her pivot into writing may just be one of the greatest things to happen in literature / Photo by: Crakkerjakk via Wikimedia Commons

 

Detective stories are among the most interesting pieces of literature out there. They are so well-thought out that one might think their authors are geniuses, and they probably are. From Arthur Conan Doyle to John Grisham, there is an abundance of superb authors that churn out of these stories that are truly a joy to read.

One of the most renowned authors in the genre was Agatha Christie, a nurse-turned-fiction-writer after World War I. Her pivot into writing may just be one of the greatest things to happen in literature. Decades after her death, Christie remains the best-selling novelist and most translated individual author of all time—making her one of the most prominent figures in literature.


Introducing Christie

Christie was born as Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie Mallowan, but she is also known as Lady Mallowan and Mary Westmacott. Before being a legendary novelist, she worked as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment at the Red Cross hospital during World War I.

Her role as a nurse, and later as a dispenser, helped her interact with Belgian refugees. These experiences stayed with her well after the war, with some of them serving as inspiration for her early writings including the famous Poirot novels, says ThoughtCo, an educational website that answers questions pertaining to science, history, religion, and current issues.

Christie’s first novel, "Snow Upon the Desert," was written before the war. It was rejected by all the publishers she sent it to, even the one whom Eden Philpotts—a writer and family friend—put Christie in touch with. Even though the agent rejected Christie's first work, he encouraged her to write a new one.

At the time, the budding writer had written a handful of short stories with the titles "The House of Beauty,” “The Call of Wings,” and “The Little Lonely God”—all of which were written under various pseudonyms. These stories were also rejected upon her submission but were published later in her career.

Christie was a fan of detective novels for some time, including the famous "Sherlock Holmes" stories, and started writing in the genre in 1916. "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" was her first mystery novel and where one of her most iconic characters first appeared: Hercule Poirot, a former Belgian officer who went to England when Germany invaded Belgium.

She wrote more mystery novels over the following years, ThoughtCo says, including the continuation of the Poirot series. Poirot would be her most featured character, appearing in 33 novels and 54 short stories by the great mystery novelist.

Christie also published a different mystery novel, "The Secret Adversary," which featured the Tommy and Tuppence duo in 1922. She would later introduce Miss Jane Marple, whom she based on her great-aunt Margaret Miller and she too became another iconic character.

Marple wasn't an immediate hit like Poirot, but she was still among Christie's most written characters to be featured in 12 novels and 20 short stories. It was said the author preferred writing about Marple but wrote more Poirot stories in order to meet public demand.

Christie was a fan of detective novels for some time, including the famous "Sherlock Holmes" stories, and started writing in the genre in 1916 / Photo by: Universal Pictures via Wikimedia Commons


Shedunit

After divorcing her first husband, Archibald “Archie” Christie, the author traveled to the Middle East where she met her second husband, Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan. Christie accompanied her husband during his expeditions and the locations they often visited would later become inspirations for her stories.

The 1930s rolled around and it's at this time that the novelist released some of her best-known works including the "Murder on the Orient Express" and "And Then There Were None." The latter has remained the number one best-selling mystery novel in the world today.

Christie would continue her work even during World War II, only stopping as her health declined and made it difficult to write anymore. "Hallowe’en Party" was, technically, the last Poirot novel aside from "Curtains," which was written during the war and was only published in 1975.

Christie’s lifelong work is valuable to literature and even conceived the classic “whodunit” mystery genre that persists until today. But unlike Arthur Conan Doyle, Christie remained underrated as a writer, according to Hollywood director Rian Johnson.

After divorcing her first husband, Archibald “Archie” Christie, the author traveled to the Middle East where she met her second husband, Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan / Photo by: English Heritage via Wikimedia Commons

 

"There’s that line they always pull out that next to the Bible, Agatha Christie is the bestselling author of all time. So it’s weird to say she’s underrated as a writer, but I really think she is," he told The Guardian, a British daily newspaper. Johnson added that Christie may not be a "political or socially conscious writer," but she did engage with gender roles—evident in the way she wrote about her female characters. 

For Kenneth Branagh, director of the 2017 film adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express," Christie was an "intrepid, pioneering, passionate woman"—so far from the image that many painted on her of Miss Marple that's "sexless, removed, bookish, woolly, very English sort of individual."

Others would point out that while her plots are great, she can't write dialogues or that her characters are hopeless. But John Curran, the author of “Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks,” defended the writer, saying that Christie never claimed to be a good writer and that she "called herself an entertainer and you couldn’t argue with that.

"She was completely ruthless in her choice of the murderer. Just because someone is likable or pleasant or good-looking, you couldn’t depend that they’re not the murderer," Curran added, noting that Christie had broken all the rules of murder mysteries and made up her own.