Agatha Christie - The Queen of Crime: The Writer and her Works
I don’t think there exists a single person who has read English novels but hasn’t heard the name of Agatha Christie or doesn’t know about her domination on English Literature. Undoubtedly, Agatha Christie has completely revolutionized and made the genre of mystery very popular among people and she is probably the only writer who has created two equally famous fictional detectives – Monsieur Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. And rightly so, she was awarded many sobriquets, the most infamous one of them being “Queen of Crime”. On this unfortunate day of January 12 in the year 1976, the world lost one of the iconic writers of all time. So, let us ponder upon the enormous legacy that she left behind.
Agatha Christie was an English writer. In her writing career, she wrote over 60 detective novels and 14 short story collections. Now, these are some overwhelming figures, isn’t it so? Even, the acclaimed Guinness World Records lists Christie as the best-selling fiction writer of all time. She also wrote the world's longest-running play, The Mousetrap, which was performed in the West End from 1952 to 2020. This shows that Christie wasn’t just a fantastic author but also a wonderful dramatist.
In 1971, she was made a Dame (DBE) for her contributions to literature. She was born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon. She served in the army during both World Wars, learning about poisons, and this knowledge is reflected in her detective stories where the victim is killed by poisoning. She spent several months each year on digs in the Middle East and used her first-hand knowledge of archaeologist Max Mallowan's work there to use in her fiction. In 2013, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted the best crime novel ever by 600 professional novelists of the Crime Writers' Association. Undoubtedly, she remains the most-translated individual author.
Just like her adventurous stories, her life was no less than a bunch of adventures and myriad of experiences, which is often attributed to being the cause of how her stories managed to be unique as well be connected with a thread that represented the iconic style of Agatha Christie. But how did she become an author? What were her initial ventures? Her passion for writing is attached to her curiosity and eagerness to learn and read from an early age. Her mother, Clara, believed that Agatha shouldn’t start reading until she was eight. But thanks to Agatha’s curiosity she taught herself to read at the age of four. Unlike her siblings she was home-schooled and she enjoyed reading, writing poetry, and learning music. But it was actually during the First World War that Agatha began her journey of writing detective stories. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot mystery was written in 1916 but was not published until four years later.
During the war, she extensively worked in the dispensary and hence, her knowledge of poisons and potions was so extensive. Therefore, true Christie fans have rightly observed that she employed poison more than any other murder weapon to kill off her characters. Well, that’s some authenticity, isn’t it so? Some say, the poison also appealed to her because it did not involve any violence or gory situations. So here, we get to know that Agatha Christie strictly disliked violence, which is slightly shocking because after all she is known for murder mysteries but then we observe that her writing style had a very calm and peaceful demeanor. The mysteries were thought-provoking, more like puzzles and there was no space for over-reaction, and sometimes a slight sprinkling of sarcasm and dry humor on the edges was seen as well.
The mystery novels that Agatha Christie wrote followed a common path of presenting the clues followed with a subsequent deduction by the protagonist. This style is commonly termed as “whodunit”. Whodunits were a defining sub-genre of the golden age of detective fiction, whose one of the famous flag bearers is probably our dearest Agatha Christie.
Whodunits are such a classical style of detective stories where crime is presented as a puzzle to be solved through the course of reading. To this day, whodunits are a constant favorite among readers because of its engaging nature since the reader is constantly trying to guess the culprit and outsmart the detectives. But more than often in Christie’s novels, the culprit turns out to be the person who was least suspected, leaving her readers gaping with their mouths open. No wonder, Christie has often been charged that her novels are unfair since many clues are brought forward in the final deduction or many details are kept in privy until the end, and hence readers could not figure out the culprit. But Christie and even her literary friends like Dorothy Sayers defended her and had remarked that whodunit readers need to consider all the suspects with equal scrutiny. Well, I guess I am too careless to notice the details in the “background”. I will just be laid back and let the story unfurl in front of me while you can rack your brains or use your intuition to outsmart Christie if you can. All the best to you!
Now coming on to the iconic detectives that she created i.e., Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. It is wonderful to note how these two detectives are opposite from each other. Hercule Poirot's most obvious characteristic is his dandyism and a constant need to exert his importance and more often than not he appears to be very confident and proud of his intelligence. For some, he even passes off as someone who is extremely arrogant and quite many times has made stereotypical and condescending remarks about women. No wonder Agatha Christie grew bored of writing him and eventually disgusted him by calling him an “ego-centric creep”, much like how Arthur Conan Doyle got tired of writing Sherlock Holmes. But then at the same time, Christie also created Jane Marple who is a determined, strong-willed unconventional detective who drafts out the possible worsts of everyone and remarks that she has a mind “like a sink”. Well, we can say that Christie was slowly discovering feminism and the true worth of females in an old spinster like Miss Marple.
But Christie’s stories weren’t completely flawless. I feel we need to note some things while reading her works to not be a biased fan of hers. For example, there is no reference or mention of social inequality in any of her novels and all of them mostly revolve around posh backgrounds and affluent characters who strictly detest the livelihood of mere commoners. Also, there have been instances of racism, anti-Semitism, and Xenophobia which make frequent appearances in many of the stories. I immensely adore her stories but at the same time as readers, we shouldn’t overlook such problematic elements. I agree that her environment has shaped such a mindset but now times have changed and we need to learn and rewire ourselves and not overlook the problematic elements in the literature of the past.
Now finally, after a hefty discussion, if you are interested in delving into her works then let us check out the top 10 Poirot and top 5 Miss Marple mysteries (sourced from https://www.agathachristie.com).
Also Read: JRR Tolkien: Biography and Recommended Works - CLICK HERE
Top 10 Hercule Poirot Mysteries:
1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Ah! The first Poirot case and undoubtedly at number one on this list. Hastings is home on leave. He is the owner of the country estate – “Styles” where he meets his old friend, a Belgian detective named Hercule Poirot who is now a refugee. So, when the wealthy benefactor is found dead, Poirot takes up the responsibility to uncover the truth and most probably the culprit is lurking in the household.
Get your copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles here.
2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
I like to call it the ultimate nexus of mini-mysteries which starts with a notorious widow dying, and the old rumors resurfacing about her killing her husband. Soon after Roger Ackroyd is stabbed to death, but is his murder connected to the two earlier deaths? A village doctor partners with Poirot, who retired to the country to grow vegetable marrows. But he is more skilled than doing some mere gardening. Read this to know how this book was the reason behind Christie’s literary stardom.
Get your copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd here.
3. Murder on the Orient Express
This is one of Agatha Christie's most popular works. The prime detective is approached by a man who wants the Belgian sleuth to protect him. Initially, Poirot declines but soon after this fellow is stabbed to death, and with the train stuck in the snow, Poirot has limited time to catch the killer who is still on board. The Orient Express has a diverse group of characters from all walks of life that makes the book so interesting to read.
Get your copy of Murder On The Orient Express here.
4. The ABC Murders
Here, A daring serial killer challenges Poirot. The great detective receives several taunting letters and suspects a lethal motive behind them. Several seemingly unconnected individuals are murdered in alphabetical order. Hence, the peculiar title can grasp its readers from the first page onwards.
Get your copy of The ABC Murders here.
5. Death on the Nile
Here, Poirot tries to prevent a crime before it happens as they all sail on an Egyptian river cruise. One night, everything goes awry with a drunken altercation, a jewel robbery, and a shocking murder. Poirot must find a killer amongst the eclectic group of passengers before more people are changed into corpses.
Discover more books by Agatha Christie here.
6. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
There's a lot of friction and not much love shared between the Lee family and their controlling patriarch, Simeon. When the extended clan gathers for Christmas, no one's having a jolly time. But then their host is found in a locked bedroom with his throat cut! Poirot steps in and we find how family secrets can be deadly.
Get your copy of Hercule Poirot's Christmas here.
7. Evil Under the Sun
Will Hercule Poirot finally be able to enjoy a getaway on the coast? Of course not! We know how mysteries follow him (or is it the other way around?) A love pentangle leads to strangulation in this Agatha Christie novel. Poirot must break the perfect alibi to solve this coastal crime. Drug-smuggling, witchcraft and a plethora of suspects are all part of the plot which makes it probably a fantastically diverse read.
Get your copy of Evil Under The Sun here.
8. Five Little Pigs
This is very different from the other Poirot novels that I have read. It’s a fact, that earlier, this novel was named “Murder in Retrospect” and this is literally what sets it apart. A young woman hires Poirot to prove that her mother didn't kill her father over a decade ago. There are five other suspects, and each of them has a very different take on the death of a famous artist. But it seems no one is disclosing the complete truth, and it seems to be the most challenging case since the actual incidents had happened a long time before.
Get your copy of Five Little Pigs here.
9. After the Funeral
With the sudden death of a rich man, his family gathers to pay their respects and of course grab the share of the inheritance. Everyone dismisses Aunt Cora’s silly questions and statements until she is found dead. Poirot is summoned to investigate a family plagued by secrets, lies, and madness. Here, everybody has something to hide.
Get your copy of After the Funeral here.
Returning to Styles, where the entire saga began, we see Hastings and Poirot, though Poirot’s health is deteriorating, his brain is still fully functional. This time he is determined to track down a murderer known as X who is responsible for the rising death toll in the boarding house. WARNING: It has quite a few references from the other Poirot novels as it is the last appearance of Hercule Poirot.
Get your copy of Curtain here.
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Top 5 Miss Marple Mysteries
1. The Body in the Library
The Bantrys' morning gets off to a shocking start when a corpse is discovered in their St. Mary Mead home. To save themselves from a scandal they think of only one person who can rescue them from this mess and solve this mystery and it is Miss Jane Marple. It's up to Miss Marple to unravel the secrets and lies and solve the case before another innocent life is lost.
Get your copy of y in The Bod in the Library here.
2. The Moving Finger
Lymstock seems to be a quiet and peaceful village until poison letters started getting distributed in the village and accusing its receivers of scandalous behavior. It was getting ignored and taken as a farce until one woman takes her own life after receiving one such letter. Are those accusations true or is it a wicked plan of committing murders? Well, only Miss Marple can find that out!
Get your copy of The Moving Finger here.
3. Sleeping Murder
When Gwenda Reed moves to the English countryside to start her new life, she experiences horror every time she climbs the staircase. Strongly believing that she is ill, she turns to Miss Marple to help her exorcise her ghosts while the latter believes that there are perfect clues to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of a crime that was committed years before.
Get your copy of Sleeping Murder here.
4. A Murder is Announced
Have you ever heard or read of a criminal publicly announcing that they will commit the crime? Of course not! But in Miss Marple’s stories, anything can happen and even this bizarre incident occurs in this book. The village of Chipping Cleghorn is surprised to see an advertisement inviting them to a murder. When the appointed time comes, the lights go out and real bullets fly. A masked man lies dead, but was he the intended victim? Leave the thinking up to Miss Marple, since she just arrived in town!
Get your copy of A Murder is Announced here.
5. A Pocket Full of Rye
Rex Fortescue is found dead in his office with rye grains in his pocket, a highly suspicious situation. A former maid of Miss Marple's becomes mixed up in this ugly affair. Miss Marple is comparatively more determined to catch the killer because this time it is personal.
Get your copy of A Pocket Full of Rye here.
Now tell me whether you have read any of the stories written by Agatha Christie. If yes then tell me which one is your favorite? Or if you are obsessed with Agatha Christie’s works then tell me are you, Team Poirot or Team Marple? I think I am slightly leaning towards Miss Marple majorly because of the unconventionality that she portrays. Tell me what do you think!
- Amisha Acharya
To read more article written by Amisha Acharya - CLICK HERE
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