Agatha Christie is one of the most popular, bestselling novelists of all time–with some 4 billion copies sold. Famous for her plays, stories and novels–her works have been widely translated and adapted. Her tales of imaginative mystery and suspense are ideal for innumerable formats: TV, video games and comics. And, the many mysteries have always been a fascination for me…
Beyond all the impressive numbers, there’s something about Agatha Christie that we’ve all come to know (and love)… Here are just a few reasons why she’s so great:
- “The Queen of Mystery”: Agatha Christie is the greatest mystery writer to date, inspiring record-breaking sales and international acclaim. She’s the stuff legends are made of…
- Prolific writer: Agatha Christie was a constant writer, with a demanding schedule of two novels/year. By the time of her death, she’d penned an amazing 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections.
- The Spy Dealer? Agatha Christie also inspired her own, real-life controversy with her works (and her connections). According to The Guardian, she was investigated by MI-5 (the British intelligence service).
- Award-winning Wordsmith: 1955 – Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award; 1961 – honorary degree from Exeter University; 1967 – president of The British Detection Club; 1971 – the Order of the British Empire, Dame Commander (England’s greatest honor).
- Famous Characters: Even if you know very little about Agatha Christie, you may at least have heard (or seen) mention of her two great detectives: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. (In fact, it was her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, about Poirot, that first garnered her recognition and fame). Her characters come to life for her readers–to such an extent, in fact, that the New York Times published an obituary (the only character with such a claim to post-mortem fame).
- Romantic Novelist: Although Agatha Christie is usually most well-known for her mysteries, she also wrote 6 romance novels under a pseudonym: Mary Westmacott.
- World Traveler: Even if you’ve never read the work (or watched an adaptation), you’ve probably heard mention of The Murder on the Orient Express, which is often cited as one of her most famous (and most popular) works. She drew upon her many travels with her second husband to create mysterious tales.
- Archaeological Adventurer: Although Agatha Christie never considered herself an archaeologist, she often accompanied her second husband on his digs. She also contributed to the work at the site, and those many adventures inevitably influenced her writings. The British Museum also featured an exhibit–“Agatha Christie and Archaeology: Mystery in Mesopotamia”–which highlighted fascinating tidbits about her experiences.
- Controversial figure: Agatha Christie has been one of the most acclaimed writers in literary history for her fascinating tales of detection, but she has also inspired controversy and debate. Raymond Chandler lumped her in, as one of the “best dull writers” in his essay, “The Simple Art of Murder.”
- Best-selling Novelist: Agatha Christie’s highest-selling novel, And Then There Were None (alone), is estimated to have sold 100-million copies.
Even if you detest mysteries in general, it’s impossible not to see the importance of Agatha Christie to literary history and culture. Obviously, she was not the first writer of detective fiction (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins were just two prominent examples, both of whom she read). Her mysteries and thrillers offer a taste of something new. She carved out a unique niche for herself, and laid open the path for all those writers of genre fiction who would follow in her footsteps.
Though others have come after her, she still appears larger than life in my imagination (and I hope she does for you as well). She lived through a tumultuous time in world history–with world war in the backdrop, and her own connection to the bloodbath very near and dear (her fiance/husband was a soldier in World War I, and she cared for wounded soldiers as part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment). She was well-schooled in the many facets of tragedy and death. To that, she added intrigue and her own personal flares/plot twists to create living works that continue to fascinate us.
“I like living,” she wrote. “I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”