A complete guide to the life and works of Agatha Christie
Often referred to as the “Queen of Crime”, Agatha Christie is an established crime fiction writer, penning 66 novels as well as being the author of the world’s longest-running production; The Mousetrap. She is one of the most successful writers ever, only outsold by the works of William Shakespeare and the Bible. Her writing changed the genre of crime fiction and in 1971, she was awarded a damehood for services to literature.
Even though Agatha Christie passed away in 1976, her stories are still regarded as some of the best ever. Learn more about the esteemed writer with us, as we explore her early life, her first works and the legacy she has left in the West End.
Agatha Christie: The Queen of Crime
What was her early life like?
Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller on 15th September 1890, she spent her childhood years in Torquay. Raised in a middle-class family, she taught herself to read by the age of five and was a gifted storyteller. In her autobiography, she said that she had a “very happy childhood”. In 1912, Agatha Miller met Archie Christie, a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Her life was changed when World War 1 broke out, and she became a volunteer nurse in Torquay. She also met Colonel Archibald Christie, later marrying in December 1914.
As Colonel Archibald Christie was fighting in France, their relationship suffered due to being apart from each other for long periods of time. Once the war ended, the couple became closer than ever and the couple’s only child Rosalind was born in August 1919. The war marked the beginning of Agatha’s writing career. She began to write detective stories and her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920.
Famous works by Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Affair at Styles: Agatha Christie’s first book was written as a dare from her sister, Madge. Given the challenge of writing a longer story, Agatha Christie set to work and wrote a story centring around a fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Little did she know at the time that Poirot would grow to become one of Christie’s well-known characters and inspire the television show Poirot that ran for 13 series.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Published in 1926, this novel is regarded as the book that made her name as a crime-fiction writer. In this book, Poirot solves the murder of Roger Ackroyd, a man who knew the woman she loved was a murderer. This hair-raising novel was released the same year as Agatha Christie found out her husband had cheated on her. Stunned, she disappeared for 11 days in Harrogate and later divorced Archie Christie in 1928.
The Murder at the Vicarage: This 1930 book was the first to feature Christie’s female protagonist, Miss Marple. As she uses her detective skills to suss out who committed the crime, she realises that those who are most suspicious were right under her nose after all. The story was later adapted for the stage in 1949.
Murder on the Orient Express: Poirot is called to solve a murder on board the train in this 1934 tale that’s become one of Christie’s most known texts. The story of Poirot investigating a murder on board has been adapted for two films, most recently in 2017 starring Judi Dench and directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Death on the Nile: While cruising on the River Nile, an heiress is killed. Even though a passenger claimed they wanted to put a trigger through somebody’s head, it’s not so easy to find the murderer. But with Poirot on board, the case is investigated. This detective fiction story from 1937 is currently in the process of being adapted for a 2020 movie.
And Then There Were None: Eight people arrive at an isolated island who soon realise they’ve all committed a murder before. As the guests begin to die one by one, the other islanders must work out who the murderer is. This book pushed the genre of crime fiction when it was published in 1939, featuring racially insensitive language.
A Murder is Announced: Anticipating a fun murder parlour game, a village gets ready to play. When the lights get turned off, one of the villagers is killed. It’s left to Miss Marple to figure out who took the excitement of the parlour game too far in this gripping story from 1950.
Famous Agatha Christie characters
Giving the world five ingenious characters, Agatha Christie knew how to create a character that readers continue to love.
- Hercule Poirot: Arguably one of Christie’s most known characters, Poirot is a Belgian detective, admired by police forces around the world. His understanding of the criminal mind is superior to everyone around him. David Suchet played the detective from 1989 to 2013.
- Ariadne Oliver: Often accompanying Poirot, Ariadne Oliver is a crime-fiction writer who can use her criminal knowledge from her books to solve cases in real life.
- Miss Marple: Unsuspecting but assured, Miss Marple is an old lady whose ability to solve crime shock the police.
- Tommy & Tuppence: Thomas and Prudence Beresford star in many Christie novels, first appearing in The Secret Adversary in 1922. The pair are spies that get caught in many murders, ageing throughout the books.
Looking back on Christie’s legendary writing career wouldn’t be complete without discussing The Mousetrap.
Before the story became the renowned play it is today, it started life as a 20-minute radio play. Broadcast in 1947, Agatha Christie penned a new play for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday called Three Blind Mice. Later worked on and rewritten, the play’s title changed to The Mousetrap and premiered at the Theatre Royal Nottingham on 6th October 1952.
The show then transferred to London, where it was first performed in the West End on 25th November 1952. The murder-mystery continues its run in the West End, currently playing at St. Martin’s Theatre.
The story begins when five guests arrive at a hotel. Unsuspecting of their surroundings, the guests are calm until a policeman warns them of a murderer around the area. As the guests are investigated, the killer’s whereabouts are investigated until a trap is ultimately laid to catch the murderer.
Even Agatha Christie could not have predicted how long the show would run for. She thought it would only run for a few months before audiences would stop visiting. However, it’s become a stalwart of British theatre and the play is still performed eight times a week.
Facts about The Mousetrap
Original cast member, Mysie Monte played the role of Mrs Boyle from opening night to November 1967. Taking a break in the middle, she starred in The Mousetrap for 12 and a half years in total.
Deryck Guyler is the only original cast member left. Although he died in 1999, he voices the news broadcast heard on the radio during the play.
The set has been changed three times during the run, but the only surviving prop from 1952 is the clock that sits on the fireplace.
For his ninth birthday, Agatha Christie’s grandson Mathew Pritchard was given the rights to the play. Earning royalties from the rights to the play, Pritchard then set up the Colwinston Charitable Trust in 1995 that distributes the royalties to performing organisations.
A star-studded cast took to the stage for the 25000th performance of The Mousetrap. This one-off starred Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters, Harry Lloyd, Nicholas Farrell, Iain Glen, Tamsin Greig, Miranda Hart and Hugh Bonneville.
The Mousetrap is a beloved West End play, so why has it not received a film adaptation? In the play’s small print, it states that it will not be brought to screen until six months after the theatre run has ended. As theatregoers are told not to reveal who committed the murder, releasing a film version would spoil the play’s secrets.
Witness for the Prosecution
First published in 1925, the story was initially called “Traitor’s Hands”. When it was re-published as a story in 1933, it gained its well-known title of Witness for the Prosecution.
When reflecting on her work in her autobiography, Witness for the Prosecution was a stand-out play, with Christie saying “It was one of my plays that I like best myself”.
One of Agatha Christie’s earlier works can also be seen in the West End. Set in court, Witness for the Prosecution focuses on Leonard Vole, a man on trial for the murder of Emily French. When his wife is called to testify, her remarks are shocking. As the case develops, Leonard has to convince the jury that he is innocent.
This gripping courtroom drama is currently playing at London City Hall, where audience members can purchase tickets to sit in the jury.
What’s her legacy?
Even though Agatha Christie passed away in 1976, she’s still regarded as one of the best authors ever. There is a monument on Cranbourn Street dedicated to her, testament to her popularity and incredible career.
To date, she has sold over 2 billion copies of her books worldwide, which have been translated into over 100 languages. She created iconic literary characters that were loved over the world; when Poirot died, he was given a full-page obituary in the New York Times.
She was the first crime writer to have a million copies of her work sold in one day and was named the mystery writer of the twentieth century at the Boucheron World Mystery Convention in 2000.
The Mousetrap may be the longest running play, but it’s not the only one that’s run for decades. Read all about the longest running plays in the West End with us.