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  • 1/12/2005

Agatha Christie

The Queen of Crime

(September 15, 1890–January 12, 1976)

Agatha Christie is the world's best-known mystery writer. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and another billion in over 45 foreign languages. She is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

Agatha Miller was born inTorquay, England onSeptember 15, 1890. In 1914 she married Colonel Archibald Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple had one daughter, Rosalind, before their divorce in 1928.

In a writing career that spanned more than half a century, Agatha Christie wrote 79 novels and short story collections. She also wrote over a dozen plays including The Mousetrap, which opened inLondon onNovember 25, 1952, and is now the longest continuously running play in theatrical history.

Christie's first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), was also the first to feature her eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Surely one of the most famous fictional creations of all time, Poirot's "little grey cells" triumphed over devious criminals in 33 novels and many dozens of short stories. Christie’s last published novel, Sleeping Murder (1976), featured her other world-famous sleuth, the shrewdly inquisitive Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple appeared in twelve novels, beginning with The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930.

Both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple have been widely dramatized in feature films and made-for-TV movies. Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), And Then There Were None (1945), and Death on the Nile (1978) are a few of the successful films based on her works.

Agatha Christie also wrote six romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She wrote nonfiction as well - four books including an autobiography and an entertaining account of the many archeological expeditions she shared with her second husband, Sir Max Mallowan. In 1971, she achieved her country's highest honor when she received the Order of Dame Commander of the British Empire. Agatha Christie died onJanuary 12, 1976.

Christie's Crime Fighters

Hercule Poirot
This brilliant Belgian detective had a long and glorious career in thirty-three novels and sixty-five short stories. Hercule Poirot was created in 1916 as the detective star of Agatha Christie's first novel,The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920. Before his escape toEngland during WWI, Poirot, a retired Belgian police officer, was a celebrated private detective on the Continent. During these years, Poirot became acquainted with Arthur Hastings who would later become his trusted sidekick and the occasional narrator of his investigations.

Here is howHastings first described Poirot inThe Mysterious Affair at Styles: "He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound."

Poirot and Hastings took rooms together inLondon for some years and worked on numerous cases. After Hastings married, Poirot moved to another flat, employed the perfect gentleman's gentleman, George, and hired the terrifyingly efficient Miss Felicity Lemon as his secretary. Although he never married, Poirot became passionately attached to Countess Vera Rossakoff, who remained the love of his life throughout three decades.

By his final appearance inCurtain (1975), Poirot was confined to a wheelchair, although his little grey cells remained as sharp as ever. Upon his death, Hercule Poirot became the only fictional character ever to be honored with an obituary on the front page of The New York Times.

Miss Marple
This elderly, unmarried English lady was between 65 and 70 years of age when she made her first appearance inThe Murder at the Vicarage in 1930. She appeared in twelve novels and twenty short stories over a period of forty-one years-- making her quite elderly by her last case!

In appearance, Miss Marple is a tall, thin woman with a pink, wrinkled face, pale blue eyes and snowy white hair which she wears piled upon her head in an old-fashioned manner. Her innocuous appearance, meandering conversation and ever-present knitting needles often mislead people into underestimating her as simply a "dithering old maid." Those who really know her recognize that she is a sharp observer of human nature with "an uncanny knack of being always right."

Despite a lifetime spent in the seemingly dull St. Mary Mead, Miss Marple is quite worldly in her recognition and acceptance that evil is all around us. As she often points out, her village and its environs provides examples of every character trait and evil in human nature that can be found in big cities. Thus, her method of detection consists in finding parallels between life and people in St. Mary Mead and happenings in the outside world.

Tommy & Tuppence Beresford
Tommy Beresford, an unimaginative but charming young man, encounters a childhood friend, Tuppence Cowley, after he is released from service in WWI. Jobless, they decide to start Young Adventurers Ltd. promising potential clients: "Willing to do anything. Go anywhere.... No unreasonable offer refused." The Jazz Age duo marries at the end of their first adventure, The Secret Adversary (1922).

In the short story collection,Partners in Crime, Tommy and Tuppence take over a nearly-bankrupt detective agency and solve cases in the manner of assorted great detectives including Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown-- and Hercule Poirot. The couple eventually has a set of twins, Deborah and Derek Beresford, and adopts a daughter, Betty Beresford.

The Beresfords age gracefully in the course of three subsequent books:N Or M?, By The Pricking of My Thumbs andPostern of Fate, where they are seen as retired grandparents who still love a good mystery. To the end, Tommy remains the slower thinker whose natural caution serves as the perfect foil to Tuppence's impetuous nature.

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