Break out the poison and party hats—Zola investigates the Mistress of Mystery’s 123rd birthday and clues fans in to some facts they may not know about her intriguing life. (All quotes are from Christie’s autobiography unless stated otherwise.)
I don’t think you could do it, said Madge. They are very difficult to do. I’ve thought about it.
I should like to try.
Well, I bet you couldn’t.
Not one to back down from a challenge, a young Agatha Christie swore to herself that she would one day write a detective story. At age 26 she made good on that promise by writing her first novel and introducing the world to Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
And then there were 100 million
Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Christie’s 26th novel And Then There Were None is the best-selling mystery of all time with over 100 million sales. It’s also one of the best-selling books ever, holding rank with titles like The Lord of the Rings and A Tale of Two Cities. Her novel has been adapted for screen, stage, and even a video game!
Grannie’s prophecies were much dreaded…Perhaps it was second sight. Anyway, I endowed Miss Marple with something of Grannie’s power of prophecy.
Christie’s mother claimed clairvoyance and her grandmother’s prophecies were regarded with respect and fear by Agatha and her siblings. The psychic nature of her family not only inspired Miss Marple, but led to Christie’s intrigue in the occult. She admitted to obsessively reading psychic stories such as The Flaw in the Crystal by May Sinclair—which prompted Christie to write the short story Vision.
I had some nice reviews for The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but the one which pleased me best appeared in The Pharmaceutical Journal. It praised ‘this detective story for dealing with poisons in a knowledgeable way, and not with the nonsense about untraceable substances that so often happens. Miss Agatha Christie,’ they said, ‘knows her job.’
Christie wasn’t senselessly killing off characters. Her murder methods were accurately researched during her time working in the pharmacy at University College Hospital, London. The Chief Pharmacist, Harold Davis, suggested she look into using thallium—which helped Christie kill off a number of characters in The Pale Horse.
A Murder Most Foul
Murder! I saw at once it was—murder! Couldn’t be anything else! Robbery and murder! —Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
In addition to having a professional knowledge of poison, Christie could take pride in the unique ways she chose to dispose of her victims. Poison was a favorite technique but it came in the form of massaging ointment (Death Comes As the End), nasal spray (The Mirror Crack’d), and hat paint (Murder is Easy); strangulation came from a raincoat belt (Three Blind Mice) and ukelele string (The Mysterious Mr. Quin); stabbings happened with wasp-shaped darts dipped in snake venom (Death in the Clouds) and corn knives (Lord Edgeware Dies). Other creative disposal methods include: bludgeoned with a knob from an old Victorian fender screwed onto a tennis racquet handle (Towards Zero), electrocution by chessboard (The Big Four), and a drowning in an apple tub (Hallowe’en Party).
‘I’ve fallen in love with her, and I’d like you to give me a divorce as soon as it could be arranged.’
I suppose with those words, that part of my life—my happy successful confident life ended.
In 1926 Christie discovered her husband was having an affair and she disappeared for 11 days. A nationwide manhunt took place and when she was found at a hotel, checked in under a pseudonym, she claimed to have no recollection of her last days. Many cried foul, calling it a publicity stunt; others believed it to have been a psychiatric episode. Christie never spoke of the incident again and theories still abound. In 2008, the popular British television show Doctor Who used a bit of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey…stuff to explain Christie’s disappearance in the season four episode “The Unicorn and the Wasp”.
Brilliant Deduction, Watson
It was Madge who told me my first Sherlock Holmes story, The Blue Carbuncle, and after that I had always been pestering her for more. The Blue Carbuncle, The Red-Headed League, and The Five Orange Pips were definitely my favourites….I was well steeped in the Sherlock Holmes tradition.
Christie grew up with Doyle’s characters, but he entered her life in a very non-fiction way during her missing 11 days. With the entire nation on the hunt for Christie, Doyle took a glove she left behind and brought it to a medium in hopes of using occult wisdom to locate his fellow mystery author. Doyle reported back by saying, “You will hear of her, I think, next Wednesday.” Christie was found on a Tuesday, though with newspapers announcing her return the following morning—most did in fact hear of her on Wednesday.
What I wanted to do now was to write something other than a detective story. So, with a rather guilty feeling, I enjoyed myself writing a straight novel called Giant’s Bread.
J.K. Rowling made waves this year when it was revealed that she was the author behind The Cuckoo’s Calling, but she’s hardly the first author to use a pseudonym when attempting to publish without the pressure of preconceived notions. Christie wrote six romance novels under the name Mary Westmascott. Her secret was kept for fifteen years and she claimed only one friend, Nan Watts, ever guessed Mary’s true identity.
Hercule Poirot Is Dead
Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who became internationally famous, has died in England. His age was unknown. —New York Times, 1975
In Christie’s 1975 Curtain, she killed off Hercule Poirot and (unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes) never did bring her former muse back to life. The world mourned the loss of the great detective and the New York Times famously ran a full page obituary; Poirot remains the only fictional character to ever receive one.
The Show Must Go On
What can I say at seventy-five? Thank God for my good life and for all the love that has been given to me.
In 1976, Agatha Christie died at the age of 85 of natural causes. The theaters in London that were performing her plays dimmed their house lights and turned off the neon lights outside in acknowledgement of the writer’s passing.
“It is the little grey cells, mon ami, on which one must rely.” —Hercule Poirot
Of Christie’s 66 detective novels, only seven remain unadapted by film or television. Agatha Christie’s Poirot is a British television drama that has aired since 1989—starring David Suchet as the Belgian detective. Series 13 premiered June 9 of this year. It marks the final season of the show and completes the adaptation of Poirot’s mysteries. The title of the final episode is Curtain, notably remembered as the novel where Christie did in her famous sleuth. Poirot will bow out in style January 3, 2014.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.