Beer and Skittles: Agatha Christie, Queen of Crime

Venturing into the world of murder mystery and intrigue, a legacy that has now become a household name is none other than the famed fictional writer: Agatha Christie. Known for her iconic novels featuring detectives by the names of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Agatha Christie won the hearts of avid readers and remained a best-selling novelist for both mystery enthusiasts and novices alike. With her works influencing many industries and lives, one might question what exactly is the allure of Agatha Christie’s fictional works?

The Life of Agatha Christie

The enigma of Agatha Christie lies not only in her fictional fabrications, but also in her own personal life. On the 15th September 1890, Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born into a wealthy middle-class family in Torquay, South West England. Unlike most children her age, Agatha’s schooling was mainly at home and was led by her American father. At the age of five, following her mother’s reluctance to teach Agatha how to read and a streak of boredom at home, Agatha taught herself how to read to while away the hours of being an only child at home as her siblings were much older than her.  

By 1908, Agatha was already showing intrigue for literature, penning short stories alongside her friend Eden Philpotts; with some of these stories eventually being published (after much revising) in the 1930s. A notable story that she wrote at this epoque was The House of Beauty, which is said to be a preliminary version of her later story, The House of Dreams. With her mother’s health rapidly deteriorating and financial hardships following her father’s death, Agatha and her mother set off to Cairo in 1910, which became the backdrop and main inspiration for Agatha’s first novel, Snow Upon the Desert, that was eventually rejected for publication.

 With the first world war beginning in 1914, Agatha Christie found herself in the heat of the moment, providing aid as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross as a nurse, dispenser and an apothecaries’ assistant until 1918. Nevertheless, amid this devastation, wedding bells rang on Christmas Eve of 1914 as Agatha married an aviator named Archibald Christie, with whom she moved to London with after the termination of her service with the Red Cross in 1918. Throughout her time of service, Agatha Christie revived her affinity for writing (which was partly due to her sister’s claim that she was incapable of writing a detective story) and completed her debut novel entitled The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which drew on her knowledge of poisons that she picked up as an apothecaries’ assistant. Her manuscript was officially approved for publication in 1919 and marked the stark beginning of Agatha Christie’s writing career as she continued writing in the years that followed.

In 1922, Agatha Christie and Archibald set off on a grand tour for 10 months as part of a trade mission for the British Empire Exhibition, sailing around the world to countries like South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Australia, and more. Upon reaching Honolulu, Agatha’s endeavors to learn how to surf (reserved for a privileged few) eventually made her the first European woman to surf standing up!

However, disaster struck in 1926 with the death of Agatha’s mother, which led her to fall into a deep state of depression due to her grief and struggles in writing her next novel and clearing out her family home alone. During this time, Agatha Christie was surmounted with sadness, especially following the infidelity of her husband. In August 1926, Archibald asked Agatha for a divorce, cementing the end of their relationship.

Agatha Christie was eventually shrouded in a mystery case of her own on the third of December 1926 after disappearing from her home in Sunningdale with only an attaché case full of clothes, even leaving her sleeping daughter behind. The following morning, Agatha’s Morris Cowley car was found abandoned at Newlands Corner, along with an expired driver’s license and clothes. Despite a nationwide search for Agatha, she remained missing for another 10 days with alarming suspicions that she had committed suicide after it was discovered that she had left three letters behind; one for her secretary, one for brother-in-law, and the last for her husband as well as a labelled bottle of poison lead and opium nearby her abandoned car.

After ten days of her disappearance, Agatha Christie was finally discovered at the Harrogate Spa Hotel, where she had checked under the alibi of “Mrs Tressa Neele” hailing from South Africa, which was revealed years later to be based on the name of her husband’s lover: Nancy Neele. Suffering from amnesia and possibly concussed, Agatha could not remember her identity, nor did she recognise Archibald Christie. She eventually sought out psychiatric treatment in Harley Street but never divulged the details of this experience to anyone.

Finalizing her divorce in 1928, Agatha took off to Baghdad and travelled on the Orient Express, fulfilling her lifelong dream. She then traveled to an archeological site at Ur and befriended the Woolleys who led the digging team. Agatha married the young archaeologist, Max Mallowan, in 1930 and they eventually settled down in Oxfordshire, a time in which Agatha wrote her famed stories, namely Murder on The Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and Appointment with Death.

Agatha Christie’s health began to deteriorate in 1971, with speculations that she had Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Despite her health conditions, she continued to write, with her last novel being the Postern of Fate in 1973. On the 12th of January 1976, Agatha was laid to rest at St Mary’s, Cholsey, after a prolific career that would transgress her death. 

Agatha Christie’s Books and Character Portrayals

Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile; do these titles ring a bell? Such sensational stories come from none other than the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie. She’s also introduced infamous characters such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, making readers genuinely enjoy their crime-solving adventures. The former, Hercule Poirot is a favourite among those who are avid readers of murder and mysteries. Agatha describes his physical appearance as a small man who had a head shaped like an egg and an enormous moustache.

To Agatha’s staunch readers, Poirot is known as someone who is extremely meticulous. In a short story published on The Sketch titled ‘The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim’, Poirot displays his obsession for order –  “Poirot stopped and stretched out his hand for another boiled egg. He frowned. ‘It is really insupportable,’ he murmured, ‘that every hen lays an egg of a different size! What symmetry can be there on the breakfast table? At least they should sort them in dozens at the shop!’. His nature to be precise and orderly when doing things remains to be the reason why he can crack mind-boggling cases as he emphasises the importance of order and method. Another phrase commonly associated with the Belgian detective would be little grey cells. Agatha uses this to describe Poirot’s way of using his knowledge to find the murderer in his own charming manner.

Another protagonist of Agatha’s novels would be the all-knowing little spinster from St Mary Mead, Miss Jane Marple. In her autobiography (pg 448), Agatha says that Miss Marple arose from one of the characters in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, who was also a spinster and was picturized as someone full of curiosity, knowing everything and hearing everything. During any family functions there’s bound to be an old lady, who for some reason seems to remember everybody’s name and every little incident that has occurred; add that with a stroke of impeccable sense of humour and you have your very own Miss Marple.

The spinster made her debut in Murder at the Vicarage and was later on written in other thrillers such as A Murder is Announced and The Body in the Library. Note that Agatha wrote more of Hercule Poirot than she did of Miss Marple.

Of course, there are other characters that cannot go without being mentioned. The first would be Mr Quin, a character Agatha created as a catalyst who assists Mr Satterthwaite by stirring him in the right direction to find the murderer. The former, Mr Quin, probably has one of the most brooding and charismatic portrayals compared to her other main characters. Taken from her autobiography (pg 447) – a man shown in a harlequin-coloured light that fell on him through a glass window, a sudden appearance or disappearance. Mr Satterthwaite appeared as his emissary, a keen observer of the stage called life and the actors known as people. Agatha wrote many short stories about them both but also wrote a book called The Mysterious Mr Quin.

Captain Arthur Hastings, the Watson created for Hercule Poirot, appears in the very first book that Agatha wrote, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, as Poirot’s close friend who had a knack of pointing out the obvious and was known as a huge sympathizer of people. Although Agatha wrote of him lesser as time passed on, she made him appear in the last book with Poirot, Curtain, an electrifying murder mystery that shattered but also rejoiced the hearts of her fans.

Other honorable mentions would be Mrs Ariadne Oliver, a mystery novelist and Poirot’s close friend who appeared alongside him in Halloween Party and Elephants Can Remember. Mr Satterthwaite too joined Hercule Poirot in Three Act Tragedy; a must-read for those who want to witness the chemistry between the two of them.

The author of fifty years has also written multiple short stories and even romance novels. Her second book, titled The Secret Adversary was an espionage book featuring two young sleuths Tommy & Tuppence who have also made many appearances in her short stories.

Agatha Christie’s Impact on the Film Industry

Since the early 20th century, Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories have been adapted into plays, a few series and even movies. Agatha has also dabbled into playwriting with pieces such as Black Coffee and The Mousetrap. The Mousetrap was still performed until 16 March 2020 and had to be discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The author’s debut in the big screen was an atmospheric thriller, Love From a Stranger(1937). She had many more adaptations of her stories when she was alive such as Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Murder She Said(1961). However, Agatha laments that most of the movies didn’t do justice to her characters and her plot. In her autobiography, the Dame expresses her dissatisfaction with how Poirot is nearly always pictured as a bigger man than she had originally written.

The first most well-adapted movie of Agatha’s books would be Murder on the Orient Express(1974), one of the most astounding mysteries that has been written of all time. Peter Ustinov played Poirot and Queen Elizabeth, a huge fan of Agatha, attended the film’s premiere. After Agatha Christie passed away in 1976, a series was introduced in 1989 featuring David Suchet as the Belgian detective. It had taken a lot of persuasion at that time for Agatha Christie Ltd. to agree to film the show. Still, Rosalind Hicks, Agatha’s only daughter, had grilled Suchet saying, “My family is sick and tired of these thin, comic portrayals of Poirot,” she said. “People may smile with, but never laugh at, your Poirot. Do you understand that?”. The series, which ran until 2010, became by far the best adaptation of Agatha Christie’s stories.

To this date, Agatha’s stories are still being adapted into movies, the most recent one being Murder on the Orient Express released in 2017. Unfortunately, the movie does not follow the original plot of the story, and for those loyal fans of Agatha, it was a bittersweet moment of seeing her characters re-enacted on the big screen. A new film based on the novel Death on the Nile, has been released this February. Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman will be starring in this sequel of the 2017 film. Check it out for some edge of the seat thriller!

Agatha Christie’s Impact on the Writing Industry

Not many modern mystery novels have managed to achieve the fame and grandeur that Agatha has with her 66 stories. Dame Agatha Christie will forever remain a legend to have created the world of modern mystery fiction. Stephen King is probably the closest author to writing spine-chilling thrillers such as the most recent novel, Billy Summers, which is also being adapted into a limited series. The author of Doctor Sleep also tweeted about reading one of Agatha’s novels in 2019.

Compared to modern novels, Agatha’s stories are less violent and emphazises on how the mind works rather than using forensic methods of uncovering the truth. Stephen King has written many violent novels. Then, there is the hit series Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys created by Edward Stratemeyer which multiple authors have ghostwritten under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon respectively. While the stories have interesting plots, it focuses more on collecting evidence and busting out the criminal.

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Some other authors who have a similar genre of writing murder stories would be Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet series featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone. She also wrote two adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Caribbean Mystery (1983) and Sparkling Cyanide (1983) as teleplays. Louise Penny is also a renowned author who won the Agatha Awards in 2020, an award named after the Dame, for her bestseller All the Devils are Here.

Sophie Hannah, a crime author, has written a few novels featuring the Belgian detective, such as The Monogram Murders and The Mystery of Three Quarters. She also created the crime series known as The Waterhouse and Zailer series. It’s amazing to know that no matter what the era, Agatha Christie still lives on in these books!

There are a few notable writers that ought to be added in this article for their similar style of writing with the Queen of Crime. Anthony Horowitz for the thriller Magpie Murders, Christopher Huang author of A Gentleman’s Murder with similar British setting, Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party and last but not the least with a touch of Miss Marple, Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. For major fans of Agatha Christie with the blues, do give these books a try!

Agatha Christie’s Influence on the Gaming Industry

Agatha Christie’s influence has expanded to more than just the entertainment and literature scene but has also taken the gaming world by storm. The first game ever developed in veneration of the famed author was the point-and-click adventure game, Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None by AWE Productions all the way back in 2005. Although there were mixed reactions to this production, AWE Productions continued developing more games based on Agatha Christie’s novels in 2006 and 2007, with the release titles of Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express and Agatha Christie: Evil Under the Sun respectively.

Nintendo DS continued on by developing the point-and-click mystery adventure game by the name of Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders in 2009. This was followed by the release of another video game in 2016 by the same name, which Artefacts Studio developed. Released on the PS4, Xbox One, and later released on the Nintendo Switch in 2020, the game follows the mystery-solving of the detective, Hercule Poirot, as he attempts to solve the crimes by the antagonist “ABC”. More recently in 2021, Microids released an adventure game called Hercule Poirot: The First Cases, which unlike the previously released games, is not based on any of Agatha Christie’s stories. The game follows Hercule Poirot in his attempt to solve a case prior to his success as a detective, with the unfolding of a story that was written exclusively for the gameplay.

The excitement and anticipation continue, as Microids and Agatha Christie Limited announced on the 31st of January 2022 that they would be releasing two more Agatha Christie inspired games following the success of the Hercule Poirot: The First Cases game. Both games are said to follow the endeavors of Hercule Poirot in an entirely new story, with further details of the games remaining a mystery to fans.

Looking through Agatha Christie’s personal life, her written works, and her influence on many other fields, it is only natural that she be dubbed as an iconic writer of her time. With stories that surpass the limitations of time, her works continue to impact the lives of all ages, and it is without a doubt that she will always remain as the beloved queen of crime.

Written by: Julia Rosalyn and Poorani

Edited by: Maki

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