A prolific writer who has made it to the Guiness Book of Records as the bestselling author of all time, Agatha Christie is a remarkable writer. Largely known for her detective stories, often featuring the Belgian Detective Poirot or the oft underestimated elderly Miss Marple of St Mary Mead, she also wrote plays, including Mousetrap, which is the longest running play in history. I’ve always really enjoyed her books, and set out to read all her books as my reading list. This is what I learned.
I wrote short reviews of all her books in this page HERE and you can see which ones I loved and reccommend, as well as see a list of all her works.
- Christie was prolific: 74 novels, 28 short story colections, plays, memoirs, a biography… When I started out, I didn’t know exactly how many books I was taking on! But I really enjoyed her writing style and her books are generally not overly long.
- She’s still hugely popular, and is only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare.
- She lived through very interesting times: Born in 1890, her life started in the Victorian Era, and she lived through the Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, both World Wars, the social changes of the 50’s when the class system was breaking down, and the Swinging Sixties and Seventies. What I love when you read her books is that each reflects the ideas and social mores of the time. The flippant way of appraoching life that was popular in the 20’s and 30’s gives way to different feelings during the war, and a sense of the increasing acceptance of violence and sex in stories, big social changes and the more relaxed nature of the 60’s. I love that she describes girls as looking a bit dirty or grubby in the 60’s. Her characters also age throughout her books, which was something I found sympathetic and thought provoking.
- She once went missing: Her first husband, Archie, though she never says so herself, seems like a narcissistic jerk, in my opinion. While she’s dealing with the death of her beloved Mother and the sorting out of her childhood home, he leaves her to grieve alone and meets someone else. Agatha was so greif striken that she drove her car off the road and when her vehicle was found, she wasn’t in it. A huge search was made, and eventually she was recognised at a hotel. Some felt it was a publicity stunt, though I think the loss of her husband and mother in a short time probably led her to have an emotional break down. She was very embarrassed about this in later years and tried to play down her disappearance and avoid talking about it.
- She didn’t just write mysteries: While her Poirot and Marple books are perhaps her most well known, she also wrote a lot more than Golden Age mysteries. She dabbled in political thrillers, wrote a really interesting biography, a travel memoir, wrote several plays, religious stories and poems, horror and supernatural tales and perhaps most startling, romances under the name Mary Westmacott. These romances are quite different than her mysteries and explore relationships, often with sad or at least emotive endings. While not as charming as her mysteries, they show another side of her life and feelings. Also, her own favourite characters were a pair called Quinn and Satterthwaite, and their tales are well worth a read, though they fit into a sort of mystery meets the mysterious. Unusual and not so well known.
- She was married to an archeologist: Her second husband was younger than her and was a well known archeologist, Max Mallowan. They seem to have been a very happy couple, and her works sometimes reflect her time on his digs, such as her memoir Come Tell Me How You Live, some Poirot novels set in the areas she travelled, and an intersting mystery set in Ancient Egypt, Death Comes At The End.
- She was very shy: while she enjoyed writing and appreciated her readers, she felt that it was just something she did. She didn’t feel that she was a great writer and gushing fans made her dreadfully uncomfortable. Growing up in an era when children were often taught at home, not going to school may have made her less socialised as well. She also seems to have found it easier to write about things than verbally express them, something her mother understood about her. There’s a story about her crying over a live butterfly a man pinned to her hat when she was a child. It’s death made her cry, but she couldn’t say so, especially as she didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings when he had wanted to be kind and give her something. While her father was annoyed at her for crying and not saying why, her mother immediately knew and understood.
- She started to hate Poirot: I love the Belgian detective with his dandy moustaches and his penchant for order. But Christie became tired of his funny ways, and often wanted to kill him off. He was too popular however, so she felt that she couldn’t but she did write the book Curtain in the 40’s, in which the detective dies. She kept the book in a safe and didn’t publish it til decades later.
- She champions the underdog: Her descriptions of the English distaste or distrust of foreigners is often lampooned in her stories about Poirot, the Belgian outsider in British society. In many ways, he’s an underdog. He and the elderly Miss Marple are often dismissed as crazy or senile until they solve the crime. I love the way that Miss Marple, with no experience of life outside her small world, is really a genius.Both her famous detective’s are people who understand psychology and use their brains and knowledge of the way the world works to solve crimes, rather than old fashioned clues.
- She was anti-feminist and sometimes racist: after the above point, you wouldn’t think so. Agatha dismissed feminism and didn’t agree with it. There wasn’t that much racism in the novels over all, especially considering the eras in which she was writing, but there were a few instances of a character disliking black people and things of that nature. It feels strange when it appears because she seems to feel empathy towards European immigrants.
- The Twist Ending: Reading all of these books, I only guessed the killer a few times. Christie is an absolute master of the twist endings and the red herrings. She pioneered many of them that have become tropes today, but were highly original, and I’m still smarting over the one where the narrator did it! How did I not guess that? All the clues were there…. She’s a master of the genre and has a truly creative mind.
- She was a master of social satire: Part of what makes reading Christie so delicious to read is how funny she is. It’s not just that you smile when Poirot is arrogant (but ultimately right) or when Miss Marple says something about St Mary Mead that sounds absent but that you know holds the key to the whole thing… It’s that she really understands types and plays with them. People get annoyed at lazy maids, maid’s are susceptible to flattery and know everything that’s really going on in the house. Captain Hastings believes in fair play. Older gents bore everyone with their stories about their time in the British Raj. Some wives boss their meek husbands and play bridge like card sharps. She is a master at gently poking fun at people who resemble people you know. Sure, I don’t know any old colonels, but I do know some older men who tell the same story many times or women who love to organise everyone. Christie is so incisive in her portrayal’s of people, her sense of humour is sharp, and she seems to be able to turn the complexities of relationships and feelings to both plotting crime and making fun.
I could write whole essays about the life and times of Agatha Christie or her creations, but I feel like these are the main things that struck me after reading her whole body of work. I had a lot of fun reading all of her books. I have two biographies on her reading list page (HERE again) that I reccomend if you’re interested, and also I’ve starred some of my favourites on there if you’d like to try reading some of her books or just want to know which ones I enjoyed the most.