Little-known facts about Agatha Christie, the Queen of murder mysteries

Did the mystery writer plan her own mysterious disappearance? Let’s delve into the link between fact and fiction in the life of the immensely popular Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie is a well-known name for anyone who reads books, especially mystery books. But little is known about her life, about how she made such life-like characters and described poisons so accurately. Few know about the real-life mysterious disappearance of Christie, involving a search with a thousand of policemen and civilians. Let’s get to know some interesting facets of Agatha Christie’s life in our new series Little known facts about well-known people.

Agatha Christie is a popular detective writer whose books have been read all over the world and have been particularly popular in India. They have been translated into hundreds of languages and appeal to people of all ages. If you have a library at home, there are sure to be a couple of well-thumbed Christies among them. Her stories appear simple, disarmingly so, and yet have clever clues woven into them that keep you guessing till the end. She created very unique, lovable characters for her books. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple were both completely different from each other but were both amazingly clever at deducing crimes. Hercule Poirot is a short, slightly stout Belgian man with a black moustache and pink-tipped nose and an air of confidence. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster lady living in a small village who is able to solve mysteries because of her knowledge of human nature and shrewd intelligence. Some Miss Marple stories have been made into movies, and the play The Mousetrap began running in London’s West End in 1952 and had its 25,000th performance on 18 November, 2012. After 66 years, you can still catch the play in London by booking your tickets here.

So Agatha Christie and her amazing mysteries are well-known. But there are a few things about Agatha Christie that are not very well known.

  • She began to write out of boredom! When Agatha was eighteen and confined to bed with influenza, her mother suggested that if she was bored, she could try writing a story. She wrote a story about dreams called “House of Beauty.”
  • Born as Agatha Miller, she became Christie when she married Archibald Christie in 1914. Many years later, in 1928 she was divorced from her husband Archie but she was convinced by her publishers to retain the surname because, by then, she had become internationally famous as Agatha Christie.
  • How did she start writing detective thrillers? Because her sister challenged her that she could not write one! Her stories and books were rejected many times but she did not give up. She eventually went on to become one of the most published authors with a billion books sold in English and another billion in other languages. She wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections.
  • How did she know so much about poisons? As a volunteer during the Second World War, she was placed in the pharmacy section of the University College Hospital in London where she learnt about poisons in great detail. She also had to give an exam of the Society of Apothecaries and worked in the dispensing section. She knew what the various poisons looked and smelt like and how long they took to take effect. Her descriptions of the effect and dosage of poisons was so accurate that her murder story was reviewed in a pharmaceutical journal!
  • How do her characters sound so real? She was very observant of people and relationships. She jotted down points in a notebook whenever an idea came to her or whenever she heard or read anything interesting. There are a hundred notebooks of hers that bear the seeds of ideas and plots.
  • She also wrote some bittersweet romantic stories under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, some of which were drawn from her own life.
  • She later met and married an archaeologist Sir Max Mallowanand wrote detailed accounts of archaeological fieldwork. Digging trips with her husband gave her the quiet time she needed to write her books. She cleverly wove into her stories the details of their travel to other countries and cultures.
  • She once told her sister that she was so good at planning mysteries that she could disappear whenever she wanted to and no one would be able to find her.

And she did!

On Friday, December 3, 1926, she left her home and disappeared. It was in the newspapers under the headline “Mystery of woman novelist’s disappearance” and a reward was announced for anyone who could find her. It is said that a thousand policemen and thousands of volunteers set out to look for her. She was found 11 days later living under a false name in a hotel far away from home. The details of her disappearance remain a mystery although there are many speculations based on fictional accounts. She herself never spoke about it.

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