Bio: In the five centuries that books have been published, few writers can claim the consistent hold on the public's imagination and patronage that was enjoyed for decades by England's Agatha Christie (1890-1976). Dozens of novels, stories and plays made her the most formidable mystery writer in the world, combining a mastery of suspense and detail with a graceful literary style that also bespoke the stately, well-tended and traditional England most readers love to imagine.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay on the Devon coast, and her father, curiously, was a transplanted New Yorker named Frederick Alvah Miller. (Not that her divided heritage would matter much to Christie later on, for she often seemed to take some pleasure in creating rude, unsavory American characters in her writing.) Her father died when she was quite young, but her mother encouraged her natural inclination to make up stories and write poetry. When unsuccessful studies in Paris put an end to her dream of being an opera singer, young Agatha Miller turned to writing.
She was married in 1914 to Col. Archibald Christie, a handsome pilot who immediately enlisted in the war effort. In his absence, Agatha Christie worked in a hospital dispensary, an experience that would provide her with information (about people and drugs, to begin with) that sowed many of the seeds of her dark and violent stories to come. In her spare time at work, she began writing a mystery. Her first book was published in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, introducing the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Some six years later, she hit the bestseller lists for the first time with another Poirot mystery, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Also in 1926, Christie was at the center of a mystery herself. She simply vanished and was thought kidnapped or dead, until she turned up at a resort hotel, registered under the name of Col. Christie's lover. Agatha Christie pleaded temporary amnesia, brought on by stress, and she would never discuss this bizarre incident. It inspired a fictionalized 1979 film entitled Agatha, in which Vanessa Redgrave played the writer.
If the incident did anything positive, it bolstered Christie's reputation with the public, as well as bringing to an end her unhappy marriage. In 1930, she met and married a distinguished archaeologist named Max Mallowan, later knighted for his own achievements. She accompanied Mallowan on his digs in the Middle East, serving as his assistant, and the experiences peppered her writing. Acclaimed and beloved books and plays flowed from Agatha Christie's pen over the next four decades, including whole franchises of novels built around such beloved sleuths as Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Her success was, and continues to be, unprecedented. Movies and TV adaptations renew interest in her boorks, and her play The Mousetrap has been running continuously on the London stage since 1952. In 1971, Agatha Christie was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 1954, the Mystery Writers of America established their Grand Master award and, fittingly, made Christie its first recipient.