Agatha Christie Christie, Agatha (Vol. 12)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Agatha Christie 1890–1976

See also, Agatha Christie Criticism and volumes 6, 8, and 110.

(Has also written under the names Mary Westmacott and Agatha Christie Mallowan) English novelist, playwright, short story writer, and poet. Christie is best known for her detective stories, which are characterized by their ingenious plots and psychological clues. Many of them are considered classics of their genre. Christie has been called the "Queen of Crime," having written nearly 100 books during a fifty-year span. She created one of literature's most popular detectives in Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian who uses his "little grey cells" to solve crimes in partnership with the bumbling Hastings. Her other popular characters are sleuths Miss Jane Marple, a spinster, and husband-and-wife team Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Christie's first detective novel, written to meet a challenge by her sister, was The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Published in 1920, it has never been out of print. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, with its surprising dénouement, is credited by Howard Haycraft as exemplifying "The Golden Age of Detective Story Writing." The Mousetrap, which Christie adapted from her novella "The Three Blind Mice," is the longest running play in modern theater history. Her works have been translated into over 100 languages and have been outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. A true mystery still surrounds Christie's ten-day disappearance during the break-up of her first marriage. Nor does An Autobiography shed light upon this event, which gave her valuable publicity and which she claimed at the time was due to amnesia. Her second marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan and her subsequent travels with him throughout the Middle East provided material for several of her novels. Come, Tell Me How You Live is a personal account of these expeditions. Christie also wrote several romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Many of her works were adapted for the screen with Murder on the Orient Express being perhaps the most successful. Witness for the Prosecution won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1955 as the best foreign play of the year. Before she herself died, Christie wrote Curtain and Sleeping Murder in which Poirot and Miss Marple die. Adverse criticism of her work focuses on her undistinguished style and on the lack of depth in her rather stereotyped characters, on the absence of any sociological analysis of the crimes, and on her repeated use of the "least-likely-person" device. In spite of, or perhaps because of these characteristics, Christie's varied and imaginative plot puzzles have consistently entertained her many fans for almost sixty years. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 6, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 61-64.)

["The Murder on the Links"] is a remarkably good detective story which can be warmly commended to those who like that kind of fiction….

The plot has peculiar complications and the reader will have to be very astute indeed if he guesses who the criminal is until the last complexity has been unraveled. The author is notably ingenious in the construction and unraveling of the mystery, which develops fresh interests and new entanglements at every turn. She deserves commendation also for the care with which the story is worked out and the good craftsmanship with which it is written. Although there is not much endeavor to portray character, except in the case of M. Poirot, several of the personages are depicted with swiftly made, expressive and distinctive lines. M. Poirot is an ingenious and interesting addition to the gallery of fictional detectives. He stands out from the author's pages with a real vitality. (p. 14)

The New York Times Book Review (© 1923 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 25, 1923.

When in the first of M. Poirot's adventures [Poirot Investigates ] we find a famous diamond that has once been the eye of a god and a cryptic message that it will be taken from...

(The entire section is 20,044 words.)