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 its possessor "at the full of the moon," we are inclined to grow indignant on behalf of our dear old friend the moonstone [in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone]. But we have no right to do so, for the story is quite original. Moreover, if Captain Hastings, who tells the story, is a little like Watson always anxious to display his cleverness and always getting snubbed, every detective has had a foil since the days of Lecoq. In fact M. Poirot is a thoroughly pleasant and entertaining person, an admirable companion for a railway journey. (pp. 209-10)
The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1924; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), April 3, 1924.
Hercule Poirot of "Poirot Investigates" is the latest of a long line of successors to the immortal [Sherlock] Holmes who carry on the industry of criminal investigation during intervals that elapse between the resurrections of the wizard of Baker Street. There seems no reason why the dynasty should ever come to an end. Any character with strongly marked national eccentricities [can be made to serve]….
[Agatha Christie's hero] is traditional almost to caricature, but his adventures are amusing and the problems which he unravels skillfully tangled in advance. Poirot does not have recourse to morphia or improvise on the violin: He arrives at his deductions, sometimes incredibly swift, by means of a process which he himself terms "the little gray cells," but it is to be feared that some of the evidence he collects would fare badly in criminal courts….
Mrs. Christie's new book, in a word, is for the lightest of reading. But its appeal is disarmingly modest and it will please the large public which relishes stories of crime, but likes its crime served decorously. (p. 5)
The New York Times Book Review (© 1924 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 20, 1924.
[The Murder of Roger Ackroyd] is a well-written detective story of which the only criticism might perhaps be that there are too many curious incidents not really connected with the crime which have to be elucidated before the true criminal can be discovered…. It is all very puzzling but the great Hercule Poirot, a retired Belgian detective, solves the mystery. It may safely be asserted that very few readers will do so. (p. 397)
The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1926; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), June 10, 1926.
There are doubtless many detective stories more exciting and bloodcurdling than "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd," but this reviewer has recently read very few which provide greater analytical stimulation. This story, though it is inferior to them at their best, is in the tradition of [Edgar Allan] Poe's analytical tales and the Sherlock Holmes stories. The author does not devote her talents to the creation of thrills and shocks, but to the orderly solution of a single murder, conventional at that, instead….
Roger Ackroyd is murdered one night under particularly perplexing circumstances…. In conventional detective-story style, seemingly trivial and extraneous details become clarifying evidence to [Poirot] while they baffle the reader only the more. It is really Poirot's method which holds the reader's interest. Matters become more and more complicated, till one surprising fact after another begins to reveal itself…. Miss Christie is not only an expert technician and a remarkably good story-teller, but she knows, as well, just the right number of hints to offer as to the real murderer.
In the present case his identity is made all the more baffling through the author's technical cleverness in selecting the part he is to play in the story; and yet her non-commital characterization of him makes it a perfectly fair procedure. The experienced reader will probably spot him, but it is safe to say that he will often have his doubts as the story unfolds itself.
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" cannot be too highly praised for its clean-cut construction, its unusually plausible explanation at the end, and its ability to stimulate the analytical faculties of the reader. It soars far above the crude, standardized mystery stories which have become such customary merchandise. (p. 18)
The New York Times (© 1926 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 18, 1926.