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Dame Agatha Christie (Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie), née Miller Biography

(1890–1976), (Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie), née Miller, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

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British detective fiction writer, born in Torquay, Devon; she studied singing and piano in Paris, and in 1914 married Archibald Christie, an officer in the Royal Flying Corps. As a hospital dispenser during the First World War she acquired a knowledge of poisons which she later put to good use in her detective stories. In 1926 an attack of amnesia, brought on by the death of her mother and the impending break-up of her marriage, led to a much-publicized disappearance, which ended when she was discovered in a hotel in Harrogate. She was divorced in 1928 and in 1930 married the archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she accompanied on excavations in Syria and Iraq. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), the first of her detective novels, she introduced Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who reappeared in many of her sixty-six novels. Of the Poirot stories, the best are perhaps The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), Lord Edgware Dies (1933; US title Thirteen at Dinner), Murder on the Orient Express (1934; US title Murder in the Calais Coach), The A.B.C. Murders (1936; US title The Alphabet Murders), Cards on the Table (1936), One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940; US title The Patriotic Murders, also published in the USA as An Overdose of Death), Evil under the Sun (1941), and The Hollow (1946; US title Murder after Hours). In The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), however, she introduced another detective, Miss Marple, an elderly spinster; the novels in which she appears are in some ways to be preferred to the Poirot stories. The best include The Body in the Library (1942), The Moving Finger (1942), A Murder Is Announced (1950), They Do It with Mirrors (1952; US title Murder with Mirrors), 4.50 from Paddington (1957; US title What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw!; also published in the USA as Murder She Said). Other novels, featuring neither Poirot nor Miss Marple, are Ten Little Niggers (1939; US title And Then There Were None; also published in the USA as Ten Little Indians), The Pale Horse (1961), and Endless Night (1967). She also published a large number of detective short stories, two volumes of verse, six romantic novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, two self-portraits (Come Tell Me How You Live, 1946; An Autobiography, 1977), and some fifteen plays, adapted from her novels and short stories, including The Mousetrap (from the novelette Three Blind Mice, 1948), which has run continuously in London since 1952. Her enormous international success is perhaps due to her ingenuity in contriving plots and misdirecting the reader. Her style is undistinguished, though brisk, and her characterization is adequate for the demands of the genre. There is a biography by Janet Morgan (1984); see also R. Barnard, A Talent to Deceive (1980), P. D. Maida and N. B. Spornick, Murder She Wrote (1982), and C. Osborne, The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie (1982).

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