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Agatha Christie

When a child loses a father early in life, she grows up bitter and filled with remorse--unless the child's name is Agatha Christie.  Born September 15, 1890, in Torquay, Devon, England, Christie was the daughter of Frederick Alvah Miller and Clarissa Miller.  Although her father died when she was young, she led a disturbingly happy childhood.  Her mother encouraged her creativity by urging her to write at an early age.

Once, when the child was bored, Clarissa told her, "You'd better write a short story.  Don't say you can't.  Of course you can!"  At the age of 16, Christie went to Paris to study voice and piano.  In 1914, she married Archibald Christie, an officer in the Flying Royal Corps; their daughter, Rosalind, was born five years later.

Christie and her mother traveled extensively, and it was during one winter's trip to Cairo, Egypt, that Christie wrote her first novel.

During World War I, while working in a Red Cross Dispensary in her hometown, Christie gained knowledge of both medicines and poisons, and that inspired her to write her first mystery novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920).  It featured a Red Cross Hospital and--naturally--a poisoning.  It also introduced her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, whose pompous and eccentric nature would make him one of the most enduring figures in mystery literature.  Poirot appeared in over thirty of Christie's books, including The Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and The A.B.C. Murders (1935). 

"And now, messieurs et mesdames," said Poirot rapidly, "I will continue with what I was about to say.  Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth.  The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.  I am much aged, my powers may not be what they were."  Here he clearly expected a contradiction.  "In all probability this is the last case I shall ever investigate.  But Hercule Poirot does not end with a failure.  Messieurs et mesdames, I tell you, I mean to know.  And I shall know - in spite of you all." - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926

Christie's second most famous sleuth, the equally quixotic and beloved Miss Jane Marple, was introduced in Murder in the Vicarage (1930).  Marple is an elderly spinster who has eccentric insights into private crimes and tragedies.  She made her leap to the screen in 1961 in Murder She Said, starring Margaret Rutherford.  The film was based on the novel 4:50 from Paddington (1957) and was followed by Murder at the Galop (1963), Murder Ahoy (1964), and Murder Most Foul (1964), all directed by George Pollock.  The BBC-TV series starring Joan Hickson ran 1984-87.  Gracie Fields played the role of Marple on television in an adaptation of A Murder Is Announced (1956).

Two years after Christie's marriage broke up in 1926, she married archaeologist Max Mallowan.  She had met him on her travels in the Near East in 1927 and accompanied him on his excavations of sites in Syria and Iraq.  Later, she used these exotic settings in her novels Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and Death on the Nile (1937).  Her own archeological adventures were recounted in Come Tell Me How You Live (1946).  Fourteen years her junior, Mallowan became one of the most prominent archaeologists of his generation. 

Of the marriage, the writer once told reporters: "An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have.  The older she gets, the more interested he is in her."  Mallowan worked in Iraq in the 1950s but returned to England when Christie's health began to fail.

Christie once told an interviewer, "I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest." And she wrote, "Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend."

In addition to writing novels, Christie was a successful playwright.  Her plays included Alibi (1928) and The Mousetrap, written in 1952.  It remains the longest-running play in history.  She was an incredibly prolific author, but her secret to success was deviously simple: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."

In 1967 Christie became president of the British Detection Club, and in 1971 she was made a Dame of the British Empire. 

Agatha Christie died on January 12, 1976 in Wallingford, Oxforshire.

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