Towards the end of the First World War, Agatha Christie (1890–1976) took a fortnight off from her work at the Red Cross hospital in Torquay. She booked into the Moorland Hotel at Haytor, on Dartmoor, and finished her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was published in 1920; over 100 years later and six miles down the B3387, there are copies of it being mailed out from the Postscript warehouse almost daily. Christie and her most famous detectives – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple – are still bestsellers.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born and grew up in Torquay, started writing stories in her teens and met Archibald Christie in her early twenties. They were married in 1914, but they were apart for much of the First World War: Archie was in the Royal Flying Corps, while Agatha took the Society of Apothecaries examinations to work in the Red Cross hospital dispensary. After the war, their daughter Rosalind was born, but the marriage was to break down in the mid-1920s when, in the aftermath of her mother’s death and Archie’s adultery, Agatha famously disappeared for several days before turning up in a hotel in Harrogate. Her whereabouts had been the subject of nationwide speculation and that same year, 1926, saw the publication and critical acclaim of another Poirot novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Although Christie herself shunned publicity, she was well on the way to becoming a household name.
After her divorce from Archie, Agatha married Max Mallowan, an archaeologist she had met while visiting friends in Ur. Part of each year was spent with Max, travelling or on excavations in the Middle East, although they were separated during the Second World War: Max was in Cairo, while Agatha worked as a volunteer at University College Hospital in London, putting the pharmaceutical knowledge she used in poisoning cases to more conventional use in the wartime dispensary.
Hers was an eventful and fulfilled life: as well as more than 70 crime novels, she wrote other fiction under the name ‘Mary Westmacott’ and several famous plays, she travelled widely, including a 1928 journey on the Orient Express, and she engaged in activities as diverse as archaeology and surfing. Drawing on a rich fund of experience, her books’ memorable characters, labyrinthine plots and occasional exotic settings have inspired major films and television series and brought their author tremendous and enduring success.
Agatha Christie died in 1976.