Agatha Christie, the Best-Selling Novelist of All Time

An Overview of Her Life and Career

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie maintains the status of the best-selling novelist of all time. Hulton Archives / Getty Images

Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976) is the world's best-selling novelist. A woman whose mother didn't want her to read until she was eight, who claimed to have had no early ambition as a writer, wrote books that have sold over two billion copies. Following is a brief overview of the life and career of this amazing author.

Agatha Christie's Publishing Accomplishments

Christie is the author of 72 novels and 160 short stories.

Sixty-six of the novels were what she is best known for — mystery novels. The rest, written under the pen name of Mary Westmacott non-detective novels (sometimes considered "romance," but they do not strictly adhere to the conventions of that genre).

Christie was also a playwright; she penned 15 stage plays including Mousetrap, the longest continuously running play in history. Mousetrap opened in the West End of London in 1952, logged its 25,000 performance in November 2012, and is still performed.

Though she died four decades ago, her body of work is still reported to generate $4 million in royalties each year. 

Agatha Christie's Early Life – Reading and Writing

Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on September 15, 1890, in Torquay, Devon, South West England to a somewhat eccentric British mother, Clara Boehmer, and a wealthy American father, Frederick Alvah Miller.

Far younger than her siblings, Agatha taught herself to read by the age of five and read broadly even at an early age — everything from Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women to poetry to "startling thrillers from America."

Agatha was home-schooled mostly by her father, whose business interests suffered throughout her childhood, as did his health (perhaps as a consequence of his financial difficulties).

As a child, Agatha wrote poems and her first was printed in a newspaper when she was eleven years old. She was quoted as saying she'd had a very happy childhood but also that her childhood ended when her father passed away – also when she was eleven.

After Frederick's death, Clara and Agatha struggled financially.  In her mid-teens, Christie boarded at various pensions in France to "finish" her education with music, language, and other skills. By her late teens, she'd published more poems and had written a number of short stories. When she was about twenty, she and her mother spent three months in Cairo — a hot vacation spot for upper class British — for financial reasons, to improve her mother's ill health and to shore up her own marital prospects.

Agatha Christie's Firsts

After a number of suitors and a broken engagement, Agatha married her first husband, aviator Archie Christie on Christmas Eve 1914. However, they were both embroiled in World War I duties — he in France, her at a Red Cross dispensary in Torquay.

Husband away, bored with her dispensary duties, Agatha Christie wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles partly on a bet with her older sister Madge that she couldn't do it.

Archie was assigned to the War Office in London in 1918 and he and Agatha began living together for the first time. In 1919, at the end of the war, Archie got a job in London and Agatha gave birth to their first and only child, Rosalind.

In 1919, Agatha was offered her first book deal as John Lane of The Bodley Head contracted not only The Mysterious Affair at Styles but five additional books, as well. 

Was Agatha Christie the Original Gone Girl?

A confluence of sad events — her mother's death, Archie's unfaithfulness to their marriage and request for a divorce, and writer's burnout — may have contributed to the real-life mystery of Agatha Christie's disappearance for 11 days in 1926.

Leaving her Rosalind with her secretary, Agatha took off and abandoned her car. The search for the missing author caused a huge public sensation and made the front page of the New York Times.

Christie was discovered to have checked herself into a hotel in Surrey under the surname of Archie's mistress and was diagnosed with amnesia. However, there is some evidence that she planned the disappearance to embarrass Archie.

But the writer ultimately divorced, then remarried in 1930 to Max Mallowan, an archeologist 14 years her junior. Their travels together contributed to her book research. In addition, she got a literary agent who brokered much better book contract terms with a new publisher, William Collins and Sons.

Grand Master of the Mystery Genre and Quite a Dame

The 1930s and 1940s were prolific ones for Christie. In 1955, Agatha Christie was the recipient of the first Grand Master honor at the Edgar Awards sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America. In 1971, she was awarded the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

She passed away on 12 January 1976 and maintains her status as the world's best-selling novelist.