Ward's Book of Days.

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JANUARY 12th  

On this day in history in 1976, died Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie, known as the ‘Queen of Crime’, was a detective mystery writer whose work sold over two billion copies and was translated into over a hundred languages.  

Agatha Miller was born in 1890 in Torquay to well to do parents of the upper middle class, who tutored her at home. In 1914, she married Colonel Archibald Christie, a colonel in the Royal Flying Corps. Soon after her marriage, Christie became involved in war work, first at a hospital and then at a pharmacy. Here she learned of drugs and poisons and their properties and the uses to which they could be put, either for good or evil. She became acquainted with a Belgian soldier, who despite his egotistical temperament was adept at character analysis and making logical deductions from seemingly mundane material. She also met a nurse who was traumatised by the loss of her fiancé at the front and, after the war, lived as a spinster, interfering with the affairs of the individuals who lived in her village.  

After the war, Christie beguiled her spare time writing. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featured the Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot, who was to appear in a further twenty-four narratives. Miss Jane Marple, the busybody spinster of St Mary Mead, first appeared in 1930. Her works were mainly whodunits and locked-room mysteries. They were characterised by a mysterious murder or murders, an inept investigating police officer and the ingenious hero who solves the mystery, using only the information, which appears within the text. The mysteries were always rational and, at the denouement, the trail used by the detective is always, if a little laboriously, fully explained. Christie published over eighty novels and wrote several stage plays, many of which were translated to the film and television screen. Her play, The Mousetrap, set a record for the longest continuous run.  

In 1926, Christie was involved in a real life mystery. Christie was at the time unnerved by the recent and sudden death of her mother and by the abrupt demand from her husband for a divorce. Christie disappeared without notice. Her car was found abandoned at a chalk pit. Despite a search by the local police, no clue as to her whereabouts was discovered. Police believed her to have been kidnapped or murdered and launched a nationwide search. Newspapers offered rewards for information as to her whereabouts. After a week of high drama in the newspaper columns, Christie was discovered, residing in a Harrogate hotel, registered in the name of the woman her husband intended to marry.  Whether Christie was psychologically disturbed by recent events or whether the incident was a publicity stunt, has never been explained.  A 1979 film Agatha, staring Vanessa Redgrave gives an account of the occurrence.  

After divorce, Christie married Sir Max Mallowen, an archaeologist, with whom she travelled extensively to ancient sites. In 1971, she was made a Dame of the British Empire for services to literature. She died peacefully at her home in Cholsy, aged eighty-five, and is buried in the local churchyard. [St Mary’s Church, Church Road, Cholsey, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 9PP]

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