Agatha Christie: the unsung Queen of Crime Fiction?

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In the UK, one in three books sold is a crime fiction novel. This should come as no surprise; from its origins in novels like the Sherlock Holmes series, scandal has always sold. However, the author that must truly be accredited with the success of the genre is Agatha Christie. 

The statistics surrounding Christie’s work are astonishing. Her sixty six novels have sold roughly two billion copies, and she is the most published individual author ever, coming third only to Shakespeare and The Bible. The continuing popularity of these novels on stage and screen has assured the persistence of the genre. But what is it about them that inspires directors to remake and adapt them time and time again – and audiences to watch?

The author that must truly be accredited with the success of the genre is Agatha Christie

2017 saw the release of a star-studded interpretation of Murder on the Orient Express, and this year will bring the release of an equally high-profile reimagining of Death on the Nile, with Gal Gadot starring as Linnet Ridgeway – a role previously taken up by the likes of Lois Chiles and Emily Blunt. Clearly, Agatha Christie’s mysteries remain alive and kicking in the wake of a long tradition of adaptation – the first of her works to receive a film adaptation was The Passing of Mr Quin, in 1928, only eight years after the publication of her first novel. Evidently, Christie’s writing is currently being reimagined in a more glamorous form – a segue from constant re-runs of Miss Marple and Poirot on ITV3.

Nevertheless, many people still associate Agatha Christie with the popularity of her onstage detectives Poirot and Miss Marple, mostly due to the success of their on-screen imaginings. Although Christie’s works are often disregarded as fusty and unfashionable, people love them – with a lush setting and a gripping plot, what’s not to like? In a country so gripped by nostalgia, tales of high-rollers being murdered in the ’30s seem ideal. But still, Christie has come under fire from critics like P.D. James, calling her characters ‘cardboard cutouts’, completely overlooked in favour of the plot.

Although Christie’s works are often disregarded as fusty and unfashionable, people love them

But what’s so bad about substance over style? Perhaps Christie’s work has persisted so steadily because their lack of detail leaves them so open to interpretation. The author said of her novels that: “the real work is done in thinking out the development of your story”, rather than in the actual writing. Truthfully – this comes across. Although her writing style can sometimes fall flat in terms of literary flare, the level of detail and the deftly constructed plots have made Christie’s work eminently adaptable for stage and screen. 

Christie’s novels remain popular abroad and are currently available in one hundred and three languages

As well as their cinematic success, Christie’s novels remain popular abroad and are currently available in one hundred and three languages. Growing up in Communist Romania, my Dad learnt English through these murder mysteries. On reflection, this seems a brilliant idea – what could get you more interested in learning English than a murderer on the loose? This is now an idea that is being incorporated into the classroom. Publisher Collins recently introduced twenty abridged versions of Christie’s classics, aimed at upper-intermediate English learners.

It may be beside the point that for my Dad, the novels were only allowed into Communist Romania because they painted Western society as degenerate and rotten to the core. Nevertheless, Christie’s works are eminently readable as well as adaptable because their salacious plots rule all. Even though my Dad is now staunchly westernised (he says he moved for the jeans and the chewing gum), Christie’s writing still holds out as a firm favourite of his, as I’m sure is true of her many fans across the globe.

Image: Pixabay

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