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Christie, Agatha

Entry updated 13 May 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1890-1976) Prolific and popular UK author of detective fiction whose best-known investigators Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple feature in many novels, stories and Cinema/Television adaptations; Poirot is introduced in her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Christie's very considerable talent for juggling character and motivation amid small and/or isolated circles of suspects did not lend itself to stories of Near Future global revolution, but she nevertheless attempted two. The early Poirot novel The Big Four (2 January-19 March 1924 The Sketch as The Man Who Was Number Four; fixup 1927) is episodic in a manner strongly reminiscent of Sax Rohmer's The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu (fixup 1913; vt The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu 1913), and likewise features a Yellow-Peril Chinese mastermind. Other members of the villainous Four are a US multimillionaire; a French Mad Scientist, distantly resembling Madame Curie, whose Inventions include new applications of Nuclear Energy and destructive Rays which are tested on hapless American warships; and an anonymous English executioner whose murders Poirot investigates. A roughly similar Big Five, lacking the Fu-Manchu figure, appears in the late and remarkably incoherent Passenger to Frankfurt (1970). Here a global "Revolution of Youth" – explicitly imitating the Hitler Youth, with a blond and Wagnerian "Young Siegfried" as puppet leader – shuts down European airports, razes Washington, District of Columbia, to the ground, and causes general alarm. The proposed solution is a speculative Drug or gas which can be widely broadcast to induce permanent benevolence and "horror of causing pain or inflicting violence"; the novel effectively ends with a retired Scientist's decision to resume work on this "Project Benvo", while the author has seemingly forgotten the unresolved state of world chaos.

Christie wrote several short stories with supernatural elements – some collected, together with orthodox nonseries detections, in The Hound of Death (coll 1933) – and created a kind of sentimental Occult Detective [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] for The Mysterious Mr. Quin (coll 1930). In these stories the shadowy and elusive Harley Quin (the "harlequin" pun is deliberate and explicit, sometimes echoed in effects of lighting) does not so much detect as use his presumably occult information to steer a mundane friend, Mr Satterthwaite, towards the insight required to explain a crime; the misleadingly titled The Complete Quin & Satterthwaite: Love Detectives (omni 2004) includes two long Hercule Poirot investigations featuring Satterthwaite but not Quin. In The Pale Horse (1961), a criminal operation which expensively disposes of unwanted relatives is fronted by three modern "witches" whose ritual presents as a Technofantasy fusion of Psi Powers and a mysterious electrical Machine which supposedly directs a curse or death spell along the appropriate compass bearing; despite this impressive pantomime the killings are of course achieved by mundane means.

Christie was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1971. [DRL]

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, née Miller

born Torquay, Devon: 15 September 1890

died Cholsey, Oxfordshire: 12 January 1976

works (highly selected)

  • The Big Four (London: Collins, 1927) [fixup: stories first appeared 2 January-19 March 1924 The Sketch as The Man Who Was Number Four: Hercule Poirot: hb/]
  • The Pale Horse (London: Collins, 1961) [hb/]
  • Passenger to Frankfurt (London: Collins, 1970) [hb/]

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