Friday, December 14, 2012

The Mystery Genre: Then and Now

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie

I cut my teeth reading English author Agatha Christie novels, sneaking them into my room after hours from my father’s collection. She became the Grande Dame of the mystery genre in what is called, “The Golden Age of Detective Fiction,” which some claim ran from the 1920’s to 1941. However, the genre is still alive and well into the 21st Century. The success of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole, and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher are only a few examples of the genre's  longevity.

Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was written in 1916, was first published by John Lane in the United States in 1920, and introduced her soon-to-be- famous detective, Hercule Poirot. The setting of this first novel is Styles Court during WWI, and would later be used as the setting for the final Poirot novel Curtain.

The story is told in first person by Poirot’s friend, Captain Hastings, and features many of the elements that have become icons of early detective fiction largely due to Agatha Christie’s influence. It is set in a large, isolated country manor. There are a half-dozen suspects, most of whom are hiding facts about themselves. The book includes a map of the house, the murder scene, a particial copy of a will, plus many red herrings and plot twists. Classic Christie.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple novels have sold roughly four billion copies. Her estate claims that her works rank third, after those of William Shakespeare and the Bible, as the world's most widely published books, and her books have been translated into at least 103 languages. And Then There Were None is Christie's best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world's best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time. In 1971, she was made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Noteably one of the most versatile authors ever, her stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on November 25, 1952 and as of 2012 is still running after more than 25,000 performances.[In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honour, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA for Best Play. Many of her books and short stories have been filmed, and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.

September 15, 1890 to January 12, 1976

Dame Agatha Christis


  1. Nice post, Virginia. I hope you'll also cover my two favorite "Golden Age" authors - Ellery Queen and Margery Allingham.

    1. I'll check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I've been dealing with a cold for the last ten days, so I've been doing a lot of reading. As always, when I have lots of time to read and nothing else on my agenda, I gravitate toward old favorites. You got it, Agatha Christie.

    I read the Complete Short Stories of Miss Marple last week. I'm working my way through Hercule Poirot stories this week.

    According to the introduction on one of those books, Agatha Christie's works rank third behind the Bible and Shakespeare in overall sales. I don't know about you, but I consider that very good company.

    By the way, she also chronicled the work of her husband, who was an archeologist. Come Tell Me How You Lived is the title of that and it's published under Agatha Christie Mallowan.

    She was truly a remarkable lady.