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About the Author

Matthew Bunson is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books, including a variety of references such as the acclaimed Encyclopedia Sherlockiana and The Vampire Encyclopedia. His most recent book is Prophecies 2000: Predictions, Revelations, and Visions for the New Millennium. He is also the author of Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic History, Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, and The Wisdom Teachings of the Dalai Lama. He has also served as a consultant to documentaries on the Arts & Entertainment Channel and the BBC.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Agatha Christie


Agatha May Clarissa Miller was born at Ashfield, the family home of Frederick Alvah Miller and Clara "Clarissa" Miller (née Boehmer), in Torquay, England, on September 15, 1890. Her father was an American who had business connections to both America and England, and her mother was the niece of Frederick's stepmother. The family established firmer ties to the United States with their decision to move to New England from Torquay in 1879 shortly after the birth of their first child, Madge. While in America in 1880, Clara gave birth to their second child, Monty. Soon after, the family set off for England again, but Frederick was forced by business to return across the Atlantic, and suggested that the family continue on to Torquay and rent a house. Upon his return, however, Frederick learned that Clara had actually purchased a house, Ashfield, and, despite initial plans to sell it after a time and return to America, the Millers decided to remain at the home and become permanent residents in England.

The third child of the family, Agatha grew up essentially an only child. Madge and Monty were much older than she was and were away at school most of the time. Her early education was at home, and her parents initially were worried that she might be developmentally challenged because of her severe shyness. This concern was proven groundless as Agatha soon displayed much of the curiosity and love of learning that characterized her later years. The happiness of her youth was shattered, however, in 1901, when Frederick died. It was a severe a blow to the family, both from a personal and a financial standpoint. It became necessary, for example, for Agatha's mother to rent out Ashfield from time to time to make ends meet, meaning that she and Agatha would travel under very austere circumstances during the times when Ashfield was occupied.

Her mother made certain that Agatha received a suitable education, and, in 1906, she was sent to Paris to attend a finishing school. While there, she earned a reputation as a gifted singer and showed a talent for music. There was, in fact, some discussion about the possibility of Agatha's becoming a professional singer, but the notion did not long endure. Throughout her long life, she retained a love of music and an ability to play the piano.

An attractive and intelligent young woman, Agatha became the recipient of a number of marriage proposals. She declined all of them until 1912, when she accepted the offer of a major in the Gunners (Artillery). The very next year, she met the dashing Captain Archibald Christie, who swept her off her feet at a party. He was a guest at Ashfield a few days later, making a grand entrance on a motorcycle. Within a short time, she accepted his offer of marriage and sat down to write the painful letter to her first fiancé announcing the cancellation of their planned wedding. On Christmas Eve, 1914, Agatha and Archibald were wed. Two days later, Archie was sent off to fight in World War I.

While Archie was away, Agatha volunteered in a local hospital as a nurse and was eventually moved to the hospital pharmacy and dispensary. There, she encountered many of the poisons that were to be featured in her later writings and even gained firsthand knowledge of at least one possible plot for a murder (see The Pale Horse, page 115, for details). By 1916, she had decided to try her hand at writing and had been working on a mystery novel. Partly to alleviate the boredom of being a war wife and also because she seemed to have a natural gift for plotting out the details of a novel, Christe stayed at her book. The result was The Mysterious Affair at Styles. After submitting it unsuccessfully to several publishers, her first novel found a home at John Lane and was published in 1920. Owing to the terms of her contract, she made virtually no money from the book, and she remained initially uncertain whether a writing career was feasible.

After Archie's return and the end of the war, the Christies settled in London, where Archie took a position in a bank. In 1919, Rosalind Christie, Agatha's only child, was born. Christie continued writing, and in 1922 her second novel, The Secret Adversary, was published. It was written mainly to assist with the upkeep of Ashfield, although Archie encouraged her in her writing. She soon signed with the literary agents Hughes Massie, Ltd., and, before long, her unprofitable and draconian contract with John Lane was terminated. After that, she was signed with the ambitious publisher William Collins Sons and Co., Ltd. Her first book with them was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), one of the most breathtaking, innovative, and popular mysteries of the twentieth century. Her relationship with Collins endured to the end of her life.

Agatha dedicated her third novel, Murder on the Links (1923), "To my husband," and noted in her autobiography that she was "happy" during this period. Strains began to appear as early as 1924, however, stemming at least in part from Archie's obsession with golf. By 1926, there was considerable distance between Archie and Agatha, so much so that Agatha took a holiday to Corsica without him in the early part of the year. It proved a portentous beginning to a very dramatic year.

Upon returning home, Agatha learned that her mother was seriously ill with bronchitis. Clara Miller died only days later, and Agatha faced the disaster alone, as Archie was away in Spain. He returned to England, learned of the death of his mother-in-law, and promptly set out again. Even after he came back, he still stayed away from Agatha, preferring to remain in London or at the recently acquired family home in Berkshire, Styles House.

In the midst of this tragedy, Christie earned national acclaim with the June release of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. She was still recovering from her mother's death when Archie made the announcement that he wanted a divorce. He had fallen in love with another woman, Nancy Neele. Out of consideration for Rosalind, Archie moved back to Styles House for an attempted reconciliation. As Christie wrote in her autobiography, it was "a period of sorrow, misery, heartbreak." By early December, the reunion was over. Archie announced that he was leaving again, this time for good, to be with Nancy. The episode that followed still remains a mystery.

One day, Agatha Christie returned home to Styles House and discovered Archie gone. She then packed a bag and drove away. Her car was found the following morning over an embankment at Newlands Corner, Berkshire. The hood was up and the lights were on; inside the car was a fur coat and a suitcase, as well as Agatha's expired driver's license. The police subsequently issued a missing person report, a news flash that gripped the imagination of the country, especially as Roger Ackroyd was still one of the best-selling books of the year. The Daily Mail offered a reward of one hundred pounds for Agatha's discovery and police everywhere were on the lookout for her.

The uproar ended unceremoniously when the reward was claimed by Bob Tappin, a musician at the Hydro Hotel in Harrogate. He recognized Christie as a guest (she was registered under the name Teresa Neele) and claimed the money. Police and Archie Christie raced to the hotel. After meeting with Agatha in private, Archie made a public statement that his wife "has suffered the most complete loss of memory and does not know who she is." This was the position reiterated in public statements by the author. The matter is still a "mystery, with no complete answer given to the disappearance's many nagging questions. Christie herself did not touch upon the matter in her autobiography, and the closest thing to an official statement made by her about it in later years was published in Janet Morgan's authorized biography. Morgan, who had access to many papers unavailable to other writers, supported Christie's original claims of amnesia.

The disappearance of Agatha Christie remains one of the most intriguing episodes in the eventful life of the author. As she never addressed the issue publicly, Christie's precise activities during her several missing days served as fodder for rumor and theory, and the amount of gossip and speculation, combined with the vicious treatment she received from the press left Christie understandably reluctant for the rest of her life to deal with the media and to have her private life once more the subject of ridicule and scandalmongering.

There was, however, a continuing interest in the disappearance, with researchers and writers attempting to piece together the author's activities. A fictional account of the disappearance was penned in 1978 by Kathy Tynan (with an adaptation to film in 1979, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman). Another theory was recently offered by Jared Cade in his Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days (1998). He postulated that the disappearance was a calculated effort by Agatha to humiliate her husband, Archie. The theory was rejected forcefully by Mathew Prichard, the dedicated defender of his grandmother's memory.

During the period of recovery from the trauma, Agatha lived at Styles with Archie, but their marriage was at an end. She finally granted him, albeit reluctantly, a divorce. By the end Of 1927, after a long period of writer's block, she was back at work. Her divorce was finalized in 1928, and Christie was able to make a joke about the entire ghastly affair in the dedication of The Mystery of the Blue Train by giving praise to members of the "O.F.D." (Order of the Faithful Dogs). She considered the divorce to have been an "acid test" for her friends. Those who remained devoted were members of the O.F.D., while those who had abandoned her were made members of the Order of the Rats, third class. The two most conspicuous members of the Faithful Dogs, as noted in her dedication, were Carlo (her secretary, Charlotte) and Peter, her wirehaired terrier.

In 1928, Christie also went to the Middle East and visited the archaeological dig at Ur. She became friendly with the dig director, Leonard Woolley, and his wife, Katharine. While on a second visit, she met Max Mallowan, the twenty-six-year-old archaeological assistant to Woolley. The two were married on September 11, 1930, in Scotland. Their marriage proved a genuinely happy one, lasting for forty-six years and ending only with Agatha's death. At the time of their union, Agatha was thirty-nine and Max was twenty-six. For purposes of her books, Agatha retained the name Agatha Christie, but, in private life, she always referred to herself as Mrs. Mallowan, and her nonfiction account of life on an archaeological dig, Come Tell Me How You Live, was published under the name Agatha Christie Mallowan.

Max was a brilliant archaeologist, and Agatha happily devoted much of her time to working with him on his many digs in the Middle East. She became a bona fide member of the archaeological team, and recorded the details of her daily activities in Come Tell Me How You Live. Max's most important dig was at Nimrud, which began around 1949. As always, Agatha was at his side, assisting him for the next ten years. It was while at the dig at Nimrud that she first started work on her autobiography, at which laboring sporadically for fifteen years. In 1960, Max was honored with the rank of Commander of the British Empire, not for being the husband of Agatha Christie but for his many contributions to archaeology and to the advancement of our knowledge about the ancient world. He published a documentary history of the dig at Nimrud, Nimrud and Its Remains, in 1966. Two years later, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his work.

Even as she assisted her husband -- and adored work on the digs -- Christie continued her staggeringly prolific writing career. She produced about one book a year and enjoyed an especially productive period during World War II, when she wrote such works as Sad Cypress (1940), One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940), Evil under the Sun (1941), N or M? (1941), The Body in the Library (1942), Five Little Pigs (1943), The Moving Finger (1943), Towards Zero (1944), Death Comes As the End (1945), Sparkling Cyanide (1945), and Sleeping Murder and Curtain, the two long final cases for Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, respectively.

Aside from its period of great productivity, the war brought to Christie the terrible uncertainty of the London Blitz and bombings by the Luftwaffe as well as a personal tragedy. Her daughter, Rosalind Christie, had married Hubert Prichard early in the war, and, in 1944, the young man was killed in the fighting. The grief of his death was relieved in many ways by the presence of Mathew Prichard, Christie's grandson, who had been born on September 21, 1943. Agatha loved her grandson, regularly sending him advance copies of her books while he was away at school and even giving him the copyright to The Mousetrap as a present for his tenth birthday. In 1949, Rosalind was married again, this time to Anthony Hicks, of whom Agatha approved most enthusiastically.

In addition to her work on archaeological digs and her gargantuan literary efforts, Christie also enjoyed a career as a playwright. Her first play, Black Coffee, was staged in 1930 and starred the great actor Francis Sullivan. Christie never saw it, however, as she was in Mesopotamia at the time. It was the success of Ten Little Indians (1940) that convinced her to continue on as a playwright and sparked a period of much stage writing, which included Appointment with Death (1945), Murder on the Nile (1946), The Murder at the Vicarage (1949), and The Hollow (1951). These were, in many ways, mere preludes to her most successful play -- and one of the most successful and enduring plays of all time -- The Mousetrap. Her triumph was followed the next year by the immensely popular Witness for the Prosecution (1953).

In 1956, Christie was given formal recognition for her place in literature and the arts. She was named a Commander of the British Empire. In 1971, she was declared a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. That same year, she suffered a leg injury. It marked the beginning of a sharp decline in her health and her productivity. It is commonly agreed that her last two novels, Elephants Can Remember (1972) and Postern of Fate (1973), were not of the same quality as her previous works, and Postern of Fate proved to be her last original work. Later, however, Christie published her final Poirot and Marple novels, Curtain (1975) and Sleeping Murder (1976), which had been sitting in vaults since World War II. They were a fitting cap to an unprecedented literary career.

Dame Agatha made her final public appearances at the 1974 gala premiere of the film Murder on the Orient Express, screened at the ABC cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue, London, with Queen Elizabeth in attendance, and at the banquet held at Claridge's afterward. She died on January 12, 1976, at her home at Wallingford, Berkshire. Max Mallowan survived his beloved Agatha by two years, dying on August 19, 1978. As per her request, Christie was buried in a private ceremony at Saint Mary's churchyard, Cholsey, Berkshire. Her simple tombstone was inscribed with two lines from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene:

Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas,

Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please.

Copyright © 2000 by Matthew Bunson

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (September 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671028316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671028312
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,245,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For the last twenty years, Dr. Matthew E. Bunson has been active in the area of Catholic Social Communications, including writing, editing and lecturing on a variety of topics related to Church history, the papacy and Catholic culture.

Senior Correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor and a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, he is the author or co-author of over forty-five books including: The Pope Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Catholic History, The Encyclopedia of Saints, John Paul II's Book of Saints, Papal Wisdom and The Angelic Doctor, The Life and World of St. Thomas Aquinas.

In 2005, he authored the first biography of Pope Benedict XVI in the English language. He is also the co-author of the upcoming Encyclopedia of the U.S. Catholic History. Since 1997, he has served as general editor of Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Almanac. In addition, he has been editor of The Catholic Answer Magazine since 2010 and is a professor of History and Church History for the Catholic Distance University in Virginia.

During the 2005 papal interregnum and conclave, Bunson served as a special consultant to USA Today and has appeared as a guest on many television and radio programs, including MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, EWTN, France 24, and Relevant Radio. Aside from his Doctor of Ministry degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation, Bunson holds a Bachelor's degree in History, and two Master's degrees in Theology. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies for a Ph.D. in Church History.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By David Spanswick on October 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you are a Christie fan you must have this book. Once you start dipping you will not stop and once you start to cross-reference you'll end up being late for work. This dedicated addition to the Christie files is just great. It contains not only references to just about every character that ever appeared in a book by Agatha christe but has film references, T.V. references. (Will somebody please help me find the now lost "Agatha Christie Hour" programmes) as well as theatrical references.
If you buy only one non-fiction Chritie reference book you will not be dissapointed with Matthew Bunson's brilliant hommage as no better critique could you find than a dedicated fan who would go to this much trouble. Thanks, Matthew, hope you sell loads
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bradley Friedman on June 26, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I must confess that I am writing this without having finished every page of this work. I commend any author for attempting to sort out and cross-reference every character and piece of writing, along with film and TV adaptations, of as prolific an author as Agatha Christie. But I have two complaints. The first is that, so far in my reading, there have been a great many silly errors throughout, ranging from wholly incorrect names to the misidentification of a character's position in a novel (in one example, a person is listed as a victim when in reality that person is the killer!), to incorrect details in plot. For a long-standing fan of Dame Agatha's work, the relatively large amount of errors suggests sloppy research and makes the author's methods suspect.

The other point that strikes me is that I am not sure who the author considers his intended audience for this book. The entries of the novels are particularly light in terms of fact or discussion. They tend to describe the beginnings of the stories in great detail and then end quickly with "And then Poirot solves the case. The notes following these synopses are often quite brief, with a casual mention of of trivia ("This novel demonstrates Christie's knowledge of poisons) or a recounting of an anecdote well-known to real Christie fans, such as an explanation for why a particular book was dedicated to a particular person. I suppose these stories would be of most interest to new readers of Christie, although why they would be reading this book rather than the novels and stories themselves is puzzling to me.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on September 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Let me start out by saying I have not read every page in this homage to the great Ms. Christie. Instead, over the past few couple of weeks I have looked up the detailed descriptions of items of interest to me like the list of television shows, stage performances, and movies created from one of Ms. Christie's works. That is the beauty of thisencyclopedia. Fans of the author and readers of mysteries can easily pick and choose their personal preferences. Besides the above, Matthew Bunson provides a detailed synopsis of each novel and short story, and a brief description of each character (I cannot argue if it is not complete) that ever appeared in one of these works.

THE COMPLETE CHRISTIE: AN AGATHA CHRISTIE ENCYCLOPEDIA is a fun piece of work that will provide much enjoyment to fans of Ms. Christie. Perhaps the only drawback to this wonderful book is a lack of a table of contents tied to the wonderful listings in the appendices that would enable casual fans to do even more specific digging.

Harriet Klausner
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By One-Reader on September 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is a lot the Agatha Christie fan will like about this work. I particularly like the plot summaries, and I suspect many other readers will as well. These provide just enough of the plot to set the stage for, or recall the core of the story if previously read, without giving away the stories' solutions. This was not an easy task.

However, not infrequently the summaries contain factual errors. As but one example, in the summary of "Hercule Poirot's Christmas', the author provides the location for this story as Gossington Hall when the location is actually Gorston Hall. The author also mentions this title was reprinted in paperback as "A Holiday for Murder'. Although published with this title in paperback," it was also reprinted with this title in hardcover in 1983, as one of the volumes in "The Agatha Christie Mystery Collection". Although "The Complete Christie" has a copyright date of 2000, no hardbound edition of "A Holiday for Murder" is mentioned. There are a number of similar inadvertent errors and oversights throughout the work.

Fortunately, the majority of errors will be obvious to Christie fans, and there is enough new information so fans will find this book worth reading and referencing. The plot summaries take up over 1/3 of the book with "The Characters" section, a brief description of the characters in Christie's stories, taking up about 1/2 of the book. The remaining major section of the book is devoted to "Film, Television, Stage, and Actors" associated with the adaptation of Christie's works. This last section contains the greatest density of black and white pictures from various adaptations, although there are pictures sparsely scattered elsewhere in this work.

Bottom line: Really 3 1/2 stars.
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