Yesterday was Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday. I’ve written about her, and what she means to me a couple of other times on this blog. (Here and here.) Those posts also include what I’ve learned from being a Christie-o-phile.
Today, I want to acknowledge something, as a writer. She died 39 years ago. Thirty. Nine. Years. To date, it is estimated that she has sold between 2 billion and 4 billion books. Her books still sell very well. Additionally, there are adaptions of them on television and in the movies, and even an author who has rebooted the Hercule Poirot series. Despite being of an Edwardian age, born 125 years ago, her books remain current enough to continue to attract generations of writers. Some, many, claim that they read her as a teenager, but not since. Fair enough. Even if that is true, generations upon generations of readers continue to discover her.
She had dozens upon dozens of peers, many now forgotten. Some may have been better writers. Others had a greater impact when these things were measured contemporaneously. But, again, Dame Agatha’s reputation continues, and others are forgotten.
Why is that true? I actually think there are three factors to her continues success. First of all, she was a heck of a story teller. She plotted carefully, and kept the reader guessing. She also played “fair” with her readers, always creating a puzzle that they could solved.
Second of all, though she wrote 100 years ago, post World War I, her characters have a timeless quality. Let me be clear, she was a woman of her time, and had some issues around diversity and inclusion that can be troubling. That said, even though her Colonel may be of a time we don’t recognize, we recognize him. Boisterous, self-important, lost without a war to fight. She gives us enough to understand him, and contemporize him for our modern sensibilities.
Lastly, she wrote a lot, and in many different genres. She wrote novels, with several different anchor characters. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot were the most famous, but Tommy and Tuppence, Sargent Battle, Ariadne Oliver, Captain Hastings, Miss Lemon and others were like family members we enjoyed visiting with. She wrote short stories. She also wrote plays. Her work had been adapted to other mediums, successfully. She adapted, and created a ton of content.
There are other authors who hit those three points, but are forgotten soon after their death. Agatha Christie broke a mold. It is well worth considering how she did it.
And then do our best, as writers, to replicate it.
J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. As Julianne Holmes, she writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. The first in the series, Just Killing Time, debuts October 6.