Agatha Christie was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Devon, England in 1890. Her father was an American stockbroker. Agatha was the youngest of three children. After working as a nurse during World War I, she married Archie Christie, an aviator in the Royal Flying Corps.
Christie's debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, introduced one of her most famous characters, the detective Hercule Poirot. She began writing the novel during World War I, partly in response to a bet from her sister Madge that she couldn't write a good detective story, and partly to relieve the monotony of her job at a hospital dispensary. The first three publishers she brought the novel to rejected it, and it was almost a decade until she found a publisher in John Lane of The Bodley Head.
While married to Archie Christie, she published six other novels and numerous short stories. Her marriage, however, was turbulent, and she and her husband divorced after she discovered he was having an affair. Soon after her discovery of the affair, Christie disappeared, causing a national uproar. She was found soon after and blamed the disappearance on memory loss. In 1930, Christie married Max Mallowan, an archaeologist. Her travels to the Middle East with her new husband inspired the settings for several of her most famous novels including Murder on the Orient Express, which was written during an extended stay at a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. During World War II, Christie again worked as a pharmacist and nurse. Her knowledge of medicine influenced her mysterious characters, many of whom died from lethal injections.
Christie received numerous awards and critical honors for her work. She was honored as the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956 and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1971. Her husband was knighted for his work as well. Her work generally received warm critical praise, though some, including the journalist Christopher Hitchens, criticized Christie for her conservative political and social views. Christie remains the bestselling author in the world. Her 80 books and numerous stories have sold over a billion copies in English and another billion in foreign translation. Her play, The Mousetrap, is the longest running play in history with over 23,000 shows. Only the Bible has sold more copies than Christie's books. She is also the author of several romance novels, written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, and one autobiography chronicling her travels with her husband.
Recent scientific study of her notes and writings has suggested that, towards the end of her life, Christie began suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She died from natural causes in 1976 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's, Cholsey. During World War II, Christie wrote two novels, Curtain and Sleeping Murder, both of which she locked away and intended to be published after her death. They were to be the closing chapters for her two greatest characters, Hercule Poirot and Mrs. Marple. Poirot is the only fictional character to have received an obituary in the New York Times.