The Writing Style of Agatha Christie
by Evelyn Hepburn

Dame Agatha Christie, a British author of 66 novels and 15 short story collections, is an unrivaled master of the detective genre. Her worldwide sales are matched only by the collected works of Shakespeare. Because of their immense popularity, Christie's novels remain part of popular culture. Christie's ability to combine period-specific subject matter with creative plot structures, psychology, and careful story development, cements her place in the canon of English popular literature.

The presence of contemporary subject matter was an element that made Christie's works so popular during the mid-20th century. Christie's interest in archaeology, a popular hobby among the wealthy in 1930s Britain, influenced her works considerably. Some of Christie's works feature archaeological themes, artifacts, and archaeologists prominently. In these works, the presence of ancient artifacts symbolizes death, impending trouble, and mystery: all elements that enhance the existing storyline.

Another prevailing influence on Christie's works was her service in World War I as a nurse. The war is a recurring theme in Christie's novels, often involving a family struggling to recover after a male figure had died during the war. This was an all too common scene in the 1920s; over 15 million lives were lost during World War I, and many families in Europe were affected by this. By relating directly to her immediate audience, Christie's works became popular.
Christie's experience as a war nurse also affected her plot structures. In many of her stories, the murder—or, in literary terms, the initial conflict—involves poison, a substance that Christie was quite familiar with from her war service. Her knack for selecting the right poison for the murder increased the story's plausibility to Christie's audience.

Along with being plausible to the audience, Christie's plots often employ experimental elements. The double-plot approach, where two stories are happening at once that eventually converge, is a Christie trademark. In these stories, the secondary plot involves a psychological trickster: a character that intentionally creates fear and chaos for the other characters. Usually this character is not the one that committed the murder, as this conclusion would be too obvious; rather, it is an individual with a hidden vendetta against the rest of the party.

The use of psychological analysis is quite prominent in Christie's works. As opposed the classic whodunit that relies on physical evidence, Christie's detectives utilize psychology to draw conclusions. Poirot, her most famous detective, solves mysteries utilizing only what the character famously refers to as his "little gray cells"—his brain. This often results in the murderer being the least likely suspect, a common Christie trope.

The speed at which the reader arrives at the end of the book to discover the killer is carefully controlled by the author. By placing many descriptive passages in one section, Christie manipulates her readers to move through the book faster. In areas where descriptive passages are fewer, the reader slows down. Through this careful story development, Christie develops suspense, almost forcing the audience to be actively engaged in the work.

Agatha Christie remains relevant today because her works utilize many literary devices that are not commonly found in the detective genre. While authors have attempted to replicate her detectives, Christie's unique ability to combine experimental plots with psychological analysis makes her one of the world's most popular novelists.

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