Agatha Christie's Secret

Agatha Christie has sold more books than any other author on the planet, with estimations ranging from a hundred million to two billion books sold, in at least fifty-six languages. The Guinness Book of Records has named Christie as the best-selling writer of books of all time. Only The Bible is known to have done better in terms of sales, and some conclude that she is currently the most translated individual author in the world.

What is her secret?

Christie's detective stories are mainly whodunits, situated in the English middle or upper class, where, normally, an important person is murdered, and a detective (usually Miss Marple or Poirot) is either called to the crime scene or is (miraculously) already present. All the people involved are interrogated as the story goes on, revealing the details of the murder and possible motives. Often a second and even third murder occurs, typically someone who has witnessed something about the murder, and who has tried to blackmail the murderer. Many of the characters also may have something to hide, making them suspect, but these secrets usually turn out to have nothing to do with the murders. Eventually, at the end of a conventional Christie tale, all suspects are gathered in a meeting, and the detective reveals the logic behind the investigation and finally the murderer.

Strong on psychological suspense and atmosphere, developed as all the characters’ innermost secrets are revealed, there is usually also a gradual build-up of tension before the murders actually occur.

The key factor, though, is that there is usually some ingenious piece of deception involved.

This essential mystery -Who is the murderer? and, as a corollary, How did he or she do it?- is what keeps the readers -all two billion of them- glued to the page until the end.

Similar mechanisms are used throughout fiction, with another notable best-selling example being the Harry Potter series, always built around at least one mystery for Harry and his companions to solve as the story goes from chapter to chapter.