Historic meetings: When Agatha Christie met Max Mallowan

Agatha Christie was one of the most prolific and iconic crime writers in the world. She wrote 66 crime novels and 14 short story collections.

Guinness World Records lists her as the bestselling fiction writer in history, with sales of more than two billion books.

Unsurprisingly, the Bible is top of the list of the bestselling books of all time, with more than five billion copies printed. However, the only fiction writer to match Christie’s amazing record is 16th-century playwright William Shakespeare.

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Christie’s individual top selling novel is the murder mystery, And Then There Were None, published in 1939, which has sold more than 100 million copies to date.

Despite the author being one of the most famous people of the 20th century, she always retained an air of mystery. In fact, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the era involved Christie’s disappearance for eleven days in 1926.

To this day, no one knows the truth behind her disappearance. Until her death, she maintained she couldn’t remember where she had been! She appeared to simply vanish off the face of the earth, leading to extensive police searches and tabloid speculation.

Christie’s early years

Born in September 1890, Agatha was cherished by her parents, American stockbroker Frederick Miller and Dublin born Clara Boehmer, who he married in London in 1878.

Wealthy Frederick, born in New York, travelled all over the world after leaving boarding school in Switzerland. He eventually settled in Timperley, Cheshire. In 1881, the couple bought a villa, named Ashfield, in Torquay. Agatha was the youngest of their three children.

The family lived mainly in Devon but travelled all over Europe, spending a year abroad living in Paris, the French Pyrenees, Dinard and later Guernsey. As a result, the children had a wealth of experience of different people, places and cultures.

Agatha enjoyed reading books such as the 1906 classic, The Railway Children; the verses of Edward Lear; and Lewis Carroll’s novels, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Educated at home, she could read by the age of four.

Her writing career began in earnest after a holiday in Egypt with her mother in 1910. Initially, she had little commercial success. In fact, her early short stories were rejected several times, which caused disappointment.

Christie’s first marriage

Christie had a lively social life, attending parties and dances in country houses. She met barrister’s son Archibald “Archie” Christie in October 1912, at a dance hosted by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke House in Devon.

The dashing military officer, of the Royal Flying Corps, was 23 at the time and Christie was 22. They quickly fell in love and Archie proposed after three months. They married in 1914.

After World War I broke out, Archie was deployed to France to fight. Christie helped the war effort as a member of the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment, working as a volunteer nurse in Torquay.

After Archie returned to England at the end of the war, Christie began writing more seriously. Inspired by reading detective novels, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes tales, she wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

It launched the iconic Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, whose character was based on the wartime Belgian refugees and soldiers she had treated in Torquay. The novel was published in 1920 by The Bodley Head publishing house.

Christie had settled well into married life and in 1919, she and Archie had daughter Rosalind. Archie had left the air force and worked in the financial sector.

Suddenly, Christie’s writing career took off and she had two further novels published, The Secret Adversary in 1922, followed by Poirot’s second outing, Murder on the Links, in 1923.


Just when life seemed idyllic, fate struck Christie a cruel blow when her beloved mother died in April 1926. They had been extremely close and the bereavement sent her spiralling into depression. Newspaper reports, in August 1926, claimed the author had suffered a breakdown and was recuperating in France.

Later that month, Archie asked his wife for a divorce, compounding her misery. He had reportedly been having an affair with Nancy Neele, 27, whom he met through a friend, Major Ernest Belcher. The timing of his request for a divorce couldn’t have been worse.

Second marriage

When Agatha Christie met Max Mallowan, a prominent British archaeologist 14 years her junior, in February 1930, little did she know it would result in a whirlwind romance and marriage just seven months later!

After the trauma of her divorce, she left England for a trip on the famous Orient Express railroad to Istanbul and Baghdad. She met British archaeologists Charles and Katharine Woolley, a husband and wife team, in Iraq. They befriended Christie and invited her to return in 1930 for their dig.

During the February trip, she met Mallowan, Charles Woolley’s apprentice, at a dig in the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia. Mallowan was taking parties of tourists on guided tours of the site. He and Christie hit it off straight away.

Mallowan reportedly feared she would be repulsed by his job of digging up ancient remains. On the contrary, she was fascinated. Meeting him reawakened her interest in life and writing again. They married in Edinburgh in September 1930 and were very happy together.

While married to Mallowan, Christie went on to write some of her most famous and successful novels including Murder on the Orient Express in 1934; Death on the Nile in 1937; and Appointment with Death in 1938. She became the prolific writer we remember today, spending her spare time going on annual digs in Iraq with her husband.

Greenway Estate

In 1938, the couple purchased Greenway Estate, located by the River Dart, near Galmpton, in Devon, as a summer residence. The couple adored Greenway, living there in the spring and summer and usually at Christmas. Family and friends were often invited over to stay.

The historic house became the inspiration for the settings of some of her novels. Greenway had a relaxed atmosphere on sunny summer days but could feel eerie on a misty winter’s morning.

It was said to have inspired Christie to write Dead Man’s Folly, published in 1956. The luxurious home of Sir George and Lady Stubbs, Nasse House, in the novel was believed to be based on Greenway. Poirot was called to investigate sinister happenings at the country manor, which was described in great detail.

An ITV adaptation of the novel in 2013 was actually filmed at Greenway. Christie’s novels Five Little Pigs in 1942 and Towards Zero in 1944 were also said to be set at Greenway. The estate was donated to the National Trust in 2000 and is a visitor attraction today.

Other accolades

Christie became known for the longest running play in the world, The Mousetrap, which was performed continually in London’s West End between 1952 and 2020. It was forced to close, sadly, in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, after more than 27,500 performances, or it would probably still be running today.

In 1955, she won the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award. In 2013, Christie was voted the best crime writer ever by 600 professional novelists in the Crime Writers’ Association.

Christie and Mallowan remained happily married until her death in 1976, at the age of 85.

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