Agatha Christie

Millions across the world have gone to bed with the Duchess of Death, each night retreating with her from the monotony of their daily lives into a world of mystery and murder.

The legendary creator of the funny man with the waxed moustache - Hercule Poirot - and that busy body old maid - Miss Marple - never went to school; her mother believed it destroyed the brain and ruined the eyes.

Instead, she studied history and her father taught her mathematics until he died. As a teenager, she read the Sherlock Holmes series and was heavily influenced by the novelist Eden Phillpotts, whom she would visit regularly.

Christie married the young Lieutenant Archibald Christie in 1914 and, when he went to fight in WWI, the young bride fulfilled one of her ambitions, and worked as a nurse in a Red Cross hospital close to Torquay.

Her natural intelligence and red hair made her a favourite with the soldiers and doctors, and she soon advanced to the dispensary. Here, she learnt a knowledge of drugs and poisons, invaluable to her later writing career.

Sibling rivalry pressed the decommissioned nurse to write her first book. Her sister challenged Christie to write a detective story, where the ending could not be guessed so quickly. Christie went to Hay Tor on Dartmoor for three weeks in 1920, and tapped out 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles'.

Styles was a town very much like Torquay, and the details of the mystery were drawn from her nursing experience. To solve the foul deed Christie created her Belgian character Monsieur Poirot, an eccentric man infatuated with the power of his ‘little grey cells’. He was to appear in over 40 books, often accompanied by the ‘idiot’ narrator, Captain Hastings, whose role in the plot was not unlike that of Dr Watson in the Sherlock Holmes tales.

Her other famous sleuth, the very English Miss Marple of St Mary Mead, was created in 'The Murder at the Vicarage' and featured in 12 novels.

During her writing career, Christie also wrote romantic fiction under the name of Mary Westmacott, non-fiction accounts of archaeological digs she attended with her second husband, Sir Max Mallowan, and a few theatre scripts including 'The Mousetrap', the world's longest running play.