Last Updated on January 30, 2021

Surpassed only by the Bible and Shakespeare, Agatha Christie is the most successful writer of all time; her books have sold over a billion copies in English and a billion in translation.

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie, Courtesy of Christie Archive Trust

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She wrote an astounding 66 murder mysteries, several plays including The Mousetrap — the longest-running play of all time — and her classic works continue to be adapted for film and television. (See the end of this page for links to some of our reviews of Agatha Christie adaptations.)

But how did a refined, upper-class British girl evolve into the queen of crime, poison, and murder?

See the end of the article for links to stream the specials for free for a limited time. 

Two new specials premiering on PBS — “Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie” (Sunday, January 17th) and “Agatha Christie’s England” (Sunday, January 24th) — attempt to solve this mystery, exploring the life and times of the woman who transformed crime fiction and continues to win loyal readers across the globe.

Narrated by Samantha Bond (Home Fires, Downton Abbey), both programs are filled with clips from movies and television series based on Agatha Christie novels, as well as home movies and audio recordings of Christie.

With rare access to family members, scholars and her personal archive, “Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie” explores what made the world’s most successful crime writer tick. Millions of readers worldwide know Agatha Christie’s indelible characters and plot twists, but what do we know about the author herself?

Agatha and the Truth of Murder, courtesy Darlow Smithson Productions

Dr. John Curran has spent years poring over her personal archive, a treasure trove containing letters, manuscripts and 73 meticulously kept notebooks in which she documented everything she saw and heard.

He and others explain how the author used her experiences to weave together formidable plots and how, despite being known as the queen of “cozy” crime, Agatha’s mind was, in the words of screenwriter Sarah Phelps (And Then There Were None, Ordeal by Innocence), “incredibly dark.”

While she may have outwardly resembled a tweedy, Marple-esque figure, Agatha Christie was infinitely more complex. Insights into her life reveal that her isolated childhood sparked her imagination, and her time as a nurse during World War I gave her a knowledge of medicine — and poison, blood and gore.

Miss Marple, courtesy ITV Global Entertainment

Biographer Laura Thompson reveals how the heartbreaking breakdown of her first marriage gave her a starring role in her own mystery — a disappearance that transfixed the nation. Ultimately, wanderlust healed her broken heart as she traveled the world and transformed her writing from a hobby into a profession.

World War II brought a sense of her own mortality and an urgency to her writing, resulting in a staggering three to four books each year. Towards the end of her life, the increasingly famous Christie retreated from the public eye to her beloved holiday home, Greenway.

“Agatha Christie’s England” explores how the settings of Christie’s stories and novels were, in fact, drawn from real places. There is no more quintessentially English writer than Christie. Through her sensational murder mysteries, she created a literary universe that almost singlehandedly shaped the world’s image of England.

Retracing Christie’s footsteps, this new special visits Beacon Cove, where a young Agatha swam with her nephew when he narrowly escaped drowning, the memory of which would be reprised in her 1939 novel And Then There Were None.

In Ealing, Christie witnessed her great-aunt, affectionately known as Granny, devouring local gossip and news of gruesome murder trials, the blueprint for the author’s fictional world of Miss Marple and the village of St Mary’s Mead. And the influx of Belgian refugees into her hometown of Torquay during World War I inspired another of Christie’s great characters, Hercule Poirot.

Poirot, courtesy London Weekend Television

“Agatha Christie’s England” explores how the author drew on her surroundings and the people she encountered to create her extraordinary and timeless canon of work. Among the many stops during this tour are Ugbrook House, where she met first husband Archie; Abney Hall, the original inspiration for the author’s inimitable country house murder template; Brown’s Hotel, immortalized in 1965’s At Bertram’s Hotel; and her country retreat Greenway, the boathouse of which plays host to a scene in Dead Man’s Folly.

“Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie” premieres Sunday, January 17, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET, and is streaming for free until February 14, 2021 here

“Agatha Christie’s England” premieres Sunday, January 24, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET, and is streaming for free until February 21, 2021 here

For Agatha Christie period-set mysteries, see our following reviews:

Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile

Agatha and the Truth of Murder

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders

Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie’s Crooked House

If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List. Also see the 2021 Winter PBS Masterpiece Line-up for Period Drama Lovers. You’ll also like Best Period Mysteries Based on Books