Agatha Christie has carved her place out in history by being the best selling mystery author of all time. In many of her books, she used poisons to kill her victims and this was no coincidence. A little known fact is a big part of her being able to paint an accurate portrayal of poisoning is because of her vast knowledge of chemicals from her training as a pharmacy dispenser.
Christie was originally named Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller at birth in the United Kingdom on September 15, 1890. She was born into a time when it was rare for a woman to receive a formal education. However, her mother insisted she learn how to read and even sent her to finishing school when she turned 16. (1)
During WWI, Agatha volunteered as a nurse in Britain. It was there that she first became interested in the science of medicine. After the end of the war she began training at a dispensary. The training involved practical and theoretical chemistry. At this time, many medications were compounded by hand at dispensaries, therefore giving her hands on experience on making medications.
She began to transition this hands on experience into her fictional books in 1920 when her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The victim in this book was poisoned when someone added bromide (precipitating agent) to her sleeping tonic. As a result of the addition of the bromide, the medicine settled in the bottom and formed a lethal dose. Agatha Christie’s accurate descriptions of poisons have even been said to be used while diagnosing a patient. In her novel, The Pale Horse, she described thallium poisoning symptoms so well that after reading the book, a nurse at a hospital recognized these symptoms in one of her patients. (3)
At the end of her career, Christie had written 82 detective novels and detailed overdose signs of over 28 unique chemical compounds. Her literary work earned her several awards and in 1971 she was even made a dame of Great Britain. It is clear that her pharmaceutical knowledge was part of the driving force of her literary career. (2)
- Agatha Christie. (2012). FamousAuthors.org. Retrieved 04:07, September 28, 2017 from http://www.famousauthors.org/agatha-christie
- Harkup, Kathryn. A Is for arsenic. New York, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.
- Sova, Dawn B. Agatha Christie a to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life and Writings. New York: Facts on File, ©1996.