Agatha Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections in her lifetime. She was not just remarkable for being a woman in a field so predominantly run by men, she was remarkable for her deep insights, empathetic humanity, and brilliant puzzling. Guinness World Records holds Christie in acclaim as the best-selling fiction writer of all time, adding up to more than two billion copies sold.
Christie's most beloved character is Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. He was featured in 33 of her novels, 50 of her short stories, and even seen in two plays. He lived for 55 years on the page, solving mysteries in beloved classic novels like Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
One of the best female detectives of all time, Miss Marple, is also a creation of Christie. Her keen eye for detail can be found in 12 full length novels and within 7 different short story collections. Some of her best of this series include 4:50 From Paddington, And Then There Were None, and The Body in the Library.
While Christie's mystery novels are an endless source of entertainment, they also offer invaluable insight into the human condition. If you're looking for that special kind of honest, straightforward guidance that only the Queen of Crime can offer, here are 15 of the best Agatha Christie quotes of all time.
The A.B.C. Murders
“Words, madmoiselle, are only the outer clothing of ideas.”
This quote comes from the 13th Poirot novel, published in 1936. As killer struck out against victim's with alliterative names, it seemed as though the crimes were carried out with no real motive. But there is always meaning in actions, and words are only a tool one wields to either conceal or highlight their true intentions.
A Murder is Announced
“People with a grudge against the world are always dangerous. They seem to think life owes them something. I've known many an invalid who has suffered worse and been cut off from life much more . . . and they've managed to lead happy contented lives. It's what's in yourself that makes you happy or unhappy.”
Published in 1950, A Murder is Announced is the fourth novel in the Miss Marple series. The chilling tale kicks off when someone takes out an ad in the paper announcing the time and place of an upcoming murder. When the curious people show up to investigate the odd claim, there is, of course, a deadly gunshot. Only a killer who was petty and miserable could enact such a dastardly scheme, but as this quote implies, it's not one's circumstances that determine their satisfaction with life. It is one's willingness to persevere.
And Then There Were None
“You can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved.”
One of Christie's more beloved mysteries, this book was originally published in 1939. Related to the above quote, life and struggle is what one makes it. No one can go through life alone, but if they aren't willing to reach out or even accept the help offered to them, it's always going to be a losing game. Pushing someone to better when they're digging their heels in is a hopeless—and dangerous—game.
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“Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions.”
Habits are things often taken for granted—little glimpses into who someone truly is, whether it's how they feel or what they enjoy. It's these things that make humans predictable, if one were to look close enough. Though notice of such habits usually only comes about when one is enacting a crime—or befalling one.
At Bertram's Hotel
“I learned (what I suppose I really knew already) that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back—that the essence of life is going forward. Life is really a One Way Street, isn’t it?”
The 10th novel in the Miss Marple series, At Bertram's Hotel, was published in 1965. When Miss Marple takes a holiday at a London hotel she once stayed at when she was younger, she learns far more than just a vicious killer's plot—she uncovers the complexities of life. No one can recapture the past. No one can rewrite it. It's a waste of time to do either when the only thing that can be done is to move forward and shape your future.
Death Comes as the End
“Courage is the resolution to face the unforeseen.”
A rare wonder for Agatha Christie, this whodunit is a historical mystery set in Egypt in 2000 BC. It all begins with the concubine of a ka-priest found dead at the base of a cliff. And though many find no reason to mourn her, the priest's daughter finds her suspicions about the circumstances turning toward her own household. This book is one with a much higher death toll than Christie's usual fare, and the stakes are sky high. It makes it all the more admirable that Renisenb pursues her dangerous investigations. With passions so high, there is no certainty in what the outcome of the murder spree will be. But bravery and certainty rarely collide.
“Fear is incomplete knowledge.”
Conversely, it should come as no surprise that uncertainty breeds fear. Operating through a situation without knowledge is like groping around in the dark. It is often said that people fear what they cannot stand, be it a person or a situation. And the best way to face that fear is to shed ignorance and arm oneself with study.
The Moving Finger
“Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.”
This detective novel from 1943 sees Miss Marple in a minor role as the residents of the town of Lymstock see a sudden barrage of hate mail. When on Mrs. Symmington is found dead, Marple doubts the validity of the authority's claim it's suicide. The book is full of exchanges of painful words and secrets. There is no lack of emotional anguish. And this quote highlights the vulnerability of human nature, that one must face the world and go on and pretend all is fine, even when one is crumbling from within.
Murder at the Vicarage
“The young people think the old people are fools — but the old people know the young people are fools.”
Though Miss Marple had made appearances in short stories prior, this 1930 title was the first time she was featured in a novel. In the quiet village of St. Mary Mead, local magistrate Colonel Protheroe is found dead in the a clergyman's study. As Marple wades through a tangled web of deceit, tensions are high throughout the town. Of course, there are always tensions between generations, both sides finding it often impossible to connect. The young too often dismiss the old as out of touch, while the old are all too aware that the young have yet to see the true struggles life holds.
“I often wonder why the whole world is so prone to generalise. Generalisations are seldom if ever true and are usually utterly inaccurate.”
Like the dismissal of those on either side of the generational gap, generalizations cause only more trouble. No one thing can be true all of the time, and there's nothing more nuanced and unique than a living, breathing human being. If one subscribes to painting an individual with a broad brush, there is only trouble to come.
Murder on the Orient Express
“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
Perhaps the most well-known Agatha Christie novel, this Poirot tale was published in 1934. Inspiring several well-received screen adaptations, the case revolves around the brutal stabbing of millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett. As the murder occurred on train waylaid by a storm, it is eerily clear that the killer is still on board. Through the shocking twists and turns of this gripping novels, the expectations of the readers and the train patrons are constantly defied. But limiting one's self with the though of impossibilities is to deny the truth.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
“Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.”
Not only was this 1920 book the first to feature Hercule Poirot, it was also Agatha Christie's first published novel. It may seem strange for such a brilliant novelist to call for the reeling in of imagination, but as with all good things, creativity must be wielded with moderation. In appropriate amounts, it opens us up into worlds we never could have imagined. But if one gives themselves over entirely to it, it becomes a way to separate one's self from the truth.
“When you're in the middle of a nightmare, something ordinary is the only hope. Anyway, ordinary things are the best. I've always thought so.”
Published in 1940, Sad Cypress was the first of the Poirot novels to bring readers into the courtroom. This enthralling tale saw Poirot as the only thing standing between Elinor Carlisle and the gallows, as damned as she was by the evidence against her for the murder of a romantic rival. But even in one's darkest moments, there is always hope. It's the little things—the things that build up into something so much more. The things that are so wholly obtainable and palpable that they ground you when your heart is lost at sea.
“Ah, but life is like that! It does not permit you to arrange and order it as you will. It will not permit you to escape emotion, to live by the intellect and by reason! You cannot say, 'I will feel so much and no more.' Life, Mr. Welman, whatever else it is, is not reasonable.”
There may be no truer quote on this list than this. We may persevere, and we may fight, and we may hope, but we can never control the grand scale of life. Certainly not where feelings are involved. Emotion is what drives us, and while we may find ways to manage those feelings, at the end of the day, we are the ones that answer to them. Trying to apply logic to matters of the heart is futile.
They Do It With Mirrors
“People who can be very good can be very bad too.”
Published in 1952, this title is yet another Miss Marple mystery. For a quote so simple, it says perhaps the most out of any of them. Human beings are incredibly complex creatures, and to reduce them to any one thing is to do them a disservice. Absolutes of good and evil exist only in fiction. There is the capacity for many things within one person, and to err is to be human.