Agatha Christie's Toxic 'Killer' Knowledge for Her Chilling Novels Started in War War II

Published October 21st, 2018 - 09:00 GMT
Agatha Christie (Twitter)
Agatha Christie (Twitter)

Agatha Christie may not have written her best-selling detective novels had she not volunteered as a nurse during the First World War.

The beloved author behind iconic characters including Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple had the idea for writing such stories after working in a dispensary in her hometown of Torquay, Devon.

Newly released volunteer records from the British Red Cross reveal Christie put in 3,400 hours of service at Torquay's Town Hall Hospital from October 1914 until September 1918.

Christie's service card has been made public in the British Red Cross's new online archives ahead of Armistice Day commemorations next month.

Christie began as a trainee nurse who fainted at the sight of blood – but worked to care for the wounded, help with surgeries and clean up after amputations.

But later, she was taken off nurse duties and dispensed medicine at the hospital until the end of the year. She was paid £16 a year.

It was while working in the dispensary that she acquired the knowledge of deadly toxins that she used to kill off characters in her much-loved novels.


When she signed up, at the age of 24, she was 'inexperienced' with handling the trauma of war, Alasdair Brooks, heritage manager for the British Red Cross, told the Observer.

'It is ironic that, given the grisly endings many of her characters met, there wasa time when she fainted at the sight of blood,' he added to the newspaper.

'It was the power of kindness shown by Christie, and over 90,000 other volunteers who gave their time, that was the backbone of the British red Cross's support during the First World War.

'But had Christie not been taken off hospital duty to work in a dispensary, she might not have acquired her thorough knowledge of poisons which she used in her compelling plotlines.'

It was while volunteering at the hospital that Christie first tried her hand at a detective novel in 1916.

'It was while I was working in the dispensary that I first conceived the idea of writing a detective story.' Christie recalled in her autobiography.

'Since I was surrounded by poisons, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected.'

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was published in 1920, is a whodunit in which the killer has used strychnine – and the author introduces of her most famous characters, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

In later novels, cyanide is her poison of choice and used to off characters in The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side, And Then There Were None and Sparkling Cyanide.

When the Second World War broke out, Christie worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital in London – which again surrounded her with the poisons that play such big parts in her novels.

She had written 66 detective novels by the time she died at the age of 85 in 1976.

She is listed as the best-selling novelist of all time by Guinness World Records, having sold around two billions copies of her books.


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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