Agatha Christie, the Mystery Queen Who Won South Asian Hearts

How the British novelist borrowed from the subcontinent, became the literary grandmother of generations of fans, and changed Indian film forever.

GettyImages-79041595 agatha christie
English writer Agatha Christie (1890-1976) seated reading by a bookshelf of books in a living room at her home, Winterbrook House near Wallingford, Oxfordshire in 1949 (Popperfoto via Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


September 13, 2023


11 min

“Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely,” Agatha Christie wrote in her debut detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). While the novel is set in Essex, England, it took inspiration from the unsolved murder of Lady Garnett, an English spiritualist vacationing in the hill station of Mussoorie, India. 

In 1911, Garnett stayed at the Savoy Hotel, a luxury hotspot an Irish barrister had built in Mussoorie for British officers and visiting diplomats. Hotel staff discovered her body one morning — despite doors bolted from the inside — and that her traveling companion Eva Mountstephen had left for Lucknow. The news of the unsolved murder traveled to the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in London via imperialist Rudyard Kipling, also a lifelong Mussoorie resident, and then, you guessed it, none other than Christie. 

The author, despite never having visited the subcontinent, borrowed from then undivided India time and again. In turn, her writing has inspired dozens of South Asian films, plays, and novels. Despite her complicated legacy, to this day, Christie is still one of the best-selling fiction writers of all time — and a rite of passage for South Asian readers.

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