A. Watch the documentary Queens of Crime. Who do you think had a more interesting life? Who do you think had a happier life?

B. Complete the chart with notes on what you remember about the two writers’ lives and books.


Ruth Rendell

Agatha Christie

her life

● born

● parents

● marriages

● other things



her books

● first novel

● detectives

● pseudonyms

● films

● approach to crime writing





Possible answers

Ruth Rendell may have had a more interesting life because she worked as a journalist before becoming a writer – but Agatha Christie’s life had some interesting events, like her mysterious disappearance.

Ruth Rendell’s life may have been happier, as Agatha Christie had an unhappy first marriage..


Ruth Rendell

her life

– born: in London in 1930

– parents: father was English, mother was Danish

– marriages: married twice to Don Rendell in 1950 and 1977

– other things: worked as a journalist, died 2015

her books

– first novel: published 1964, From Doon with Death

– detectives: Inspector Wexford

– pseudonyms: Barbara Vine

– films: La Cérémonie, Carne Trémula, and others

– approach to crime writing: interested in characters, and why murder is committed

Agatha Christie

her life

– born: in Torquay, south-west of England, in 1890

– parents: father was American, mother was English

– marriages: married Archie Christie 1914, married Max Mallowan 1930

– other things: disappeared for 11 days in 1926

her books

– first novel: published 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

– two detectives: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple

– pseudonyms: Mary Westmacott

– films: Murder on the Orient Express and others

– approach to crime writing: interested in plots, and who committed a murder


Queens of crime

Crime fiction is loved all over the world: from British writers – like Arthur Conan Doyle and Val McDermid – to Americans – like Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith – to Scandinavian and European writers – like Henning Mankel and Georges Simenon. But two British novelists are called ‘Queens of Crime’ : Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell.

Ruth Grasemann was born in London in 1930. Her father was English and her mother was Danish. After she left school, she became a journalist. She married Don Rendell, who was also a journalist. In 1964, Rendell published the first Inspector Wexford novel From Doon with Death. Wexford, a British policeman, who appeared in twenty-four novels and some short stories, is still Rendell’s best known character, over fifty years after his first appearance.

In 1975, Ruth and Don Rendell got divorced, but they remarried in 1977. Ruth Rendell continued to write and she also started to write under the pseudonym, Barbara Vine. The Barbara Vine novels are also crime novels, but they are much darker and more psychological. Some of her novels have been made into films, not only in English, but in other languages too. The French film, La Cérémonie, was adapted from the novel, Judgement in Stone, and Pedro Almodóvar’s film, Carne Trémula, is also based on a Rendell novel, Live Flesh. Ruth Rendell died in 2015. Today she is considered a Queen of Crime, but most people would probably agree that the original Queen of Crime is Agatha Christie.

Agatha Miller was born in Torquay in the south west of England in 1890. Her father was American and her mother British. In 1914, she married Archie Christie, who was an army pilot.

Christie started to write and published her first novel in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in which she created a Belgian private detective, Hercule Poirot.

In December 1926, Christie became the centre of her very own mystery, when she suddenly disappeared from the family home in Sunningdale near London. Her disappearance was big news in the UK and in the US. For eleven days, the police and the press searched for her. The police also asked Arthur Conan Doyle – the creator of Sherlock Holmes – for help, but even he couldn’t solve the mystery. The police eventually found Christie in Harrogate in the north of England. She apparently couldn’t remember anything and the mystery of her disappearance was never solved. Soon afterwards, she and Archie divorced.

Agatha Christie continued to write. She also married again – to Max Mallowan, who was an archaeologist. This marriage was happy. She created another detective, Jane Marple. Miss Marple is a little old, English lady. She lives in a small village and solves crimes quietly and often without leaving her armchair. She is totally different from Hercule Poirot, who Christie described as ‘a complete egoist’. She also wrote more personal novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott.

Agatha Christie died in 1976, but her books are still read all over the world, and watched in films – like Murder on the Orient Express – plays – like The Mousetrap – and television series – like the Miss Marple series.

Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie had many things in common. They were both very successful crime writers, and they both wrote different novels under pseudonyms. They both divorced and remarried. And they’re also both strongly associated with the detectives they created.

But their approaches were very different. Rendell was always more interested in characters, while Christie loved plots. And, while Agatha Christie’s readers will read to the end to find out who committed the murder, Ruth Rendell’s readers will also want to find out why.

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