COLLECT: Christie's first short story "The Wife of the Kenite"
Agatha Christie was a prolific writer of short stories. The publication of them started in earnest in 1923 when The Sketch magazine included them in 26 different issues that year. However, prior to The Sketch, the first ever appearance of a Christie short story in print was in 1922 in The Home magazine, an Australian publication. The story was "The Wife of the Kenite".
The Plot: This story is set in South Africa on the Veldt likely in the era of the Great War. It focuses on the plight of a German soldier seeking a sympathetic Boer family to help him flee the Johannesburg area. The short story was likely written in South Africa when Archibald and Agatha visited in 1922 as part of the tour before the British Empire Exhibition. This story is unlike many of Christie’s short stories as it portrays insight into the victim’s experience of being poisoned and how he reacts to knowing he will die a violent death by having a nail hammered into his forehead. Christie rarely shared the emotion and fear of death from a victim’s perspective. One can hypothesize that since this is one of the first short stories she wrote it may well have been feedback from those around her that influenced a change in her style of storytelling. Also unusual for Christie is the story’s significant religious undertones and use of divine intervention. The plot connects closely with a biblical story from the Book of Judges, from which the short story takes its title.
The Magazine: The Wife of Kenite was published in Australia’s The Home magazine September 1st, 1922 (volume 3, number 3). It was her only short story published in 1922 anywhere in the world, and the first known appearance of a Christie short story in a magazine. The Home was a high quality Australian quarterly magazine published in Sydney, New South Wales between 1920 and 1942. It became bimonthly from July/August 1924. Then from 1926 onwards it was published monthly until it ceased publication in September 1942.
Future Appearances: Almost 100 years passed before this story surfaced again. It first reappeared in Tony Medawar’s Bodies from the Library 2: Forgotten Stories of Mystery and Suspense by the Queens of Crime and other Masters of Golden Age Detection (July 2019). Then, shortly thereafter, it appeared in the Agatha Christie short story collection The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural (September 2019). One can certainly argue that a story about divine intervention is fair to include in a collection of supernatural tales.
Value: While the later appearances of this story are still in print in the two collections referenced, the original publication in The Home is incredibly difficult to find. As a unicorn in the collecting world, if you want it pay what is asked when you find it. One has not been seen for sale in recent memory so ascribing a value is pure guesswork. Should one show at auction, a value of up to $500 USD depending on condition seems likely. While magazines are far less valuable than first edition books, this is the first published short story in Christie’s career and thus has a place in any collection.