Val McDermid reveals ‘Queen of Crime’ legal threat from Agatha Christie estate

Crime writer Val McDermid has revealed she has been threatened with legal action if she uses the phrase "Queen of Crime" – because the phrase has been trademarked by Agatha Christie's estate.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the best-selling Fife novelist said she had received a "a cease and desist" letter.

She said the Christie estate had warned her publisher against using the phrase to describe the writer after she was asked to write a new Miss Marple story for a new authorised book.

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Val Dermid was appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Picture: Pako Mera

McDermid said as well as the recent legal threat, she had been contacted by the writer’s great, great grandson to express dismay that she was using the title on her books.

McDermid is one of 12 writers – described as “remarkable best-selling and acclaimed authors” on the official Agatha Christie website – to have contributed to the collection of short stories.

She has credited the Miss Marple story The Murder at the Vicarage with inspiring her to become a crime writer after reading it at the age of seven.

McDermid was being interviewed by broadcaster Allan Little at the book festival, where he asked her about quotes referring to her as the “Queen of Crime” on the back of her new novel, 1989, the second in a series focusing on the journalist Allie Burns.

Little referred to The Scotsman’s description of McDermid, which stated: “Further evidence that her Queen of Crime status will not be challenged.”

McDermid said: “Yeah, well, that’s not right, is it, because it has been challenged.

“One of the things I've been doing this year is writing a short story for a new collection about Miss Marple, which is being published next month.

"I decided that since my love affair with crime fiction started with Miss Marple and The Murder at the Vicarage that I would write a short story called The Second Murder at the Vicarage.

"It’s all been going great guns. We’ve all be doing loads of publicity and interviews, and writing articles for the papers and stuff, all at the behest of the Agatha Christie estate.

"However, a few weeks ago the Agatha Christie estate wrote to my publisher.

"They said ‘you must cease and desist referring to Val McDermid as the Queen of Crime. We have trademarked this expression. If you call Val McDermid as the Queen of Crime, you will be in breach of copyright and this trademark. You may continue to quote other people calling her the Queen of Crime and obviously you cannot prevent someone calling her Queen of Crime on a platform during the event. But should you use this title elsewhere, in other ways, then you will be in breach and out lawyers will be in touch’.

"I actually got a letter from Agatha Christie’s great grandson, who helps run the Agatha Christie estate.

"He said ‘you will imagine my shock when my train pulled into Waverley Station and a poster said ‘new from the Queen of Crime’. You must understand there is nothing personal in this, but we must protect my great grandmother’s legacy’.

"Obviously if you see that on a poster you’re going to go ‘oh, Queen of Crime. We’re not going to read that Agatha Christie anymore are we?’ It’s just astonishingly pitiful.”

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