The move by Acorn Media Group to take a 64% stake in Agatha Christie’s estate marks the first time a U.S. company will have a controlling interest in one of the most-mined properties in entertainment. The mystery author counts 2 billion books sold, and numerous TV shows and movies based upon them; the estate, co-owned by Chorion, includes more than 80 novels and plays. Among the latest projects in the canon came almost a year ago, when Disney announced it was developing a Miss Marple movie with Jennifer Garner as the famous sleuth. That news was met with scorn among fans of the mysteries, who objected to what would be a younger, sassier Marple. That project hasn’t been heard from since. Here’s today’s release:

Silver Spring, MD; February 29, 2012 – Acorn Media Group, a leading independent media company, has acquired a 64% stake in Agatha Christie Limited from Chorion. With more than 2 billion books sold, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her works only follow The Bible and William Shakespeare as the most widely published books, and they continue to be adapted into internationally successful films. This milestone acquisition gives Acorn Media majority ownership of Christie’s extensive works including more than 80 novels and short story collections, 19 plays, a film library of nearly 40 TV films, and iconic characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, among many others. The Agatha Christie family retains its 36% holding and Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson, remains Chairman of Agatha Christie Limited.

Miguel Penella, CEO of Acorn Media said, “This development, along with our purchase of Foyle’s War in 2010 and last year’s launch of Acorn TV, the first British TV-focused streaming service, signal the new prominence of Acorn Media Group as the most forward looking distributor of British television in North America. We see this acquisition as a key step in the company’s continued evolution into content ownership and television production, and look forward to working with Mathew and James Prichard and the Agatha Christie family for years to come.”

Mathew Prichard, Chairman of Agatha Christie Limited, added, “My family and I are delighted to be forming a new partnership with Acorn Media, which I am sure will continue the successful history of the company, and produce much more Agatha Christie material for fans everywhere, particularly in the U.S. I remain grateful to my colleagues at Chorion for nearly 13 years of fruitful partnership.”

Acorn Media Group Chairman Peter Edwards added, “This is a momentous occasion for Acorn Media and a gratifying one for me personally. While we are keenly aware of the financial and strategic worth of this transaction for Acorn Media, we are also grateful to partner with the Agatha Christie family in the promoting and protecting of their family legacy.”

Called “chief curators of the best Brit TV” by TIME magazine, Acorn Media has been releasing TV movie adaptations featuring Christie’s two most famous characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, on VHS, DVD, and now, digitally since 2001. Both series rank among the company’s best-selling series of all time. ITV recently commissioned new episodes of Poirot and Marple. The eight television films will start production in summer 2012 and broadcast beginning in 2013 on ITV and PBS. Feature film adaptations are also in development with these characters.

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She wrote the biggest selling mystery novel of all time, And then there were none, as well as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. With HarperCollins and the other international publishing partners, Christie sells more than 3 million books per year worldwide. Her most famous characters include Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, as well as Tommy and Tuppence, Parker Pyne, and Ariadne Oliver. Chorion originally purchased its majority stake in Agatha Christie’s literary estate in June 1998.

Based in suburban Washington, D.C. and founded by Chairman Peter Edwards, Acorn Media Group has grown from a one-man basement documentary production and distribution operation in the mid-1980s into a leading independent media company operating on three continents. The Acorn Media Group consists of four divisions. With its Acorn label, Acorn Media U.S. is the leading distributor of British television programming to consumers in North America. Its Acacia label offers a line of original health & wellness programming. Appealing to the growing lifelong learning audience, Acorn U.S. also offers acclaimed documentaries on the Athena label. Acorn Direct is a direct-to-consumer division offering DVDs, digital downloads, and other high quality products in North America through its Acorn and Acacia catalogs and e-commerce websites. Acorn Media U.K. and Acorn Media Australia distribute comparable lines of DVD titles to consumers in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.