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For a crime writer, particularly one who writes ‘traditional’ or ‘Golden Age’ crime fiction, the home of Agatha Christie is something of a Mecca. One feels the urge to make a pilgrimage to the late, great crime novelist’s Greenway estate, perched atop a hill overlooking the River Dart, just a half hour or so drive from the ‘riviera’ town of Torquay, on England’s southern coast.
Greenway is now a British National Trust property, preserved as a monument of cultural significance. And why shouldn’t it be? Aside from the fact that Christie is the biggest selling writer of all time (bar Shakespeare and the authors of the Bible) her influence now cuts across social, geographical, and linguistic boundaries. With film and stage adaptations cropping up all over the world, and her books continuing to sell by the truckload in a veritable babel of languages, she has become more than just a highly successful author. She is a bona fide artistic and cultural phenomenon.
Her house – one of many that she owned, and where, we are told she “would spend summers and Christmases with friends, relaxing by the river, playing croquet and clock golf, and reading her latest mystery to her guests” – is a touchstone for writers such as myself. My 1950-set Malabar House novels have been compared in style to Christie – The Observer newspaper commented on the first in the series, Midnight at Malabar House : “A beautifully complex plot and an Agatha Christie-ish denouement make for a thoroughly satisfying read.”
Last week I travelled to Torquay to speak at the International Agatha Christie Festival. Thirty years earlier I had first fallen in love with Christie’s work while watching the brilliant Poirot series starring David Suchet. So to now speak at the festival held each year in her home town, and to then visit her home, was something of a surreal experience.
But enough preamble! Let’s begin the tour…. Here I am outside Greenway. It’s a beautifully whitewashed Georgian property, sitting in a secluded grove, reached via a long pathway connected to the tourist entrance. There are, as you can see, some deckchairs placed outside. I can imagine Christie sitting in something similar, on a sunny day, doodling in a notebook…
During the war, the property was taken over by American coastguards (as preparation for D-Day), billeted there, with a navy vessel moored on the River Dart below. One of those soldiers, an artist, painted this wonderful frieze in Christie’s library.
Christie travelled the globe with her second husband, Max Mallowan, who she married in 1930. Max was an archaeologist and Christie became a keen amateur in his company. She brought back wonderful art and artefacts from her trips. Here are a couple of examples.
I particularly love this wonderful cobra doorstopper in Christie’s dining room, not least because the cover of my latest book, The Lost Man of Bombay offers something very similar!
And speaking of dining rooms… Here is Christie’s! I can’t be the only one imagining how many well-heeled dinner guests fell face first into their fois gras following a glass of cyanide-laced champagne…
And here I am in bed with Agatha… Well, not quite in bed with her, so much as next to her bed….
And a little glimpse into her wardrobe… Not sure I’d look good in that furry off-the-shoulder number…
Here’s Christie’s ‘thunderbox’. If she was anything like me, she might have had a book or two to read while sitting on the ‘throne’…
No trip to Christie’s home would be complete without a meeting with her beloved typewriter. It was quite a moment coming face to face with the actual machine that Christie typed some of her work on!
And lastly, here are a collection of family photos sitting on Christie’s piano. She was a keen pianist, though too shy to ever play much publicly…
All in all, a wonderful visit and one that will stay with me for quite a while. It goes without saying that I thoroughly recommend a trip to Greenway for any Christie lover.
My latest novel, The Lost Man of Bombay, is set in India, in the 1950s, and features India’s first female police detective, Persis Wadia, as she investigates the body of a white man found frozen in the foothills of the Himalayas with only a small notebook containing cryptic clues. Soon, more bodies begin to pile up in Bombay, India’s city of dreams … Available from bookshops big and small and online. To see buying options please click here.
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