In the footsteps of Agatha Christie

The bronze bust, created for Agatha Christie`s centenary in 1990, had done the lady full justice. With her familiar tightly-permed hair glinting in the mid-morning sun, the Queen of English crime writers looked regally upon her domain. Close by, in the Victorian splendour of Torquay’s Princess Gardens, small children chased each other across the lawns. In ornate shelters, friends exchanged confidences. In the warm breeze of early summer, the green fronds of the palm trees waved like welcoming hands. On the roof garden of the white wedding cake of a Pavilion building that was created in 1912, I ordered lemonade and drank in the magnificent sweep of Tor Bay and neighbouring Paignton and Brixham.

Born in Torquay on September 15, 1890, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller spent her summer days swimming in the bay`s clear waters. In the Pavilion, as a 23-year-old in 1913, she listened to the music of Wagner with her future husband Archie Christie. The newly-weds shared a one-night honeymoon at the Grand Hotel. Throughout her life, Agatha Christie loved the Princess Gardens enough to celebrate them in her novel, The ABC Murders.

Some 215 miles south-westof London, the cluster of Devon resorts that are known as the English Riviera ( continue to exude the spirit of Agatha Christie, 30 years after her death, through the self-guided driving trail booklet Exploring Agatha Christie Country – and a commemorative week later this summer (September 11-16).

This most gentle of English ladies harnessed a multitude of violent deaths as her stock-in-trade. So deftly did she craft her plots and twists, she became the best selling fiction writer of all time. More than two billion copies of her works have been sold in more than 45 languages. In a literary career that spanned half a century, Agatha Christie wrote 80 novels and more than a dozen stage plays. Two of her creations, Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, are among the most enduring characters of film and television detective drama. It is said that Agatha Christie is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

In this year above all others, Agatha Christie is remembered with a love and poignancy that extends far beyond South-West England.

In London, the very act of checking in at Brown’s Hotel in Albemarle Street, Mayfair is its own form of homage for some. Agatha Christie frequently stayed and wrote here over many years, inspired by the surroundings of an ‘upscale’ hotel that had been created from a row of Georgian houses in 1838. Here, the concierge continues to point the way to the same English Tea Room that the writer celebrated in her novel At Bertram’s Hotel.

"You were in Edwardian England once more,"she wrote. "Afternoon tea was quite a feature. It was nothing less than splendid. There were large, crested silver trays and Georgian silver teapots. The tea was best Indian, Ceylon, Darjeeling… As for eatables, you could ask for anything you liked – and get it!" With its bevelled glass and oak panelled ambience and recently renovated at a cost of £19 million, Agatha Christie would still feel at home here. (

A short taxi ride away, near Leicester Square Underground, stands further testimony to the durability of her work. St Martin`s Theatre in West Street continues to run the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery that has become the longest running stage play in the world. The Mousetrap opened more than 22,000 performances ago at London’s Ambassadors Theatre on November 25, 1952 – before transferring across the West End to the warm, polished wood surrounds of St Martin’s in 1974, where staff proudly display the performance number at each showing. (

Londonis also the departure point for British Pullman carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient Express. Riding authentic umber and cream liveried carriages from the 1920s and 30s, often pulled by a steam locomotive, passengers can choose from a programme of luxurious day-trips around England, in the manner of the great Poirot. (

Some 215 miles north of London, the elegant Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate evokes a dramatic episode in Agatha Christie’s personal life in 1926, when the author`s sudden disappearance from her home in Sunningdale, Surrey – her car left hanging precariously over a chalk pit – provoked a national manhunt.

Unknown to the police and civilian volunteers who scoured the Surrey countryside for signs of a body, the author was mingling with guests and dancing and dining at Harrogate’s plush Old Swan Hotel – while possibly suffering from a nervous breakdown brought on by a failing marriage. After 10 days, a hotel musician recognised the author and called the police. Set in five landscaped acres, the ivy-clad and newly renovated Old Swan honours Agatha Christie this year by hosting a summer Crime Writing Festival (July 20-23). (;

It is south Devon, however, that regards itself as Agatha Christie country. In Torquay Museum, a permanent exhibition of photographs, costumes and memorabilia fills in the detail of the author’s life.

I discovered her love of fur coats and how the young Agatha built a knowledge of poisons for her murder stories, while working with poisons in a dispensary. Walking Torquay`s self-guided Agatha Christie Mile (a free leaflet is available from the tourist information centre), I learned how the child Agatha had to be rescued from drowning in Beacon Cove. Christie later wrote that her only feeling was indignation – that her whole life didn`t unfold before her. England – and the world – has reason to be grateful that she survived to charm us with her numerous murder mysteries.

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