Agatha Christie and the West Country

In reality, the low tide connects the island to the mainland. But in the twisted and mysterious world of Agatha Christie, Burgh Island transforms from a safe and beautiful Devon resort to an isolated and hostile setting for murder. Whether the island is called Indian Island, as in Christie’s novel And Then There Were None, Smugglers Island, in Evil Under the Sun, or Burgh Island, its real name, one must explore this 26-acre sanctuary. At this island, Agatha Christie’s creative genius shines bright as she examines the aristocratic society that congregates in her native Devon. Loyal to her designation as the ‘Queen of Crime,’ Christie writes two contrasting stories at this spot. And Then There Were None centers on the doomed fate of ten ‘guests’ in a poem posted in each room, whilst Hercule Poirot unravels the conspiracy behind the inevitable death of Arlena Stuart in Evil Under The Sun. In each mystery, Christie satirizes the culture that the characters genuinely admire: the Southwestern English aristocracy.

As soon as one visits any of Agatha Christie’s sites in Devon, it quickly becomes apparent why Christie loved the region as well as why she would demonize its culture. Its beautiful coastal landscape serves as a summer sanctuary for the English unwilling to leave the island for a holiday. Tor Bay, which is comprised of Brixham, Torquay, and Paighton is proclaimed the ‘English Riviera’ for its elegant beaches.

[Read about Tor Bay in the 20th century]

Bust of Agatha ChristieBorn on September 15, 1890, in Torquay, Agatha Christie forged a lifelong relationship with the West Country. She was christened in All Saints Church, Bamfylde in Torre and was raised near by in Ashfield, a recently demolished district in Torquay. She grew up swimming in the unisex beaches and patrolling the cascading boardwalks. Mostly raised by her mother, she was educated in Devon until she attended finishing school in Paris. After spurning several marriage proposals and the prospect of becoming a professional singer, she married Colonel Archibald Christie in 1914. Upon Agatha’s request they honeymooned at the famous Grand Hotel of Torquay, which overlooks Tor Bay. In 1919, she bore her first daughter Rosalind, but eventually divorced Colonel Archibald in 1928. Moving away from the Devon and living around London most of her married life with Colonel Archibald, Agatha Christie did not move back to Devon until she remarried the prominent archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan in 1938. There, they whimsically bought the beautiful Greenway House in Greenway, just outside Brixham. The house is an elegant Victorian estate with beautiful gardens and rolling greens. In her autobiography, Christie describes the Greenway House as “the ideal house, a dream house.” Agatha Christie summered there until her death in 1976. Presently the house is being renovated into a museum set to open in the summer of 2008, however the gardens are open to the public under the supervision of the National Trust.

[Agatha Christie: Starting to Write]

Birds and ShoreProclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling writer of books, Dame Agatha Christie has sold an estimated two billion copies: one billion in English and another billion translated into 45 other languages. As a testament to her success, Christie (as of 2003) has outsold the famous French author Emile Zola in her own French language; selling some 40 million books to Zola’s 22 million. (agathachristie.com)

The key to Agatha Christie’s success has been the combination of her alluring plots and simple prose. She has been instrumental in shaping the modern mystery novel and is credited for the inspiration of countless contemporary novelists. Christie is accessible to nearly anyone with adequate reading skills. Whether it’s the famous Hercule Poirot, the quirky Jane Marple, or a protagonist original to the story, Christie has a knack for writing highly intricate and extremely complex mysteries that are unraveled systematically, fluently, and comprehensibly. She incorporates the setting and landscape often in her attempts to beguile the reader. She never over-writes her descriptions, or places clues that immediately indict the murderer, yet she leaves enough of a trial that one’s own opinions always have some validity. After her death, Brian Aldiss, the prominent fiction and science-fiction author, claimed that Christie admitted to him to have first written many of her books up to the last chapter. Then she determined who the most unlikely suspect or suspects were, wrote the final chapter, and went back to remake the necessary changes to frame the mystery accurately (BBC.com). Thus, the key to Christie’s success is contingent on the notion that her books are never easy to predict but always easy to read.

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© Copyright Christopher Chanock 2007

 

Ay am sure it has always been the quayettest place imaginable! The people who come here are such naice people. No rowdiness – if you know what I mean.
-Evil Under the Sun

Train Station