I’ve been a massive fan of Agatha Christie since I first picked up Sparkling Cyanide many years ago. This book alone explains my fascination – a brilliantly conceived plot, a quirky hero, the hugely satisfying denouement when everything gets explained with a flourish. I even find the fact that no-one’s too sad about the deaths rather intriguing, though I know it’s a stumbling block for many. Fast forward a long time and Dame Agatha is one of the inspirations behind my own London Murder Mystery series, in that I’ve chosen to set my books in the ‘village’ atmosphere of Dulwich, my modern St Mary Mead.
You can imagine how thrilled I was, then, when a friend enthusiastically recommended the Imperial Hotel in Torquay for a mini-break. It was here that Agatha Christie set another of my favourite novels, Peril at End House, and it also comes into the Body in the Library, too. The satisfying conclusion of the last Miss Marple story, Sleeping Murder, even takes place on the hotel’s terrace.
The Imperial, while still a lovely hotel, doesn’t quite drip with the glamour it must once have enjoyed, but we thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the terrace with Miss Marple’s ghost, enjoying a glass of chilled wine as the sun went down over the sea. I had a lovely pedicure in the spa (thinking of the pivotal role of the red nail varnish in Death on the Nile) and then we went for a walk – it had to be the Agatha Christie Mile, which takes in the Princess Gardens where part of the ABC Murders was set, as well as the spots where the writer herself used to stroll. A better map of this would be helpful.
We stopped at the Torre Abbey Potent Plants Garden, where there were very instructive little plaques explaining what all the plants would do to you if served up with the potted shrimp sandwiches for tea, a favourite way of meeting your maker in an Agatha Christie whodunit.
Torquay itself sparkled in the English heatwave and we had a splendid time. If you’re a fan too, pop along to the Agatha Christie Birthday Celebrations there from 14th 16th September.
We also visited Agatha Christie’s country house, Greenway, a little paradise on earth tucked away in extensive grounds and now owned by the National Trust. We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it properly, sadly, but I was fascinated by her down to earth lifestyle, the fact that there was no desk here for her writing (she never wrote while on holiday) the way she devoted an entire room to her husband’s archeological pursuits, the fact that he slept on a tiny trestle at the side of her own temptingly puffy bed, and best of all, shelves full of the books that inspired her. I was pleased to see EF Benson’s Miss Mapp, some Graham Greene and a book called The House in Lordship Lane – looks like Agatha Christie, too, was fascinated with SE21.