In the forward of Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie wrote: “If detective stories are ‘escape literature’ (and why shouldn’t they be!) the reader can escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crime in the confines of an armchair.”
Heed her words, for there can be no better time to be an armchair traveller, now that we are under varying degrees of lockdown.
So let's dig out those books and go on a world tour via her murder mysteries.
Also, it was Christie's 130th birthday on September 13. And the centenary of the publication of her first novel was marked this week as well with the issue of a special £2 coin. It was her book The Mysterious Affair At Styles which introduced detective Hercule Poirot to the world when it was published in October 1920. The coin comes in different metals and features a jigsaw design. It is available on the Royal Mint's website.
To celebrate both anniversaries, we decided to go on a Christie trail, following the motley crew of sleuths, murderers, and suspects from her classic mysteries across the world.
The Orient Express
This mother-of-all train journeys and its old-world elegance was the setting for one of the most iconic Christie plots which the dapper Belgian detective Hercule Poirot tries to solve. Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the legendary Orient Express in its tracks, and an American tycoon is found dead in his cabin with 12 knife wounds. Even if you know whodunit, it's still a roller coaster ride. Today, you can ride the Venice-Simplon Orient Express which was established in 1982 using two restored Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits vintage carriages.
Death Comes As The End
This book is more like historical crime. It is the only one of her series that's not set in the 20th century. It takes the reader back to ancient Egypt (2000 BC) where the suspicious death of a priest’s concubine leads to several murders in the family. Apparently, Christie was inspired by the Heqanakhte Letters, written by an ancient Egyptian priest and landowner, Heqanakhte, wrote to his family sometime between 1991-1802BC.
Death On The Nile
Another murder plot that Hercule Poirot inadvertently finds himself in the thick of. On a luxurious cruise on the Nile, a wealthy heiress is murdered. The latest film adaptation is out in October 2020 with Kenneth Branagh playing the enigmatic Belgian super sleuth. Incidentally, before the pandemic and lockdown, the Steam Ship Sudan would cruise the river with tourists and it had both Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot suites. Apparently, Christie herself took the boat in 1933 on an archaeological expedition with her second husband Max Mallowan.
They Came to Baghdad
A young girl living in Baghdad with a yearning for adventure becomes embroiled in a conspiracy when a man dies in her hotel room. Behind it all is a secret summit of superpowers and an unidentified secret weapon. Though the plot is a bit of a clunker, but it's fun nevertheless.
Appointment With Death
Another mystery where Poirot is on holiday, and joins a group setting off from Jerusalem to Petra where one person is found dead with a needle puncture in her wrist. Christie describes the setting quite well, bringing alive the stunning ancient city in the Jordanian desert.
Dead Man's Folly
With River Dart running next to it, Greenway is the secluded estate in Devon where Agatha Christie spent nearly every summer from 1938 until her death in 1976. It opened to visitors in February 2009. This tranquil setting was the inspiration for several scenes in the Poirot novels Five Little Pigs and Dead Man’s Folly.
And Then There Were None
This small island off the coast of Devon is the inspiration for the setting for And Then There Were None where it's been given the name, Soldier Island. Incidentally, Christie has stayed at the Art Deco beauty, the Burgh Hotel, which opened in 1929. The island is connected to the village of Bigbury-on-Sea by a sandbar. You can cross over on foot at low tide or by a sea tractor. The hotel was also the inspiration for the Jolly Roger on Smugglers' Island in Evil Under the Sun.
Though this place hasn't featured in any of her books as a location, it features on our list because this is the birthplace of Christie. It hosts an annual festival to commemorate its most famous daughter with talks, street performances, film screenings, writers' workshops, and fun events like a Murder Mystery Ball at the Grand Hotel, where Christie spent her honeymoon.