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“Five guests arrive at a country hotel, only to find themselves snowed in. A policeman turns up, warning of a murderer on the loose. One by one, the guests are investigated until a trap is laid to catch the killer.”
This sets up the infamous and longest-running play of all time: Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” presently showing at St. Martin’s Theatre in London. Christie is the world's best-selling novelist, second only in volume to the Bible and Shakespeare’s works. Her fans are truly devoted to her renowned endings with a twist. Many tourists visit London and Southern England just to see this play and then tour Greenway, her country home in Devon.
This fall, the Queen of Crime would have turned 125, and the annual International Agatha Christie Festival in her hometown of Torquay, England, lured mystery lovers with a murder-filled itinerary. Now in its 11th year, the festival in 2014 transitioned from a series of separate events in different venues to a streamlined fete on the English Riviera.
Torre Abbey, a historical building and art gallery, now serves as the hub for the festival’s activities. This year, nine days of themed events ran from Sept. 11 to 20; the main event was Christie’s birthday bash — a garden party and luncheon, followed by an evening celebration, on Sept. 15. Luckily, no crimes were on the agenda; however, chemist and speaker Kathryn Harkup led a class on poisons, “A is for Arsenic,” along with a tour of the potent plants for those interested in literary-noted toxins.
More thrilling events included pop-up performances and readings, workshops, cocktail parties, a vintage fair, a rare film presentation and a grand ball. Serious enthusiasts enjoyed an exhibit of previously unpublished photos from the Christie family archives, book readings and historical discussions focusing on Christie and WWI. Gourmands took part in a devious cooking demonstration by Anne Martinetti held in Christie’s kitchen at Greenway. The recipes were taken straight from Christie’s stories, with a focus on those perfect for concealing poison.
The International Agatha Christie Festival offers plenty to keep devotees occupied, but fans who didn’t get enough murder-themed fun this time around may want to arrive early next year for a Christie tour of their own.
Die-hards can start in London and stay at the well-situated and luxurious Brown’s Hotel, believed by Christie aficionados to be the setting for her book “At Bertram’s Hotel.” Be sure to buy advance tickets to “The Mousetrap” at St. Martin's Theatre so as not to miss this key part of the Christie experience. I recommend Guided Walks in London’s “Agatha Christie’s London” walking tour for exploring every nuance of Christie lore.
After London, head south to Paignton, where the Dartmouth Steam Railway terminal is located. Stock up on Christie’s paperbacks before boarding the steam train that Christie herself would have taken. Pro tip: The first-class upgrade is only a few pounds more and well worth the 180-degree view. At the end of the line, take the short ferry to Dartmouth and indulge in fish and chips at Rockfish or gourmet sandwiches at Dart Cafe before taking the Greenway Ferry to Christie’s summer home.
Greenway Estate is preserved as it was in the 1940s and '50s, filled with art, archaeological finds and limited edition Christie mysteries. A highlight is the author’s Dame Grand Cross, on view inside her china cupboard. Finally, stroll through the gardens and down to the boathouse to take in the property that Christie called “the loveliest place in the world.”