Feature: Agatha Christie

Torquay is the birthplace of one-woman publishing phenomenon Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie (1890–1976), a writer of murder mysteries who is beaten only by the Bible and William Shakespeare in terms of sales. Her characters are world famous: Hercule Poirot, the moustachioed, conceited Belgian detective; and Miss Marple, the surprisingly perceptive busybody spinster.

Born Agatha Miller in Torquay’s Barton Rd, the young writer had her first piece published by the age of 11. By WWI she’d married Lieutenant Archie Christie and was working at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay Town Hall, acquiring a knowledge of poisons that would lace countless plot lines, including that of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). Christie made her name with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd six years later with the use of what was then an innovative and cunning plot twist.

Then came 1926: in one year her mother died, Archie asked for a divorce and the writer mysteriously disappeared for 10 days, her abandoned car prompting a massive search. She was eventually discovered in a hotel in Harrogate, where she’d checked in under the name of the woman her husband wanted to marry. Christie always maintained she’d suffered amnesia; some critics saw it as a publicity stunt.

Christie later married archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, and their trips to the Middle East provided masses of material for her work. By the time she died in 1976, Christie had written 75 novels and 33 plays.

Torquay's tourist office stocks the free Agatha Christie Literary Trail leaflet (also available to download from the website), which guides you around significant local sites. Torquay Museum has a fine collection of photos, handwritten notes and displays devoted to Christie's famous detectives. The highlight, though, is Greenway, the author's summer home near Dartmouth. Get there via the ferry from Dartmouth or take the steam train from Paignton to Greenway Halt, from where it's a half-mile walk through the woods to the house itself.