Last week was an exciting one for those who love the “traditional” mystery. First of all, it was announced that Dame Agatha Christie’s English holiday home, Greenway, is now open to the public. Secondly, nominations were announced for the “Agatha” awards, which are given to best traditional mysteries. G.M. Malliet’s Death of a Cozy Writer and my Paper, Scissors, Death are both up for Best First Novel.
Dame Agatha Christie is universally recognized as the Queen of the Mystery, and the foremost writer of “traditional” mysteries, sometimes called “cozies.” (Although some take umbrage at that moniker.) The “traditional” mystery adheres to these criteria:
* It shuns gratuitous violence and sex.
* The protagonist is an amateur sleuth.
* The setting is a village or a tightly knit community.
* The story should be “fair play,” which means readers have a fighting chance of figuring out “whodunit.”
This last point seems rather odd when you consider that in real life the greatest mystery of Dame Agatha’s life was never solved, and obviously did NOT adhere to standards of fair play.
On December 3, 1926, Archie Christie quarreled with his wife Agatha in their home Scotswood, on Devenish Avenue in Sunningdale, Berkshire. He announced to her that he wanted a divorce and that he planned to spend the weekend with his lover. That same evening Agatha herself mysteriously disappeared for eleven days. She left behind a note that said she planned to go to Yorkshire BUT her fur coat and driving license were found by a “gypsy boy” at the edge of a quarry. The local police were convinced the great writer had been murdered. A public manhunt ensued. Ponds were dragged and the countryside was scoured. The press was flooded with “sightings” of the great author.
Eventually, Dame Agatha was discovered to have checked into The Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire, under the name of Archie’s mistress, Mrs. Teresa Neele. There she had spent the past twelve days taking tea and getting beauty treatments. (And apparently purposefully or at least willfully avoiding reading the papers!)
Various stories have been suggested as explanations for the grand lady’s odd behavior. None are satisfactory. But anyone whose husband announces he has a mistress, he wants a divorce and he's off to spend the weekend with his doxie should probably be cut the proverbial slack, don’t you think?
So now, Greenway—the place where Dame Agatha spent many happy days--is open to the public. But Scotswood—the place where Dame Agatha acted out her own mystery-- is for sale. It has been turned into an apartment building. Scotswood is located about a block or so from Sainsbury. That’s the store I visited twice weekly to buy groceries during the year I lived in Sunningdale.
Yes, Dame Agatha (or her ghost) was my neighbor.