Author: Hilary Macaskell
Publisher: Francis Lincoln
ISBN: 978-0-7112-3029-3

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I was expecting a coffee table book but what I got instead was a lovely companion to her writings. By her, I refer to Agatha Christie who, along with Shakespeare, is the best selling fiction writer of all times. The book chronicles her life from childhood until her death in 1976. It is an enjoyable excursion through some of her homes and into the beautiful country side where she grew up and spent her leisure time as an accomplished writer.

The publication focuses on the importance of dwellings to the private Agatha Christie who owned eight houses, all of which were used as settings for her work.

This is not a biography of a celebrity author. It is instead a “documentary” about where this author lived and the influences these locations had upon her writings. Of all of her properties, Greenway was the most important home, purchased in 1938 on 300 acres in Devon, on the southwest coast of England. In the early years of ownership, it was her primary residence and later became her summer refuge, a place to enjoy with family and friends

Essentially, this book demonstrates how personal place played a paramount role in the life and writing of this famous mystery author. Beyond her love of her homes, there are links between her home county and her works. The villages, homes and the people who inhabited them supplied plots and backdrops for her stories. Furthermore, we learn that the ingenious plotting of her mysteries was the result of her love of mathematics and problem solving. We also learn that during World War One, as part of her training as a Red Cross nurse, Agatha Christie acquires a knowledge of poisons which she used repeatedly as murder weapons in most of her books.

Of special interest to this reviewer are the illustrations of beautiful landscapes surrounded the homes and countryside where Ms Christie lived. Her own garden at Greenway, which was converted into a commercial market garden during her lifetime, became famous for its Camellias. Previous owners of this property had planted Chilean Myrtle, a Chinese Fringe Tree, a Tulip tree, and Black Bamboo. After her death, her son-in-law added Passionflowers, Orchids and Lapazinea Rosea.

There is a surprise in this publication. The author chose to include examples of the art work used on some of the covers of Agatha Christie’s books. These reproductions can now be appreciated for the extraordinary talent of the graphic designers that created them. Although they are unobtrusively inserted, they serve to underscore the pleasure of discovery that we sometimes experience when we open up a book for the very first time.

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