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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

 

 

Find Lori on Twitter and Facebook.

http://loriraderday.com

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item1 Visiting the Home Agatha Made item1
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I went to visit my longtime girl-pal Aggie last summer.

You know: Aggie Christie? Agatha and I go way back. We met when I was about 12 and had been sent up from the children’s section of my library to the adult section. I was 12. I was not an adult. But I’d read everything downstairs, dutifully working my way from the picture books on one side of the room to the middle grade and young adult books (though no one called them that, then) on the far side. After years and years of weekly visits, the children’s librarian was tired of my freckled face.

So I crept up the stairs and, before I had to pass the circulation desk, manned by someone who might send me back downstairs, I ducked into the first room available. It was the mystery room.

That’s where I met Agatha, her friend Miss Jane Marple, and also that weird little Belgian guy she was always hanging out with.

This was around 1985. I had no idea that Agatha Christie had already died, that I was tearing through all the Agatha Christie books there would ever be. (Oh, wait.) Authors weren’t people. They were books! Or, at least they were names on books, and that’s all the thought I gave to it at the time.

The fact that authors were people who existed, who lived and breathed, and owned charming riverside homes in Devon, didn’t occur to me until much later. I’ve had the chance to meet some of my young reader favorites, like Lois Duncan (who has since passed away) and Mary Higgins Clark. I missed meeting E.L. Konigsberg, who died in 2013. I cannot for the life of me think how I will get a chance to meet Beverly Cleary, though she’s still out there somewhere, 101 years old in just a few days. Sometime soon I hope to catch Judy Blume at one of her book events.

So when I had the chance to meet Agatha Christie—or, next best thing, visit both her birthplace and her estate, maintained by the National Trust—I jumped.

My lovely friend Kirsten gave me a place to stay, showed me around her city of Bristol, and provided the left-side-of-the-road expertise for getting down to the South coast of England to visit Greenway, in “Galmpton, near Brixham, Devon.” We also took the side trip to Torquay, where Agatha was born and grew up, and where today a small, slightly larger-than-life, slightly-more-difficult-to-find-than-necessary bust of her resides.

The gem of Agatha Christie’s legacy is, of course, her work: 66 novels (plus six under a pen name), 14 short story collections, The Mousetrap, the longest-running play in the world. Some mystery writers like to say they don’t “like” Agatha Christie, mumble mumble something about mumble. I’m not listening to you at that point, because, sure, you do you, but when someone writes 66 novels (plus six under a pen name) and the world’s longest-running play, is named a Dame of literature in her home country and a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America (the first, in 1955), I’m listening to her. Guinness World Records reckons Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. You are entitled to your opinion, but on the other hand: facts.

All this to say that the other gem of Christie’s legacy is Greenway. This is what she said about Greenway in her autobiography: “One day we saw that a house was up for sale that I had known when I was young... So we went over to Greenway, and very beautiful the house and grounds were. A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees—the ideal house, a dream house.”

Not hyperbole. It’s a gorgeous house with lots of touches left over from when Agatha and her second husband, Max Mallowan, lived there. I was there as a fan and so my favorite parts were seeing the ways Agatha would have lived. The set up of the parlour where might have read. Her clothes still hanging in the closet. Her handwriting in the guest log. Her collections of silver—“from every year from the mid 17th century to the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 and from every British center of silver-making”— and of tea sets, vases, pieces of archeological finds from the digs Max and Agatha went on together. All of it on display as it must have been when the Mallowans were at home.

There’s something special about walking where our heroes have gone. How disappointing would it be if Greenway (and other special places like them) drifted into private hands or fell into ruin? Being at Greenway was a trip of a lifetime for me but luckily, thanks to the National Trust, it’s there if I get the chance again. And since I like hanging with my girl Agatha so very much and owe much of my own writing career to her inspiration, maybe I will.

 

 

WHAT AUTHOR DO YOU REVISIT OVER AND OVER? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of THE DAY I DIED! (US entrants only, please.)

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