by Gay Toltl Kinman
Greenway: Four Mystery Short Stories Set on Greenway, Agatha Christie’s Holiday Home In Devon
I visited Greenway with a Road Scholar group on their educational program “Literary England.” Yes, there is an aura about the place, and yes, Agatha Christie’s spirit was hovering around. There was no way I couldn’t write mystery stories set there. In the four stories that comprise my new book, Greenway, a scriptwriter with an American crew is filming documentaries on the Agatha Christie’s property.
Greenway, a two-story, white Georgian house, featured on the cover of the book, was Agatha Christie’s holiday home for nearly forty years—an idyllic place where she could relax during the summer and Christmastime with family and friends. She said she didn’t write there, but, as we know, mystery writers are always looking for ways to kill people, people to kill, and plots to put them in.
We were ushered in through the front door. On the left was an open furnished conversation area. On the right, behind a wall, was the large summer dining room. The large main hallway ends at the stairs, and then continues, narrower, to the winter dining room and kitchen.
At the stairs was an open space with a high ceiling that could be a regular-size living room, but which is called the inner hall, and off that is the door to the summer dining room, and a short hallway that leads to the back door, and the apartment above.
Continuing past the stairway to the winter dining room—closer to the kitchen for warmth—and the pantry with cupboards, we were shown some of the silver she and her second husband, Max Mallowan, collected. They wanted pieces of silver flatware representative of specific silverware makers through a few centuries. I found that fascinating. I could imagine them at flea markets and in antique shops looking through the wares and exclaiming with delight when they came upon a piece they were looking for. This interesting facet of their lives I could not work into any of my stories.
With the group we climbed the stairs, sat on her sofa in her second floor living room, saw the narrow room called the fax room, where the office equipment was, now all clunky antiques. Down the hall was her bedroom where her closet still held clothes and gave the feeling that she might be back soon. What a delight to breathe in the miasma of those years of her life!
The property was given to the National Trust by Agatha’s daughter Rosalind Christie Hicks. There are accommodations on the property that can be rented for short term holidays. One of them is the apartment at the back of the house, where Rosalind and her family lived. I set a story there.
Across from the kitchen is a doorway. I pictured a staff room in there for the docents, where part of the first story takes place, as well as in the large summer dining room which has view of the River Dart. I placed a fictional map on the wall there, showing all the places in the area where Agatha Christie had placed a body or two in her books.
The Boathouse was the setting for another body in Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly. I couldn’t resist and put a body there also in the first story. The Boathouse was like a large room on stilts in the water, and underneath a boat floated on the River Dart water.
The ferry, a steamer, and other boats ply the River Dart where the house can be seen above. The Boathouse is on the river’s bank with a postage stamp beach. The ferry stops at a small wharf on the property, at the beginning of a path that climbed through the woods up to the house.
Agatha Christie loved gardens. In one of her gardens is a small decorative pool with the statue of Kwan Yin, the goddess of Mercy and Compassion, at its edge. Couldn’t let that go by without an attempted murder and a death in my second story.
When we were touring the house, the docent showed us some letters that were found in a cupboard. Could I resist that? No! The third and fourth stories involve murder, of course, but also forged or stolen Agatha Christie letters—and all with scenes on Greenway.
In the front of the house, on the lawn overlooking the River Dart, are white Adirondack chairs where Agatha Christie often sat in the summer. So lovely. I have a scene here where the scriptwriter has an enlightening conversation with a docent about the purloined letters. No body in sight, or on site, in that scene.
On the grounds was a walled garden, home to the restored peach house and vinery. The American director, formerly a Brit, worked on the documentary filming there. We don’t see much of that in the stories, but it is a lovely place.
The screenwriter has conversations with several English characters in the stories: docents, documentary producer, and two detectives. To have the English characters sound authentic, I asked a friend in England, Barbara, to translate my Americanisms into Englishisms, which she did. I dedicated the book to her. Thank you, Barbara!
Greenway, the first story in the series can be accessed on the free link on Smashwords www.smashwords.com/books/view/943090. The other three mystery short stories have been published separately on Kindle, and the collection in book form is available on Amazon and Kindle.
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