Storybook England: Greenway House

Murder, She Wrote

A well-known murder mystery writer is employed to organise a novelty Murder Hunt at a village fête held at the local rich man’s mansion. The victim is to be played by a Girl Guide, clues are hidden on the grounds and there is a prize to be won for solving the mystery. There’s only one problem: the writer feels that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. She calls on Hercule Poirot..

Call me a fool if you like, but I can only say that if there was to be a real murder tomorrow instead of a fake one, I shouldn’t be surprised!

That is the premise of Dead Man’s Folly, a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery featuring the ubiquitous Belgian private detective and his handlebar moustache.

The crime scene from Dead Man’s Folly – the boathouse.

By no means would I call Dead Man’s Folly one of Agatha Christie’s best books but it has one great merit: she set the book in her own holiday home and herself appeared in the book as one of the characters.


The Loveliest Place in the World?

From 1938, when she bought it in an auction, to her death in 1976, Agatha Christie invariably spent her summers in Greenway House, on the River Dart, just 4 miles upriver from Dartmouth…

Agatha Christie’s holiday home: Greenway House in Devon

…Where I recently I went for a long weekend. The idea was to walk another section of the South West Coast Path out of Dartmouth; unfortunately, it rained cats and dogs all weekend which is how we came to visit Greenway House, now a National Trust property and open to the public, offering an interesting glimpse into the writer’s life.

How to get to Greenway
From Dartmouth, cross on the ferry to Kingswear to catch the steam train to Greenway Halt (from where you can hike through the woods) or to Churston (from where you can take the shuttle bus). Return via the ferry on the River Dart.

Quite apart from the fact that it was the holiday home of a famous writer, Greenway is well worth the visit simply on the merits of the natural beauty of the place. It advertises itself as ‘the loveliest place in the world’ and although that’s rather an overstatement, the house is beautifully proportioned and the grounds are delightful. There’s the boathouse where the body of the victim was discovered, the Battery with its three guns pointing at the river traffic, the gardens and the winding paths in the woods… and some excellent viewpoints.

(Click on the photos to open the gallery.)

And then of course, you’re walking in the same rooms, among the same furniture that Agatha Christie used, looking at memorabilia: paintings and photos of the writer and her family. A curious door stop of a rearing cobra here, wall frescoes painted by a house guest there, her OBE abandoned in a box among her china, the camp bed her (second) husband used during excavations… Did  you know that he was an archeologist and she accompanied him on many of his digs in the Middle East? She used to clean the broken pottery with an expensive face cream!…

In Dead Man’s Folly, Agatha Christie described the house and the grounds in such detail that, whether you visit the house first and read the book afterwards or read the book first and then visit the house, you will have a strange feeling of déjà vu.

I got my copy of the book in the National Trust shop in Greenway, with the stamp of the estate on the title page and with an introduction written by Christie’s grandson. If he’s to be believed – and why wouldn’t we believe him? – the character of the murder mystery writer Mrs Ariadne Oliver was based on Christie herself and she used several other people in the neighbourhood as models for characters in the book.

Although one rather hopes that there was no real life model for the murderer!

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