THE “THREE-DIMENSIONAL GAME-BOARD” OF AGATHA CHRISTIE’S COUNTRY HOUSES was written by Phyllis Richardson and appears on the CrimeReads website.
If du Maurier re-invigorated the Gothic house with modern passion and intrigue, Agatha Christie turned it into something of a three-dimensional game-board in which to reconfigure characters and objects to act out the varied plots of her seventy-six novels, 158 short stories and fifteen plays. Not all of these took place in large old English mansions; her settings evolved over time to include modern houses and apartments, as well as trains, pleasure boats and archaeological encampments. She became the bestselling author of all time, and her characters emerged from the page onto stage, television and film. But it is for popularizing the ‘murder mystery’ set in a specific place with an array of potential suspects that she is best known. In doing so, she also gave some of the grander houses new identities as places of intrigue but without the sense of terror of previous treatments. Her readers more like Catherine Morland in excitable sleuthing mod than Mrs. de Winter narrating her late encounters with evil.
Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1921), is set in a large country house, Styles Court, in Sussex, and was written from her own large family home, Ashfield, in Torquay, Devon, as well as from her room at the Moorland Hotel on Dartmoor. Styles is revisited in Curtain (1975), though at this point it has suffered the ignominious fate (mourned so bitterly in du Maurier’s early draft of Rebecca) of being turned into a guest house. Christie and her first husband, Archie, acquired their own large house in the countryside in Berkshire after the publication of her breakthrough novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. They named the mock-Tudor house ‘Styles,’ after the book that launched her career. Crooked House (1949), often noted by Christie as one of her personal favourites, features a large gabled, half-timbered mansion in London. The Body in the Library (1942) has classic Cluedo appeal, but And Then There Were None (1939), one of her best-loved tales, brought the murder mystery to a new level of cunning and, as the guests are stranded at an island residence, gave the house even more prominence as an accomplice…”
Please click here to continue reading the entire article.