Agatha christie

Home cooking, but idealised: 2 Fore Street reviewed

The restaurant 2 Fore Street lives on Mousehole harbour, near gift shops: the post office and general store have closed, leaving a glut of blankets and ice cream, the remnants of Cornish drama. It’s a truism that Mousehole is hollowed out – tourism changes a place, and no one knows that better than Mousehole. Eating at 2 Fore Street gives the visitor the opportunity to examine what they have done with what they call love. There’s a mania for creating 30 perfect soufflés a night thatI cherish  Mousehole is one of those cursed villages that gather in the south-west: haunted in winter and glutted in summer, to paraphrase ‘The Pirates

Wuthering Heights in Devon: the Pilchard Inn, Burgh Island, reviewed

The Pilchard Inn sits at the entrance to Burgh Island, a minute tidal island off the coast of south Devon. The island is home to the Burgh Island Hotel, an eerie Art Deco masterpiece built by the son of a screw mogul, which dominates the view from Bigbury-on-Sea like Coney Island: it is more apparition than hotel. The hotel is faded, fascinating, plated in Art Deco and decorated with vast screws. I wonder if this is a joke: there is little information about the early years of the house, which vibrates with depravity and things unsaid. To compound the mystery, Agatha Christie wrote here in a shack by the sea,

The secrets of London by postcode: WC (West Central)

Our journey around London’s postcode areas has reached its final destination: WC. One of Evelyn Waugh’s female friends always insisted on referring to it in full as ‘West Central’, because she said ‘WC’ had ‘indelicate associations’. We’ll learn what happened at Spike Milligan’s memorial service, why Agatha Christie married an archaeologist and where you can find the official definition of an inch…

Murder most romantic: Burgh Island Hotel reviewed

The Burgh Island Hotel lives on a tidal island in a deserted part of south Devon. The directions for visiting are very detailed. You drive along the deserted country road, and at a certain point – just before you lose mobile telephone reception – you must stop to telephone the hotel, and they tell you where to park your car on the mainland, and they will send the car across the beach and meet you in Bigbury-on-Sea. You drive on and eventually you see a brightly lit Art Deco palace under a cliff. It was built by a filmmaker called Archibald Nettlefold (Human Desires, The Hellcat), the heir to an

The best new year celebrations in literature

Literature presents many different ways of observing the new year. Much like real life, the options range from big parties to quiet stay-at-home gatherings… and existential crises. In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Meg and Jo March attend a New Year’s Eve party at the home of their family friend Mrs Gardiner. ‘Down they went, feeling a trifle timid, for they seldom went to parties, and informal as this little gathering was, it was an event to them.’ This is the moment that Jo converses with Laurie for the first time and sparks fly as they watch the New Year’s Eve party from their shared point of refuge in a

Why are crime writers so weird?

What a weird lot crime writers are. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly, since I’m a crime writer myself, but on the evidence of this magisterial but wickedly entertaining book the conclusion is inescapable. As you turn the pages, the evidence mounts up. One crime writer has been considered a serious candidate for sainthood and another has been convicted of murder. Wilkie Collins simultaneously maintained two mistresses and their children but never bothered to marry either. Mary Roberts Rinehart, an early 20th-century queen of American suspense fiction, narrowly escaped being murdered by her chef because she wouldn’t promote him to butler. Agatha Christie famously engineered her own disappearance, and

If you’re tired of Netflix’s agendas, turn to BritBox’s new Agatha Christie

Netflix’s share price has collapsed and a major factor, people are saying, is its relentless pushing of agendas. I think I have the solution. Perhaps it should follow the BritBox model and instead of making dramas it feels that audiences ought to like – e.g. the very creepy-sounding He’s Expecting, a Japanese series about a man who gets pregnant – it should instead capitalise on our growing yearning for a lost age of chocolate-box innocence and relative normality. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is a good example. Written and directed by Hugh Laurie, it’s the kind of Agatha Christie adaptation they don’t make any more: fairly light on discordant, anachronistic

The windswept Devon island adored by Agatha Christie

Burgh Island certainly knows how to make an entrance. As you descend the hill at dusk into Bigbury-on-Sea the white hotel drinks up all the light. Like a flashy piece of costume jewellery, it’s the only thing you notice on the skyline. But, then again, it’s used to making good first impressions. Despite its diminutive size, the island appears in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun before any of the novel’s characters, upstaging even Hercule Poirot. The reader is never in any doubt that the book’s murder will hinge entirely on ‘the little windswept gull-haunted promontory – cut off from land at each high tide’ and the ‘comfortable and most exclusive hotel’ on its

Lionel Shriver

A purity test for artists is the end of art

However we keep ourselves amused over the holidays this year, two sources of entertainment are off the docket. Amid the deluge of sexual misconduct allegations last month, the BBC dropped an Agatha Christie drama from its Christmas line-up after one of the actors, Ed Westwick, was accused of rape and sexual assault — which Westwick denies, slathering a layer of irony on the mystery’s title: Ordeal by Innocence. Mere hours before the scheduled premiere, the distributor of I Love You, Daddy refused to release the film, in anticipation of an ugly big reveal in the New York Times. The movie’s star, director, producer and writer, Louis C.K., now admits to

It’s impossible not to feel snooty watching ITV’s Agatha and Poirot

Agatha and Poirot was one of those programmes that had the annoying effect of making you feel distinctly snooty. ITV’s decision to dedicate 85 minutes of primetime Easter Monday television to a books-related documentary was never likely to result in a steely Leavisite engagement with literature. Nor, of course, should it. Even so, it was hard to avoid a dowager-like shudder when, for example, one contributor declared that Agatha Christie ‘will never be surpassed as the world’s greatest novelist’ — especially when the contributor was that well-known literary critic Lesley Joseph. Or when Danny John-Jules suggested that a murder is ‘the last thing you’d expect’ in a book set on

The Archers is a masterclass in how not to write a monologue

If you’ve been listening to The Archers lately, you’ll know how tedious monologues can be. The BBC has received so many complaints about the stream of soliloquys that has dominated the episodes since lockdown, that Mohit Bakaya, controller of Radio 4, has been compelled to issue an apology. The new format — introduced so that the cast and crew could follow social-distancing rules — has proven especially unpopular because, as some listeners have pointed out, the producers might easily have stitched recordings together to keep the drama going. Instead, they’ve more or less dispensed with dialogue between characters in favour of a watered-down talking heads approach. Given that it’s usually

Adapting Wodehouse for the radio is a challenge – but the BBC has succeeded brilliantly

Everyone knows a Lord Emsworth. Mine lives south of the river and wears caterpillars in his hair and wine on his shirt and has just occasionally written for this magazine. That doesn’t much narrow it down. When you look at him, you understand a little better why P. G. Wodehouse is topping the lists of authors to read during lockdown. It’s not just that the books are funny. With an Emsworth or a Bertie Wooster you’re guaranteed that idling and dithering will land you somewhere. Even if it is in the soup. Adapted for Radio 4 this fortnight, Leave it to Psmith, the second in Wodehouse’s Blandings series, sees the

The death of cosy Christie

This is not Midsomer Murders. The new film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is thick with violence and sexual innuendo. It elevates Hercule Poirot, the diminutive, fastidious Belgian detective, with his egg-shaped head and pot belly, to part-time action figure, a man who chases bad guys down dizzying descents in exotic snowscapes before straightening his magnificent moustache with a twinkle in his eye. This is less cosy, golden age detective fiction than a cross between Daniel Craig’s 007 and Scandi noir. Kenneth Branagh, who stars and directs, has brought his experience playing the dejected Swedish police inspector Wallander to the fore, giving the usually reserved detective

Good clean fun | 7 July 2016

The Detection Club is rather like the House of Lords of British crime writing, though considerably more select. (I should declare an interest: I’m a member of the club, so it’s possible I may be biased.) Founded in 1930 by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers among others, the club chooses new members by secret ballot. Candidates undergo an initiation ritual involving black candles, a billowing red robe originally designed for G.K. Chesterton, a terrifying sacred oath and a skull called Eric. (Forensic examination has demonstrated that Eric belonged to a female.) The story of the club’s early years has been well told in The Golden Age of Murder by

Old masters

The Fitzwilliam Museum is marking its bicentenary with an exhibition that takes its title from Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile. But it turns out it was another writer of a different type of fiction who was directly involved. M.R. James, author of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, amassed some of the exhibits in his capacity as director of the Fitzwilliam from 1893 to 1908. And almost any object on display would have made a perfect prop for one of his tales, because the subject is ancient Egyptian coffins. Generally, the main character in a story by James is a retiring gentleman scholar who comes across a venerable item which

Aleppo Notebook

I had been trying to get to Aleppo for ages, but was unable to do so because rebel activity had cut off the city from the outside world. Syrian government military successes at the start of January meant there was at last a safe road. I hired a driver, was allocated a government minder (very handy at checkpoints), and booked into a hotel. Driving north from Damascus, we picked up a 22-year-old Syrian army lieutenant called Ali, returning to his unit after eight days’ leave with his family. We drove through Homs — miles and miles of utter devastation — and then east on to the Raqqa road. Ali told

If the world economy crashes again, blame the central bankers

Like the Christmas pudding sampled by Hercule Poirot at Kings Lacey — but six weeks early — our Spectator Money supplement contains a little treasure in every portion, and perhaps even a priceless gem. I particularly commend the essays by Warwick Lightfoot and Subitha Subramaniam on interest rates, and why central banks have become so hesitant to raise them. In recent days we’ve had an indication from Mark Carney of the Bank of England that UK rates will stay at their current low well into next year, maybe until 2017; in the US, strong job numbers have pumped expectations that the first rate rise for nine years will be delivered

When escape to the sun — or even to Devon — goes horribly wrong

A character in Sophie Hannah’s A Game for All the Family (Hodder, £14.99, pp. 432) presents a theory: ‘Mysteries are the best kind of stories because you only get the truth at the very end, when you’re absolutely desperate.’ This makes us realise just how scarce truth is. In books, as in life. It’s an idea to keep in mind as we follow former television producer Justine on her quest to start a new, quieter life in Devon. This dream proves elusive, as her teenage daughter makes a new friend at school, a friend who the teachers insist doesn’t actually exist. Is the friend real, or just a product of

How cool is Britannia?

Is it true that, having lost an empire, we reinvented ourselves as an island of entertainers? Do we channel the same rigour and vigour into film and music and literature as once went into conquering continents? Is there a residual colonialist bias in our arts, seen, for instance, in our cinematic penchant for creating patriotic period dramas such as Henry V or The King’s Speech? How much of our cultural success depends on the US market and the accident of a shared language? To what extent does our cultural expression reflect not our idea of ourselves but an American distortion? Do international smash hits such as Julian Fellowes’s languid TV

Affairs in squares

On all those comic lists of the world’s shortest books (Great Italian War Heroes, My Hunt for the Real Killers, by O.J. Simpson etc.), the best title I ever came across was Bloomsbury: the Untold Story. Now, though, BBC2’s new drama, Life in Squares, is giving us yet another chance to marvel at how many sexual permutations one small group of people can achieve. But before all that began, Monday’s first episode was at some pains to show us the forces of Victorian stuffiness against which the Bloomsbury group rebelled. In the first scene, a suitor tried to woo Vanessa Stephen with the chat-up line, ‘Only two more days, Miss