Agatha Christie’s Greatest Mystery

agatha-christie-young

She has been called the “Duchess of Death”, the “Mistress of Mystery”, and the “Queen of Crime”. She wrote sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections.

The Guinness Book of World Records has named her the “best-selling novelist of all time”. She is also one of the world’s best-selling writers of any kind, second only to William Shakespeare. An estimated one billion copies of her novels have been sold in English, and another billion in 103 other languages. She is famous for intriguing plot twists that make the seemingly impossible, possible.

Fans of every generation cannot get enough.

 But did you know that a non-fictional event in Agatha Christie’s life proved to be as mysterious as one of her novels? Read on to learn more about Agatha and the disappearance of the century!

Just My Imagination…

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on this day, September 15, 1890 in Devon, England. She was the youngest of three children. Her parents, Frederick Alvah Miller and his wife Clarissa were wealthy recipients of a family fortune. Because her siblings were so much older, little Agatha is spent much of her time with pets and “imaginary friends”. This may have fueled her great ability to later imagine characters for her novels.

Young Agatha was a clever child, able to read at age four. She was home schooled, but at age twelve she attended boarding school in Paris. She always had a keen interest in reading and writing, and even wrote and performed amateur plays as a child.

At First Sight

In October 1912, at age twenty two, she was introduced to Archibald “Archie” Christie at a formal dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford of Chudleigh.

Archie was a dashing army officer. The couple quickly fell in love. Just three months after their first meeting, Archie proposed and Agatha accepted. They were married on Christmas Eve, 1914.

During World War I, Agatha  served as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross. She worked as a nurse, a medical dispenser and an apothecaries’ assistant.

It was here that she acquired special knowledge of poisons which she would later use in the plots of her stories. She was a huge fan of  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ series. Her own first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920.  Her second novel The Secret Adversary, was published in 1922. Both became bestsellers.

After the war, the Christies settled into home life. Agatha gave birth to a daughter named Rosalind.

They also toured the world, visiting exotic places like South Africa, Hawaii and New Zealand. They bought a house in Sunningdale, Berkshire, which they called “Styles”, named after the mansion in Agatha’s novel.

For all practical purposes, they seemed to have an ideal marriage. But trouble was brewing…

An Officer, Not a Gentleman

In April of 1926, Agatha’s mother died. They had an extremely close relationship, and the death sent Agatha into a deep depression. She was so distraught that she traveled to a small village in the Basque country of southern France to recover from a “nervous breakdown”.

When Agatha returned four months later, Archie asked her for a divorce. He had never actually been a very faithful husband. He now claimed he had fallen in love with a woman named Nancy Neele, whom he had met through his military connections. This, no doubt, added insult and agony to the already fragile Agatha.

 On Friday, December 3, 1926, Archie and Agatha had an argument when Archie announced he planned to spend the weekend “away with friends” and unaccompanied by his wife. Agatha did not take it well.

Without a Trace

At shortly after 9.30 pm that night, Agatha kissed her sleeping daughter Rosalind goodnight. She then exited the house, climbed into her Morris Cowley automobile, and drove off into the night. She would not be seen again for 11 days. Her disappearance resulted in the largest manhunt ever conducted in British history.

Agatha Christie was a famous and beloved author. Her disappearance created a state of emergency. The Home Secretary, William Joyson Hicks, assigned over one thousand policeman to the case. Hundreds of civilians volunteered to help, bringing along bloodhounds, terriers and police dogs. For the first time ever, aeroplanes were incorporated in a missing person search, gliding over the rural landscape.

Searchers try to find clues to Christie's disappearance.

Even Agatha’s idol, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was called in, as well as detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers. It was hoped that their special knowledge of crime would help solve the mystery.  

The next morning, Agatha’s car was found abandoned on a steep slope at Newlands Corner nature resort near Guildford. The car was reported to be “dangling on the edge of a chalk pit, the front wheels actually overhanging the edge,” with only a thick hedge-growth preventing it from plunging into the pit.  Inside the car was an expired driver’s license and some clothes.

Agatha, however, was not there.  

As the days passed and there was still no sign of her, speculation began to mount. The Christies were a stylish, high profile couple. Plus Archie’s infidelity was a known fact. The public was eager for gossip and the press quickly exploited the story. One newspaper offered a £100 reward for Agatha’s return (approximately equivalent to £6,000 in today’s money). Her disappearance was featured on the front page of The New York Times.

Stranger Than Fiction

It was the perfect tabloid story, with – ironically –  all the elements of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. For the vivid imagination, there were also several spooky elements.

Close to the place where the car had been found was a lake known as the Silent Pool, where two young children were said to have died. Some tabloids began suggesting that Agatha had drowned herself.

Yet her body was nowhere to be found.

Rumors began circulating that Archie had killed her, wanting to be free to go off with his mistress.

Yet another tabloid specullated that Agatha had fled her own house, fearing it was haunted! “It stands in a lonely lane,” the paper claimed, “unlit at night, which has a reputation of being haunted. The lane has been the scene of a murder of a woman and the suicide of a man. … ‘If I do not leave Sunningdale soon, Sunningdale will be the end of me,’ she once said to a friend.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was known to have occult beliefs, tried using paranormal powers to solve the mystery. He took one of Christie’s gloves to a celebrated medium in the hope that it would provide answers. It did not. Other spiritualists even held a séance at the chalk pit where the car had been found.

To make things even more dramatic, one newspaper reported that eerie clues had been found near the site, including “a bottle labeled poison, lead and opium, fragments of a torn-up postcard, a woman’s fur-lined coat, a box of face powder, the end of a loaf of bread, a cardboard box and two children’s books.”

At this point it was anyone’s guess.

Swan Song

On December 14, a full eleven days later, Agatha was finally found. She was safe and well, having checked into the posh Swan Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

Harrogate Hydro, the spa where Christie was found.

Interestingly, she had registered as “Teresa Neele of Cape Town, South Africa”, using the last name of her husband’s lover.

Upon questioning, Agatha claimed she remembered nothing.

So what happened?

The police put together a story they believed was reasonable. They thought Agatha had left home and headed for London but crashed her car en route. She then boarded a train to Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she checked into the Swan Hotel with no luggage.  

The town of Harrogate was a spa resort. In the 1920s it was known for its elegance. Agatha, a wealthy world traveler, probably looked right at home in the chic establishment. Apparently, she mingled around, attending balls and dances. It was a man named Bob Tappin, a banjo player, who finally recognized her and contacted the police. Archie was then notified.

When Archie showed up at the Swan to collect his wife, it was reported that she was “in no hurry to leave.” She even kept him waiting in the hotel lounge while she changed into her evening dress. It was not a happy reunion. When Agatha finally emerged, Archie was “welcomed by her with a stony stare.”

The celebrity couple continued to attract attention at the train station. Hundreds of people showed up, hoping to catch a glimpse.

Within the next year, Agatha sued her husband for divorce.

Silence is Golden

Agatha herself never offered an explanation for her eleven lost days.

Over the years, observers have crafted several theories as to what happened. Some believe it was amnesia. Others think she may have been in a “fugue” state – a rare condition brought on by trauma or depression. During this time, she could have developed her new personality, Theresa Neele, and failed to recognize herself in newspaper photographs.

Agatha Christie biographer Andrew Norman, who studied the case extensively, stated: “I believe she was suicidal. Her state of mind was very low and she writes about it later through the character of Celia in her autobiographical novel Unfinished Portrait.”

In her own autobiography, Christie wrote simply, “So, after illness, came sorrow, despair and heartbreak. There is no need to dwell on it.”

Love on the Orient Express

Needless to say, Agatha Christie went on to have an amazing career. She took several journeys on the Orient Express, traveling to places like Istanbul and Bagdad. It was on these journeys that she gathered inspiration for future novels. She also met the man who was to be her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan. (Archie ended up marrying his mistress, Nancy Neele.)

Agatha Christie received many awards in her long career. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1950, and appointed  Commander of the Order of British Literature  (CBE) in 1956. She was the co-president of the Detection Club  from 1958 to her death in 1976. In 1961, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature Degree  by the University of Exeter. Her play The Mousetrap was the world’s longest-running play, performed in London’s West End from 1952 to 2020, only being shut down this year in response to the Covid pandemic.    

In 1971 she received the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her husband Max also received  knighthood for his archaeological work. After her husband’s knighthood, Agatha could also use the title “Lady Mallowan”.

She died peacefully of natural causes on January 12, 1976.

Happy Birthday Agatha! You gave us so much, and a part of you will always be a mystery.

 

Anais Nin: Writer, Wildcat, Bigamist and Bon Vivant

 

She was an author, a philosopher, a makeshift psychoanalyst, a flamenco dancer, an actress and an international woman of mystery. Her love affairs were legendary, and her tell-all erotica is hailed by critics as the finest ever written.

Born To Be Wild

Anais Nin, birth name “Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell” (you can see why she shortened it!) was born on this day, February 21, 1903 in Nueilly, France. Her father, Joaquín Nin, was Cuban pianist of Spanish descent, and her mother Rosa Culmell, was a Cuban singer of French and Danish descent. Even at birth she seemed destined for an artistic life which would lead her across continents. 

Sadly, her parents separated when Anais was only two years old. Rosa then took Anais and her brothers to Barcelona and later New York City.  Anais began high school but dropped out at age sixteen. She then worked as an artists model.

In 1923, she found herself living in Havana, Cuba. It was there she met and married her first husband, Hugh Parker Guiler.

The couple moved to Paris. Hugh was a banker and sometime artist who dabbled in film making.  During this time Anais began to pursue her interest in writing. She kept volumes of scandalous diaries which would later be published as part of her erotic collections. Her first published work, however, was a critical evaluation of author D. H. Lawrence called D. H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. 

She also studied Flamenco dancing.

The Psyche and The Pen

Anais became interested in psychoanalysis. With the onset of new research and practices, the human mind was now Freud’s territory, ripe for childhood trauma and sexual symbolism. Anais studied with prominent doctors René Allendy and Otto Rank. Both men eventually became her lovers.  It was a somewhat “sophisticated” kind of hanky panky, bordering on mentorship (at least according to Nin.)  She said of Otto Rank:

“As he talked, I thought of my difficulties with writing, my struggles to articulate feelings not easily expressed. Of my struggles to find a language for intuition, feeling, instincts which are, in themselves, elusive, subtle, and wordless.”

Nin eventually found her voice, later publishing several novels, journals and short stories including Winter of Artifice, A Café in Space, The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Delta of Venus, Little Birds and Under a Glass Bell. 

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”
― Anais Nin

Bohemian Rhapsody

During her years in Paris, Anais led an unconventional lifestyle which was almost systematically removed from her husband Hugh. (Reportedly, Hugh requested that he never be mentioned in any of her published diaries.)

Anais slid into a literary circle which included Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Antonin Artaud, Gore Vidal, James Agee, and Lawrence Durrell. She had love affairs with some of them. Even steadfast homosexual Gore Vidal was known to write her romantic letters. Most famously, Nin was involved with Henry Miller. She also seems to have fallen in love with Henry’s wife June, an irresistible, cunning and beautiful femme fatale.  Their relationship is one of much speculation, and was examined in the 1990 film Henry and June. 

Anais was obsessed with June, often using her as an archetype in her fiction. In her diary Henry and June Anais wrote poetically and reverently of her infatuation, even stating, “I have become June.” Although Anais denied having an affair with June, she continuously gave her money, jewelry and clothing, even to the point of leaving her own self broke for June’s benefit.

In the summer of 1939, with the Nazis closing in and the threat of war, Anais and Hugh left Paris and relocated to New York City. There Anais continued her sexual escapades. She reunited with her old psychoanalyst, Otto Rank, and moved into his apartment.  (The relationship between Anais and Hugh is unclear at this point. Maybe he realized he simply could not control her, or maybe he no longer cared.)

While living with Otto,  Anais actually began to act as a psychoanalyst herself. She “counseled”  patients in the room next to Rank’s, and also had sex with them on the psychoanalytic couch!

After several months, even the voracious wildcat Anais could not keep up the pace.  She quit, stating: “I found that I wasn’t good because I wasn’t objective. I was haunted by my patients. I wanted to intercede.”

L.A. Woman

In 1947, while still living in America and still married to Hugh, Anais met the actor Rupert Pole.  After a chance encounter in a Manhattan elevator, the two ended up dating and traveled to California together.

Anais was sixteen years older than Pole.  On March 17, 1955,  even though she was still married to Hugh, Anais married  Pole in Quartzsite, Arizona! She then lived with him in Los Angeles.

What was Hugh doing all this time? Well, he either was clueless, or he pretended to be clueless. Biographer Deirdre Bair alleges that Hugh knew everything, but “chose not to know”. Anais referred to her simultaneous marriages as her “bicoastal trapeze”. She wove a wild web around it. 

According to Deidre Bair: “Anais would set up these elaborate façades in Los Angeles and in New York, but it became so complicated that she had to create something she called the ‘lie box’. She had this absolutely enormous purse and in the purse she had two sets of checkbooks. One said ‘Anais Guiler’ for New York and another said ‘Anais Pole’ for Los Angeles. She had prescription bottles from California doctors and New York doctors with the two different names. And she had a collection of file cards. And she said, ‘I tell so many lies I have to write them down and keep them in the lie box so I can keep them straight.'”

In 1966, Nin had her marriage with Pole annulled, due to the legal issues arising from both Guiler and Pole trying to claim her as a dependent on their federal tax returns. (Yep. The IRS will get you ever time! 🙂 )

However, Anais continued to live with Pole until her death in 1977.

Believe it or not, love was not lost between Anais and Hugh. Prior to her death, Anais wrote to Hugh asking for his forgiveness. He wrote back that his life had been “more meaningful” because of her.  

A Jill of All Trades

In addition to her writing, Anais’ artistic endeavors also included work as an actress. In 1946 she appeared in the Maya Deren film Ritual in Transfigured Time. In 1952  she starred in Bells of Atlantis, a film directed by her husband Hugh under the name “Ian Hugo”.  In 1954 she had a role in the Kenneth Anger film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. 

When the Feminist Movement exploded in the 1960’s, Nin’s writing was examined under a new lens. She became something of a feminist icon. She was a popular lecturer and spoke at various universities. Anais herself, however, refused to be politically active and disassociated herself from Feminism. In 1973 she  received an honorary doctorate from the Philadelphia College of Art. She was  elected to the United States National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1974, and in 1976 was presented with a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year award.

She even had a perfume named after her, Anais Anais by Cacherel!

Sadly, Anais was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1974.  She died  at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 14, 1977.

Her body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered over Santa Monica Bay in Mermaid Cove.  This brings me to my favorite Nin quote:

 

Happy Birthday Anais! You were one of a kind.

 

 

 

 

National Book Lovers’ Day!

 

Are you a reader? Are you an obsessive reader?  Do you become enmeshed in the other worlds of fantasy, futuristic sci-fi or dystopian societies? Do you like heady romances, frightening horror, or historical recreations? Perhaps you like thought provoking non-fiction, or the vicarious thrill of a good biography.  If so, you are in luck. Today, August 9th, is National Book Lovers Day!

While the nay-sayers keep trying to convince us that the art of reading is dead, book publishing and its various forms continue to thrive. And why wouldn’t it? Ever since the dawn of time, humankind has loved story.

The Need to Read 

Storytelling has always been a part of human culture. Some scientists believe as far as 60,000 years ago our ancestors, the Neanderthals, were making their own crude attempts at it.

Cave painting was perhaps the first form of story telling. It can be dated back to around 40, 000 years ago.  The oldest known cave painting is that of a bull in  Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Was there a tale that went along with the bull? Most likely.  “Once upon a time, Jack took his cow to the market in search of some magic beans…”

For thousands of years, oral tradition has existed among the ancients. Eventually they developed the tools to keep the stories in print.  In around 3000 BC, the people of  Mesopotamia developed round cylinder seals for rolling images onto clay tablets.  Societies in China and Egypt also created small stamps that were used to print on cloth. In around  the second century A.D., a Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun is credited for first inventing paper.

The oldest European book in existence was taken from the grave of Saint Cuthbert in the year 1104. The book contains the Gospel of John in Latin. It is believed that the book was buried with Cuthbert in around the seventh century. This leather bound gem is in excellent shape, considering its age!

Throughout the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth century, woodcuts were used for printing in Europe and Asia. Reproduction was a tedious and laborious task taken on by scribes. But in 1440, a miracle happened. A man named Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printing press was the first device which used movable type to produce books. It revolutionized publishing.

The press was vastly modernized over the next few hundred years, creating news print, typewriters and eventually the keyboards we have today. Nonetheless, if you are a book lover, you have Gutenberg to thank for the printed word as we know it.

Great Books

Reading frees the mind,  reels the senses and opens doors to the imagination.  What is your favorite book? Perhaps you have several. Here’s my short list, in no particular order:

** Dracula by Bram Stoker. Oh you have never known horror and apprehension until you have read it! Enter the dark abyss of Castle Dracul where the infamous Count lives among his howling wolves and coffins.

** The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Travel down to New Orleans and become acquainted with the creepy Mayfair sisters. Dark and diabolical things have long occurred in their mansion home, not the least of which are murder and ghost sightings.

** The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Enter the ritzy world of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in 1920’s New York. Daisy keeps a passionate secret regarding neighbor Jay Gatsby, with whom she once had a doomed love affair. Can she rekindle it, now that Jay has amassed a fortune and is on a level playing field with the Buchanans?

** On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Hit the highway with Sal Paradise as he travels the road of America in tears, all the way to Frisco to hang out with some hip cats, perhaps better known as Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.

** Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The moors are alive with haunting and torment, as Heathcliff, who was once a nice little orphan, turns into an abusive tyrant who can never reconcile his lost love.

** Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  On the cliffs of Cornwall, the newly married narrator is inundated with memories of her  husband’s first wife Rebecca, who died in a mysterious boating accident. Or did she? The creepy housekeeper will do her best to drive our heroine insane.

** Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  It’s not just for children! Travel down the rabbit hole with Alice, a girl to be reckoned with.  She comes of age, questions authority and learns to stand up for herself. Among the mad tea parties, faux beheadings and painted roses there lurks political satire, as well as cutting commentary about human nature.

My list could go on and on. What about you? Let me know your favorites in the comments! And whatever you do, take some time out today to enjoy a book 🙂

 

 

National Cat Day, Plus Horror

 

Of course, in my book, every day is National Cat Day, but here in the US, with just two days until Halloween, we are celebrating the OFFICIAL National Cat Day.

I love cats!

And I am not the only one. Cats are a big influence on horror. Here are a few horror writers and actors that have been guided and inspired by their feline friends:

  1. Neil Gaimon

“‘No,’ said the cat. ‘Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.'”

—Neil Gaiman, Coraline

2. Ray Bradbury

“That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.”

—Ray Bradbury

 

3. Sylvia Plath

“Like the cat, I have nine times to die.” — Sylvia Plath

(Although she is not officially a horror writer, Sylvia did have a horrific life, finally committing  suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on February 11, 1963.)

4. Vincent Price

The face that launched a thousand haunted houses had a particular penchant for black cats. I’m with Vincent!

5. Anne Rice

The famous Mother of Vampires has been known to dote over her cat babies, Prince Oberon and Sugarplum. (Cool names! 🙂 )

6. Edgar Allan Poe

Poe at work under Catalina's eye (litho), Sheldon, Charles Mills (1866-1928) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / The Bridgeman Art Library

“I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.”

—Edgar Allan Poe

Well Mr. Poe, I think you nailed it!

Jasper says:

“Have a fantastic cat day!”

Jasper at home

 

 

 

 

When Bloggers Leave…

 

I was dismayed this week to discover that one of my favorite bloggers, HocusPocus13, a.k.a. “Jinx” has left the building.

Jinx was a voracious blogger and re-blogger. In addition to her own really cool and unique posts, she also scoured WordPress for the best of the best. Jinx often put up as many as 20-30 posts a day, all containing a bit of magic. Her motto was “path to a more productive life.” Her wise words were full of sound advice, scintillating spells, yummy recipes, beauty and creativity.

Over the past few days, I noticed there had been nothing posted by HocusPocus13 in my feed. This was unusual. Perhaps she was slowing down the pace? Maybe she was on vacation, or had taken a brief hiatus? (After all, blogging can be hard work!)

Upon further investigation, and much to my dismay, I found out that her site had been deleted. No warning, no reason, just disappeared like a result of the spell-work she so fondly purported.

Ah well.

This is cyberspace. Bloggers, Twitter posts, Instagram hits come and go, quickly as changing weather. Society in cyberspace is sporadic and erratic. We rely upon the fickle nature of satellites, nodes and WiFi crisscrossing to bring us together.

In reality,  what are we? A combination of electricity and Ram, motherboards and mother’s wombs, fragments of ethernet and memory.  Stardust.

And yet.

Just how ‘virtual’ is virtual reality? Some spiritualists and channelers now believe we are creating a new dimension within cyberspace, something between physical and non-physical, yet every bit as solid and real as what we have known before.  At any rate, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss when one of us leaves.

So Jinx, if by some chance you happen to read this, know you were appreciated, your blog was Important and you are greatly missed!

This goes for bloggers everywhere. Whatever message you are communicating into the great wide stratosphere, please know:  IT MATTERS.

Somewhere, someone is reading you. You are bringing a bit of insight, a bit of connection, a bit of horror or humor or courage or controversy into someone’s otherwise dreary day. Your unique perspective is contributing to our world.

Your thoughts matter. Your words matter. Your ideas and opinions matter.

WordPress Warriors, keep on bloggin’!  (And if you do decide to leave, for goodness sake, let someone know!)  🙂

“Words are, of course, the most powerful thing used by mankind.” — William Shakespeare

 

 

 

 

Calling All Fans of the Macabre and Supernatural…

 

goth pd

Are you tempted by terror, hungry for hauntings and scintillated by the supernatural? Are you a surveyor of cemeteries, giddy for ghosts, enticed by the eerie?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, I suspect you have a penchant for the Dark Side.  As such, I have an offer for you! (Okay, a shameless plug. But you will like it, I promise!)

A while back, bestselling author and WordPress blogger Dan Alatorre  requested submissions for an anthology of scary stories he was putting together, to be available around Halloween.  Naturally, the minute I heard ‘scary’ and ‘Halloween’, I was IN!!

I submitted a story about Jack the Ripper.  (Teaser HERE)  To my delight, Dan accepted it!

Our anthology, called The Box Under The Bed contains a collection of twenty spine tingling stories. Expect psychotic killers, psychological horror and recreations  of Yesteryear, as well as friendly ghosts and a plethora of  all things weird, wild and wonderful.   Contributors include bestselling authors Allison Maruska  and Jenifer Ruff.    The anthology is due for release on October 1.

box

Now here’s the best part! You can pre-order a Kindle download for only 99 cents!  Pre-orders will also include a bonus story written by Dan Alatorre which will not be included after the release date.  Paperbacks will be available later.

If interested please click HERE.  Hours of thrilling enchantment await, as we prepare for Halloween…

scary ty