Before there was texting and Twitter, before Piltdown Man was exposed as a hoax, and before Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple made Agatha Christie a household name, the future Queen of Mystery spent the better part of a year traveling the British Empire. Throughout her journey, Christie maintained a regular correspondence with her family in the old-fashioned, tangible way. Many of her letters detailing her adventures still survive and now have been compiled into The Grand Tour, giving history buffs and mystery buffs a firsthand account of the world as it existed in 1922 as well as insight into the cultures and events that contributed to Christie’s work.
Invited to join the British Empire Mission—a tour that was meant to provide advance publicity for the upcoming Empire Exhibition—the Christies all but leaped at the chance to travel the world. Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and Hawaii beckoned, and Agatha felt sure she would never again be presented with an opportunity for visiting such exotic locales, so she was careful to savor every experience along the way.
These candid notes share the sort of anecdotes and details that aren’t likely to be found in any biography of Christie. Here are the candid and uninhibited conversations that one divulges only to the most trusted friends and family members.
Although she had published three books by this time, Agatha was not raking in piles of cash. The limited budget sometimes led to near-comic extremes. Toward the end of the tour and with their stipend almost depleted, Agatha “hit on quite a good plan” to save money on food. “I would have breakfast down in the restaurant, and I would have everything that was on the menu….I came out from breakfast feeling like an overstuffed boa constrictor. But I managed to make that last until evening.” For the rest of the day, she dined on meat extract (a gift from New Zealand) diluted with boiling water and hoped for an invitation to a luncheon or dinner.
Despite the slim wallet, Agatha was confident about the future, writing to her mother, “I really feel Tommy & Tuppence is going to be a success, so don’t worry about money.”
The Grand Tour is a riveting read on its own, stuffed with details about then-ordinary life: formal dress for dinner, the romance of travel by ship and by train, and the political and social climate of each territory the Christies visited. In addition to the travelogue, readers have an opportunity to witness young Agatha as she deals with social gaffes and insecurities—unimaginable in the mature and worldly woman! Most readers will delight in her stories about surfing, particularly the near-disastrous attempts to conquer Hawaii’s monster waves.
This unencumbered glimpse inside the life of a literary legend is a must-have for all Christie fans, providing as it does a sense of the true personality and mind that has held the world in thrall with her work.