Hercule Poirot (not pronounced ‘poy-rott’) is perhaps the best-known tv detective of all time, with his little moustache and funny little French (Belgian) accent, he is truly a masterpiece of character writing, Mon’Ami. Or perhaps it is Miss Marple, the outwardly innocuous old lady, sitting in a chair at a luxury hotel, noticing every tiny detail of any potential crime scene within a five-mile radius.
Both of these brilliant characters are the works of the even more brilliant novelist and playwright, Agatha Christie. But both of these brilliant detectives may have struggled to solve the mystery of Agatha Christie’s own disappearance.
The mystery began when the author of awful deeds disappeared from Styles, her Berkshire home, on December 3rd, 1926.
For days, speculation of this great mystery went into overdrive. Such was the scale that the story received front page coverage in The New York Times. Even the master detective writer, Sir Author Conan Doyle, of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ fame, chipped in: Doyle took one of Christie’s discarded gloves, and presented it to a spirit medium in search of supernatural aid (it is unclear as to whether this was helpful or not… [it wasn’t]).
The search involved over 1,000 police officers and many thousands of concerned fans and the public, as fear for the mystery queen’s wellbeing grew.
Christie was found safe and relatively sound eleven days after she had vanished, supposedly suffering from a rare kind of amnesia, but her discovery was only the beginning of the questions:
Why had she left without a word? Was it all a big publicity stunt? Had she lost her Miss Marbles and placed herself as the protagonist at the centre of her own real-life mystery? These questions went unanswered for decades.
Sidestepping the fact that Christie’s picture had been mainstream news from Torquay to New York for the best part of a fortnight – thus surely one of the hotel staff must have recognised her – Norman suggests the author was suffering from what is known as a ‘fugue state’: a deluding kind of psychogenic trance which is the result of mental trauma.
Norman suggests that this is the cause of a mental breakdown, which spiralled into severe depression, which led to the ‘fugue state’ and a rare kind of amnesia, and ultimately this led to Christie’s unannounced disappearance.
On the afternoon of December 3rd, 1926, Christie and her husband, Archie, reportedly had an argument regarding the affair he was having with Nancy Neele. This is thought to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the catalyst for Agatha’s disappearance.
Christie had recently lost her mother and the news of her husband’s infidelity could not have come at a worse time in her life.
Her husband left that evening, making no secret of the fact that he was going to spend the weekend with his mistress.
Around 21:30 that night, Christie kissed her sleeping daughter, Rosalind, on the head, and left Styles, her Berkshire home, driving her Morris Cowley off into the night.
The author left a note for her assistant saying she was going to Yorkshire.
After her disappearance became known, Christie’s car was found abandoned close to ‘The Silent Pool’ – a fresh water spring near Guildford, which itself was the scene of a previous mystery: that of the deaths of a young sister and brother some years prior.
Here is where some poignant questions arise:
Christie would be found eleven days after her disappearance on December 14th, in a spa hotel in Harrogate, but her car was found near Guildford, and she had begun her journey from Torquay. Thus, without a car, how did Christie get from Guildford to Harrogate?
The easiest route would have been to travel the 31 miles from Guildford to London, and then get a train from London up to Harrogate, some 212 miles away. But in a state of amnesia, would it have been possible to even get from the ‘The Silent Pool’ to Guildford? No train tickets were found on her person, either from Guildford to London, or London to Harrogate. And why did she leave an expired driving licence?
It is possible that she had either stored a second car at ‘The Silent Pool’, and changed cars after driving the Morris Cowley from Torquay. This would surely pose as another symbolic gesture, and one which would scream that ‘The Silent Pool’ was her final destination.
Leaving an expired driving licence in the abandoned car, is yet another potential ruse for those who found the vehicle. It is likely that she owned another, in-date driving licence. Thus, this leaves the potential for her to have driven away in the second car, completely road worthy.
If, however, the expired licence was the only licence she owned because she had not renewed it, this leaves the potential for accomplices.
The fact of the abandoned car is that she certainly did not walk the 31 miles from Guildford to London. Furthermore, if she left Styles at 21:30, and drove to Guildford (roughly 174 miles away), she would have arrived at around 1:00 in the morning – not a time for catching a train to anywhere.
There is further potential that Christie slept in her car that night, or walked the five miles from ‘The Silent Pool’ to Guildford train station and caught the first train to London in the morning.
This all seems very unlikely when considering he suggestion that Christie was suffering from a ‘fugue state’ – a type of state of amnesia brought on by mental trauma. This is the suggested reason for Christie’s disappearance by the Andrew Norman, in his Christie biography, The Finished Portrait.
Christie herself said very little about the situation, only that she was suffering from a ‘mysterious dream state’, from which Norman found his conclusion.
Given who she was, however, one may be inclined to suggest that the whole situation was planned as a revenge for her husband’s infidelity.
It was well within Christie’s capabilities to plan an elaborate disappearance, full of symbolic clues and evidence to suggest that she had died, as a means of punishing her husband. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for a human to be so hurt by the one they love that they seek to cause as much harm, and as much drama as possible.
The end result of this would have been that her husband, the unfaithful Archie, would have been the most hated man in Britain. How dare a mere human man treat the queen of the narrative twist in such a despicable manner? Hitherto, all Archie Christie is known for is the man who was unfaithful to the great crime writer, Agatha Christie. Perhaps a substantial enough revenge.
The use of her husband’s mistress’ surname to check into the spa hotel in Harrogate; the abandoning of the car near the tragic site of ‘The Silent Pool’; the discarded, expired driving licence… These and many other carefully placed clues all point to a well-crafted plot, and the creation of a real-life mystery with the great mystery writer as the protagonist at the centre.
Christie recovered, and remarried in 1928 to the archaeologist, Sir Max Mallowan; went on to become the world’s best-selling author of all time; the writer of the third most published books of all time, behind the works of Shakespeare and the Bible; and the writer of the longest-running play in West End history with The Mousetrap.
Not a bad bounce-back, with all things considered!