REVIEWS FROM LES BLATT
Les Blatt maintains a web site devoted to classic mysteries. CLICK HERE to visit his web site.
POSTED DECEMBER 30, 2012
POSTED FEBRUARY 28, 2013
THE GRAND TOUR: AROUND THE WORLD WITH THE QUEEN OF MYSTERY
In the preface to THE GRAND TOUR, taken from her autobiography, Agatha Christie reminds us how difficult and how unusual a trip around the world would have been in the early 1920s:
"Archie and I had twice gone abroad for a short holiday: once to the south of France, to the Pyrenees, and once to Switzerland. We both loved travelling. Anyway, I longed to see the world, and it seemed to me highly probable that I never should. We were now committed to the business life, and a business man, as far as I could see, never got more than a fortnight's holiday a year. A fortnight would not take you far. I longed to see China and Japan and India and Hawaii, and a great many other places, but my dream remained, and probably always would remain wishful thinking."
So when Agatha Christie's husband, Archie, was approached by an influential friend, Major Ernest Belcher, inviting the couple to accompany him on a trip around the world lasting nearly a year, on behalf of the Dominion Mission of the British Empire Exhibition to promote international trade, they took a deep breath, left their jobs and their two-year-old daughter and, very early in 1922, left on a ten-month voyage that would change Agatha Christie's life forever. When you read the mysteries written later by Christie, set in distant lands, reflecting her personal knowledge of then-exotic places, know that she came by much of that knowledge, along with a good deal of her zest for living, as a result of this remarkable world tour.
As Agatha Christie traveled around the world, she wrote long letters home to her mother and other family members, and she sent home many photos taken with her new camera. All those letters and photographs, along with reminiscences from her autobiography, have been assembled and edited by Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, into THE GRAND TOUR. Agatha Christie recorded everything: her seasickness; the long ship and train journeys; meeting dignitaries; going surfing (yes, there are pictures of Agatha Christie with her surfboard!); meeting government leaders; staying in hotel rooms "reeking of stale commercial travelers"; caring for a seriously-ill Archie in Canada - it is all here, in the well-arranged text interspersed with page after page of handwritten letters, postcards, newspaper clippings and scores of photographs. The Christies traveled through South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada before heading home again.
It is worth noting that the man who organized and led the expedition, Major Ernest Belcher, had a most distinctive personality. He bellowed at opponents and friends alike, berated and irritated but ultimately looked out for the people under his control and, in general, was a larger-than-life character, often referred to by Christie in her letters as "the Wild Man". In her 1924 stand-alone thriller, THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT, many of the real-life Major Belcher's behavioral traits may be seen in the fictional Sir Eustace Pedlar, a major character in the thriller. Other characters and incidents in THE GRAND TOUR foreshadow events in the thriller as well, particularly a general strike in South Africa that turned into what Christie called "a young revolution".
THE GRAND TOUR looks back at a world that seems unbelievably far away to us, ninety years later, accustomed as we are to international air travel that never takes more than a couple of days to get anywhere. We are given the opportunity here to travel as we would have traveled a century ago, on lengthy ship and rail voyages around the world, and to see that now-vanished world through the eyes of one of the greatest story-tellers who ever lived - and through the many photographs that she took along the way. There are no murders here, but you will find everything else that a reader who loves travel and enjoys Agatha Christie could want. It is a fascinating and unprecedented look into the mind and life of an amazing author. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
- Les Blatt