Stepping outside, we admire the house’s graceful, butterscotch-yellow facade, with its two-columned central portico and single-story wings added in 1823. Beyond a curving gravel driveway, a steep drop-off descends to the Dart. I follow a forest path for several hundred yards to a slate-roofed, stone boathouse, one of Christie’s favorite places, which sits above a sandy strip of river beach covered with clumps of black-green seaweed. In Christie’s 1956 novel, Dead Man’s Folly, Poirot joins a mystery writer, Ariadne Oliver, for a party at a Devon estate called Nasse House—a stand-in for Greenway—and there discovers the corpse of a young girl lying beside the secluded boathouse. The Battery is nearby—a stone plaza flanked by a pair of 18th-century cannons; it made a cameo appearance in Five Little Pigs.
Although the estate inspired scenes in several of her novels, Christie seldom, if ever, wrote at Greenway. It was, Brown emphasizes, an escape from the pressures of work and fame, a restorative retreat where she slipped easily into the roles of grandmother, wife and neighbor. “It’s the place where she could be Mrs. Mallowan,” Brown says. “She went to the village shop to get her hair cut, went to a fishmonger in Brixham, hired a bus and took local school kids to see Mousetrap. She was very much a part of the local community.” The opening of Greenway has shed some light on the author’s private world. But, three and a half decades after her death, the source of Agatha Christie’s genius—and many aspects of her life—remain a mystery worthy of Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot.
Writer Joshua Hammer lives in Berlin. Photographer Michael freeman is based in London.