Montreal museum pays homage to 'Queen of Crime' Agatha Christie

MONTREAL -- Agatha Christie didn't much care for Montreal's weather when she visited in 1922, saving kinder words for British Columbia's beautiful Sequoia trees.

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But despite her less-than-glowing endorsement, Montreal's Pointe-a-Calliere museum is paying homage to the so-called "Queen of Crime" with an exhibit that is as much about the English novelist's life as her best-selling whodunits.

Much of it is devoted to the many years Christie spent on archeological dig sites in the Middle East with her second husband, Max Mallowan, including one when she famously used a jar of face cream to clean precious ivory artifacts.

Christie's time in the region inspired some of her most popular mysteries, including "Murder on the Orient Express," "Murder in Mesopotamia" and "Death on the Nile."

According to musem project manager Elisabeth Monast Moreau, the exhibit seeks to make links between Christie's adventurous life and her published work, which includes 66 mysteries, 150 short stories, 18 plays and two memoirs.

"You realize how much she put of herself and of her life in her books," Monast Moreau said. "It was definitely one of her tricks to captivate people, and it was really the main source of inspiration to her."

The exhibit, which runs until April 17, 2016, brings together photos, documents, artifacts, household items and Christie's notebooks to reveal interesting tidbits about her life.

She was born to a well-off family in Devon in 1890 (she died in 1976 aged 85) and began writing poetry by age 10. But although she loved reading and writing, Christie dreamed as a child of becoming an opera singer.

Christie worked as a volunteer nurse during the First World War, training as an assistant apothecary and learning the properties of various poisons. She would put this knowledge to use in her novels, where some 30 characters would be poisoned to death.

Christie was also well-travelled for a woman of her era, notably touring the British dominions, including Canada, with her first husband, Archie Christie, in 1922.

In 1928, the newly divorced author took the first of her many rides on the Orient Express train to Baghdad, in what is now Iraq. Christie had always been fascinated by archeology and decided to travel by herself to visit the dig site in Ur. She met Mallowan, an assistant archeologist 14 years her junior, on her second visit to the site.

The museum exhibit contains many items from Christie's years spent with Mallowan on various dig sites in the Middle East, where she became an important part of the team. In addition to financing many of the ventures, Christie became the official photographer and videographer and helped to clean and catalogue the treasures.

Christie's grandson, Mathew Prichard, said the exhibit shows a lesser-known side of his grandmother, who is best known for creating the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple characters.

"Many people know her novels but they don't realize the length and depth of her whole life," Prichard said in a phone interview.

He remembers Christie as a "normal, loving grandmother" who described herself as a wife rather than an author when she was asked on passport applications to list her profession.

He said that when touring the exhibit, he was struck by a certain photo of a dig site in Iraq. It shows Christie, in a white dress and hat, sitting cross-legged next to Mallowan, the two of them surrounded by 180 local men employed at the site.

Prichard said the photo shows Christie's ability to connect with people of all walks of life -- a key reason he believes her books are still popular 40 years after her death.

"She had a naturalness and friendliness with people that came over, whoever you were," he said. "It didn't just apply to her family or to British people. She was like that with everybody and I think that's why her books have lasted so long, because they are so natural and instinctive."

IF YOU GO:

"Investigating Agatha Christie" runs until April 17, 2016, at the Pointe-a-Calliere museum in Old Montreal. Visit www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/ for ticket information.



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