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Exhibition unveils real-life Agatha Christie mystery

Agatha Christie taking afternoon tea in Baghdad.

(Basel Museum of Ancient Art)

An exhibition in Basel reveals there was much more to Agatha Christie than writing the thrillers which made her one of the most widely-read novelists of the 20th century. She was also a knowledgeable amateur archaeologist.

"Agatha Christie and the Orient - Criminology and Archaeology" tells the story of how the author developed a deep interest in Middle East excavations, and even drew inspiration from them for her fiction-writing.

It began in 1928 when after reading an article in the Illustrated London News about excavations at Ur, in Iraq, she decided to see them for herself.

Getting there involved a long train journey from Calais via Belgrade and Istanbul, a trip she was to take several times in the years which followed - and by observing her fellow-passengers, gather material for "Murder on the Orient Express".

In 1930, the newly-divorced Christie returned to the region, where she met British archaeologist Max Mallowan. They were married the same year, and the exhibition in Basel's Museum of Ancient Art focuses on their excavation work together, often for three months at a time, living in tents in the desert.

It includes over 200 objects, photographs, posters and books on loan from the British Museum. They help give a vivid picture of their rail journeys to exotic locations which became the backgrounds of such novels as "Murder on the Nile", "Appointment with Death" and "They Came To Baghdad".

The exhibition was conceived by Charlotte Trümpler, the Swiss curator of the Ruhrlandmuseum at Essen in Germany, after she read Christie's autobiography. "I had also read most of her other books," said Trümpler, "and was fascinated to discover a part of her life which few knew about."

by Richard Dawson





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