Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap began its fifty-nine-year (and counting) run in London’s West End on this day in 1952. In her autobiography, Christie tells the story of steeling herself to attend and even speak at the tenth-anniversary publicity party for the London production, despite her “miserable, horrible, inevitable shyness.” She arrived unaccompanied and a half hour beforehand as requested, only to be told by an usher, “No admission yet, madam. Another twenty minutes before anyone is allowed to go in.” Until rescued, Christie “wandered miserably round the corridors of the Savoy, trying to get up my courage to go back.”
Christie’s most famous unwanted publicity, and longest-running mystery, came decades earlier. In December 1926 she suddenly disappeared, her car found abandoned with its lights still on near her Berkshire home, her packed suitcase and driver’s license inside. Though only thirty-five, Christie was already famous and an heir apparent to Conan Doyle. The mystery had made headlines for a week and foiled all attempts at solution — tracker dogs, spotter planes, underwater divers, civilian search (one searcher being the other heir apparent, Dorothy Sayers) — when Conan Doyle himself took action, or rather brought in a psychic to do so. Upon putting one of Mrs. Christie’s gloves to his forehead, the psychic expressed optimism: “There is trouble connected with this article. The person who owns it is half dazed and half purposeful. She is not dead, as many think. She is alive. You will hear of her, I think, next Wednesday.” He further indicated an impression of water.
And all this was true, or as provable as anything ever was about the bizarre case. Distraught over her husband’s announcement that he was in love with another woman, Christie had found her way to a luxury spa called the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel. Here, by design or confusion, she registered as Teresa Neele — Nancy Neele being the name of her husband’s girlfriend. The husband later reported that Christie was extremely ill, with a three-year memory loss; the Happy Hydro Boys reported her dancing the Charleston to “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” Conan Doyle, a determined believer in such psychics, reported his consultant to be correct on all counts: Christie was found alive and near water (Harrogate is a spa town), as reported to a relieved nation in the Wednesday papers.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.