LONDON – The house has everything an Agatha Christie fan could want — except a body in the library.
The stuccoed Georgian villa where the writer spent her vacations is opening to the public for the first time beginning Saturday after a $7.8 million restoration. Visitors can see the bedroom where Christie slept, the dining room where she entertained, and the drawing room where she thrilled friends with readings from her latest whodunit.
Craftsmen worked for two years to restore the 18th-century home, Greenway, and the rooms are much as they were when Christie lived there, complete with books, papers, boxes of chocolates and bunches of flowers. Even the scratches on the bedroom door made by the family dog remain.
“It does feel very much in a time warp,” Robyn Brown, who manages Greenway on behalf of the National Trust heritage group, said Tuesday.
That is exactly the way the trust likes it — the group preserves Britain’s historic properties with a rigorous attention to detail. The cream paint in the bedroom and the mushroom-colored library walls are as close as possible to the shades chosen by Christie herself. The sofas and chairs come from her childhood home.
Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard, said he hoped the renovation would let visitors “feel some of the magic and sense of place that I felt when my family and I spent so much time there in the 1950s and ’60s.”
Visitors can see Christie’s bedroom, with its view of grounds sloping down to the River Dart, the formal dining room and a manuscript room full of Christie first editions.
During World War II, the house was requisitioned by the U.S. Navy amid preparations for D-Day. The home’s restorers have retained a vivid frieze of wartime scenes painted on the library walls by Lt. Marshall Lee, a U.S. Coast Guard war artist.
There is also the drawing room, where friends and family would gather to hear Christie read from her latest manuscript and then try to guess whodunit. The trust said her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, would usually awake from a doze to announce the name of the murderer.
Christie bought the house in Devon, 200 miles southwest of London, in 1938 and spent holidays there until 1959. She died in 1976, aged 85.
Her family donated Greenway to the National Trust nine years ago, but until now only its lush gardens full of fruit trees, flowers, ferns and even palm trees have been open to the public. The house remained off-limits until its occupants — the writer’s daughter Rosalind and her husband — died in 2004 and 2005.
Greenway is a mystery-lovers’ mecca, the country house that spawned a clutch of country-house thrillers. The National Trust said it is considering holding murder-mystery tours and Christie-themed events once the house has been open for a while.
Christie had deep roots in Devon, a region of beaches, dramatic river valleys, hills and stretches of wild moorland. She was born there in 1890, and 15 of her books have Devon settings, including “And Then There Were None,” “Ordeal by Innocence” and “The Murder at Hazelmoor.”
Greenway itself is the inspiration for the setting of “Dead Man’s Folly,” in which Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a Girl Guide at a mystery writer’s country home.
Brown says the trust also hopes Greenway will give visitors a glimpse of England in the 1950s, an era “when life was a little less complicated than it is now.”
For Christie, the prolific author of 80 crime novels and short story collections, two autobiographies and eight romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, the house was also a retreat from the pressures of celebrity.
“I don’t think she sat comfortably with her fame,” Brown said. “Here at Greenway she was known as Mrs. Mallowan, and she was very ordinary. She would go to the village and just be Mrs. M.”
For die-hard fans, one floor of the main house has been turned into a five-bedroom holiday apartment, available for $3,600 a week in high season. The trust also hopes to offer overnight guests a meal in the dining room where Christie once dined on hot lobster followed by blackberry ice cream.
“It’s my dream,” Brown said, “that on the last night of their stay, we will ring a gong in the hall and they will come down for drinks in the library and then have dinner in the dining room.”
For Christie fans, what could be a greater thrill?