In Praise of Off-Season Victorian Holiday Resorts

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Last night I stayed in a big old-fashioned hotel on the sea front in Brighton. It was a foul evening with rain, gales and flurries of hail whipping the prom into a particularly ferocious wind tunnel. I’d chosen this hotel for its similarity to the hotels favoured by Poirot and I was hoping for blustery weather and a well-executed crime, preferably a murder with clues. As far as I know no one was murdered in the Hilton Metropole last night, though I forgot to let reception know that I was staying on the third floor and perfectly willing to help with investigation should such a crime occur. I holed up in the bar, by the window with a glass of wine and ploughed through 1,000 words of the novel and then retired to bed with a paperback Agatha to make the most of my lodgings. When I read over last night’s writing this morning, I wasn’t too surprised to find that not only had Poirot managed to get a name-check but my whole writing tone had take a turn for the clipped English of a 1930s country retreat. It is impossible to get away from Ms Christie.

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Seeing as I’m in the mood for murder I thought you might like to read a short extract from a story I wrote in the style of Agatha C whilst stranded in Margate during a snowstorm two January’s ago.

“In Praise of Off-Season Victorian Seaside Resorts”

“Are you trying to get us both killed, Margaret?” he hissed and reached to grab the book from the tabletop.

She caught him by the wrist. Their arms made a cantilever bridge, spanning the checkered tablecloth. Elbows resting against the tea stains, forearms teasing the china tea set, knees niggling beneath the table; they were closer than they had been all weekend. She could smell the breakfast eggs, sweating on his breath.

“Leave it,” she whispered, “he won’t know who we are if the book isn’t on the table.”

“And?” he replied, defying her with a single raised eyebrow.

“You’d be as disappointed as me, Freddy. We’ve come all the way from London to meet a proper murderer, and I’m certainly not going home without a good story.”

It was pointless to argue with her in such a mood. Freddy had neither the time nor the inclination to talk her down. In the past such endeavours had left him migrainous and suffering through weeks and fortnights of enforced chastity. His wife was a formidable lady; volcanic when challenged.

“I expect he won’t show anyway. What sort of a murderer responds to an add in the small papers?” Freddy asked, his breath, nervous and erratic now, betraying his own suspicions.

“A very British kind of murderer,” she replied and smiled deeply, “The sort of chap who couldn’t resist the right sort of challenge.”

“The right sort of challenge?” he howled, “Lord Almighty, Margaret, listen to yourself. You’re a dental assistant from Hemel Hempstead. You’re not Poirot or Miss “bloody” Marple.”

“Ah, but I could have been, Freddy. I’m sure I would have made a first rate private detective.”

“You read too much.”

“You can never read too much, my dear.”

Satisfied that the upper hand was, as always, hers, she released her grip and unprepared for gravity’s pull, Freddy’s hand fell upon the book, thick fingers partially obscuring the cover. He picked it up, absentmindedly and read.

“Murder on the Orient Express…I say, Mags, did you have to plump for the obvious?”

“It was the only option at the station. If I’d been better prepared I’d have picked up something a tad more obscure. I only remembered Agatha on the way out the door.”

He resisted the opportunity to remark on her disorganization; the same in-attention to detail which had caused her to forget the toothbrushes, leaving them- on the previous evening- furry-mouthed and ill-inclined for bedtime passions. He turned the book over and examined the back cover judgmentally.

“And I suppose you picked up this nasty, little paperback from one of those dreadful, spinning racks at Kings Cross.”

“What finely honed powers of deduction you have, darling. You’d make a great Hastings to my Poirot.”

He tossed a used serviette playfully at her forehead and chuckled.

“Hold your horses, Hercule. How come you’re the detective and I’m lumbered with the assistant’s role?”

“Oh Freddy dear, everyone knows that I’m the brains in this outfit.”

“And I,” he announced, reclining for dramatic effect as he swooped a well-muscled arm across the empty tea shop, “Must therefore be the beauty.”

There were rare moments, brief blooms, amidst the everyday drizzle of married life, when he truly believed himself the most fortunate man in England.

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