This month Ken is “Watching the detectives” as he uncovers how two famous crime writers found themselves on Tenerife and neither, it seems, succumbed to the island’s charms… Ed
Agatha Christie (1890 -1976)
In 2007, Puerto de la Cruz celebrated the 80th anniversary of the visit to the town of the renowned mystery writer, Agatha Christie. There was a week long programme of events including a guest appearance by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard. Mr Prichard unveiled a bust in La Paz in honour of his grandmother. The La Paz area of town was chosen because she wrote a short story called ‘The Man from the Sea’ which featured the Cologan house. It was published in the collection entitled ‘The Mysterious Mr Quin”. We also now have a street, Calle Agatha Christie.
1926 had proved to be an annus horribilis for Mrs. Christie. Following the death of her mother, her husband told her of his love for another woman which caused her to act in a strange way. In December, after abandoning her car, she disappeared for 11 days and, as a result, received a bad press. To escape from this stressful situation, in February 1927, Agatha, accompanied by her daughter Rosalind and secretary Charlotte Fisher arrived in Tenerife.
She stayed for a week in the Hotel Taoro but suddenly upped sticks and left
The explanation appeared in her autobiography written in 1973:
“Orotava was lovely. The big mountain towered up; there were glorious flowers in the hotel grounds – but two things about it were wrong. After a lovely early morning, mists and fog came down from the mountain at noon, and the rest of the day was grey. Sometimes it even rained. And the bathing, to keen bathers, was terrible. You lay on a sloping volcanic beach, on your face, and you dug your fingers in and let waves come up and cover you. But you had to be careful they did not cover you too much. Masses of people have been drowned there. It was impossible to get into the sea and swim; that could only be done by one or two of the very strongest swimmers, and even one of those had been drowned the year before. So after a week we changed, and moved to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.“
Puerto still cannot control its weather but the César Manrique designed swimming pools and the Playa Jardin Beach have taken care of her second objection. It’s many years now since “masses of people” have drowned – if they ever did.
Nevertheless, during her visit, the author finished her novel, ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train”. This was the turning point in her literary life. She made a decision – “I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing and aren’t writing particularly well. I have always hated ‘the Blue Train”.”
Agatha, sorry you were down in the dumps when you were here, but we still love you and will continue to honour your visit to our wonderful island.
Leslie Charteris ( 1907 – 1993)
Leslie Charteris also had his problems. He was born in Singapore of a Chinese father and English mother. Educated in England he had written his first published novel by the time he was 21. He moved to the USA in 1932 but was disqualified from permanent residence due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of “50% or greater” Oriental blood. So, every six months he had to renew his visa which may account for him spending the winter of 1935/36 in Tenerife researching for one of his Simon Templar novels…
What a busy time he had. No time to moan and groan. He was staying at the Orotava Hotel, in Santa Cruz and one day he came across the memoirs of the recently retired bullfighter Juan Belmonte, who had just had his autobiography ghosted. It was called ‘Juan Belmonte, matador de toros: su vida y sus hazañas” (Juan Belmonte, killer of bulls: his life and deeds). According to Charteris, he bought the English language rights and translated it immediately. The Orotava Hotel had a flat roof which he rented as a private sun deck to complete his translation. The man had style. His book was published in 1937.
In addition to this he seemed to have some fun with a certain General Franco. Here’s what he has to say about this:
He (Franco) was in exile there, plotting with his buddies, and more than once I had drinks with them in one of the waterfront cafés, which was run by a large German with a swastika in his buttonhole, who when he got loaded would proclaim loudly how Germany was going to rule the world. There were a lot of Germans with swastikas working there at the time, and the head waiter at my hotel, also a German, told me that they gave him a hard time because he wasn’t a Nazi. Franco didn’t let me in on his plans, but I thought that he was not a very bright character, and I was really surprised when he started his civil war. This shows you how sharp I am at picking winners…
Well, we know that two parts of the statement are correct – he was staying there when Franco was first exiled to Tenerife and he spoke Spanish fluently.
As for the rest, it will be great fun searching for the German bar owner with his swastika buttonhole.
It does seem to be quite a tall story but then again after he left Tenerife, Charteris claimed to have flown on the maiden flight of the Hindenburg passenger airship to New York in May of the same year. A check on the passenger list confirms this. He was 28 years old and his wife, who accompanied him, 24. At this early age he had written 18 Simon Templar Books. The 19th featuring Tenerife he called Thieves Picnic which was changed to The Saint bids Diamonds.
We’ll leave the final word to the man himself.
“My personal impressions of Tenerife as it was at the time, not very flattering, are all in the book”
He must have had a touch of the Agathas.
Quotes are from ‘the Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film, and Television” by Burt Barer