September 13, 2023
“Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely,” Agatha Christie wrote in her debut detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). While the novel is set in Essex, England, it took inspiration from the unsolved murder of Lady Garnett, an English spiritualist vacationing in the hill station of Mussoorie, India.
In 1911, Garnett stayed at the Savoy Hotel, a luxury hotspot an Irish barrister had built in Mussoorie for British officers and visiting diplomats. Hotel staff discovered her body one morning — despite doors bolted from the inside — and that her traveling companion Eva Mountstephen had left for Lucknow. The news of the unsolved murder traveled to the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in London via imperialist Rudyard Kipling, also a lifelong Mussoorie resident, and then, you guessed it, none other than Christie.
The author, despite never having visited the subcontinent, borrowed from then undivided India time and again. In turn, her writing has inspired dozens of South Asian films, plays, and novels. Despite her complicated legacy, to this day, Christie is still one of the best-selling fiction writers of all time — and a rite of passage for South Asian readers.