“Welcome to Foyle’s Country!” declare the friendly locals. Their locale is Hastings’ answer to Bristol’s Clifton or Dublin’s Killiney. It’s a ravishingly unrepentant patchwork quilt of cottages and gardens and love knitted across the lower – and occasionally upper – gradients of the hills that bow down to England’s southeast coast. Interspersed with some rather grand Nash-sur-Mer terraces. “You have to photograph St Just!” they cry. “That’s Detective Chief Inspector Foyle’s house although the interiors were filmed elsewhere.” A faded sign on the flank wall next to the rather smart three storey plus multi bowed Regency St Just (who knew an interwar policeman’s salary was so generous?) reads: ‘T Noalles. Plumber, Painter and Glazier. Writing, Graining and Gilding. Estimates Given.’ Mr Foyle’s accent is certainly more plummy than plumber.
Emailed invitation cards are so dreadfully last season. This fall it’s all about (minimum 600 gsm) hard copy personalised travel journals arriving first class. Ever since George Pullman launched his eponymous coach in 1874, that surname has become synonymous with luxury train travel. The British set of sumptuous carriages dates back to the swigging swirling Swinging Twenties. The Belmond British Pullman service forms part of Venice Simplon-Orient Express’s British journey. You really can’t overdress on the Orient Express. And certainly not on this ride for it could be your last. Best looking drop dead gorgeous, so to speak. Wait, just dress to kill or be killed! Now all aboard! There’s a murder mystery to solve – although not before five course table d’hôte lunch is served on William EdwardsPhoenix Blue (The Queen Mother’s favourite hue) finest bone china.
Bang! The dashing self proclaimed wine connoisseur Van Quaffleur bombastically bursts into our carriage. He was a close friend of Nicholas 6th Lord Deville who was poisoned a few days ago at a dinner party in Knightsbridge. Van Quaffleur is now a suspect in his murder. “Nicholas face planted the semolina,” he howls. “A splurge and a splat!” Hang on, there’s something fishy and we’re not just talking about the off menu red herrings. Lunch – the Chef de Train has clearly been scouring the archives for some vintage seafood favourites – is served:
The supremely attentive exquisitely liveried marvellously mannered completely courteous waiters cater to our every caprice. All is calm, serene, peaceful. Sleuth! Strewth! A fracas breaks out in the middle of our carriage. “That nurse is a gold digging little trollop! I would’ve killed her, not dear Nicholas!” Lord Deville’s close friend Mrs Tamara Crispin-Pettipace aka TCP has arrived. Tamara’s referring to Brenda Elsie Ware aka B E Ware, a rather attractive and by now very indignant nurse from Tender Temps who has turned up unexpectedly. Awks. Brenda was engaged to the somewhat older Lord Deville and is now suspected of senicide. As the quarrelsome madams jostle their way into the next carriage, the Honourable Jezebel Horne-Deville, the 6th Lord Deville’s younger sister, rocks up, dressed head to toe in blood red. She’s suspected of fratricide. “I arranged a huge life insurance on Old Nick just for the fun of telling him he was worth more to me dead than alive!”
Smith the Butler, Lord Deville’s faithful manservant, joins in the melee. He cuts quite a swathe. “I have no motive! But the nurse is a flighty thing. So vulgar! She was very hands on with His Lordship!” he smirks. The frisson of intrigue intensifies but surely we’re not losing the plot? “Oh, do you know Nick? I think we’ve seen you at one of his soirées perhaps?” Flummoxed, banjaxed, poleaxed, we slink off to the bathroom. The Indian summer sunlight streaming through an oeil de boeuf window illuminates its mosaic floor. Floris, The Queen Mother’s favourite handwash, stands next to the marble basin.
Back in Minerva, the final suspect introduces himself. “I am the Honourable Seyton Deville, Old Nick’s son and heir.” He’s suspected of patricide. “Ask me questions, I’ll tell you no lies. The others have all spoken complete poppycock.” Van Quaffleur reappears: “The more you drink, the easier it is to solve the murder!” We start tying up the loose ends. And then there was one. So whodunnit? Well, we couldn’t possibly say – only servants tell tales before bedtime. A rumbustious scuffle breaks out. Mercy! Such brouhaha! Somebody makes a dash for it. Is the guilty party about to escape? You really can’t overstress on the Orient Express. The Murder Mystery Lunch on the Belmond British Pullman is a day of curious tensity, filled with indulgent fun, and heaps of occidental decadence.