The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

In The Secret of Chimneys, Anthony Cade is drawn into a deadly conspiracy when he agrees to carry out an errand for his old friend, Jimmy McGrath. He has to deliver the manuscript memoir of Count Stylptich of Herzoslovakia to a firm of London publishers and to return a packet of letters to a blackmail victim.

It’s one of Agatha Christie’s early ‘thrillers’, first published in 1925. It is also the last full length crime novel of hers that I had left to read. I really thought I had read it but I think I was getting it mixed up with The Seven Dials Mystery, which features some of the same characters and is also set at Chimneys, a large country house, the home of Lord Caterham. The Secret of Chimneys is the first book in which Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard appears. He is an intelligent officer, outwardly impassive and stolid, but who reaches his conclusions applying common sense. Later he appeared in four more of her novels – The Seven Dials Mystery, Cards on the Table, Murder is Easy and Towards Zero.

Agatha Christie declines to describe Chimneys, other than to say it is a ‘venerable pile‘ and that descriptions of it can be found in any guidebook. ‘It is also No. 3 in Historic Homes of England, price 21s. On Thursdays coaches come over from Middleham and view those portions of it which are open to the public. In view of all these facilities, to describe Chimneys would be superfluous.‘ (page 128)

The 1920s upper class life style is evident in the lavish breakfast that is laid on at Chimneys, set out on ‘half a score of heavy silver dishes, ingeniously kept hot by patent arrangements. Omelet, said Lord Caterham, lifting each lid in turn. Eggs and bacon, kidneys, devilled bird, haddock, cold ham, cold pheasant.’ (page 134)

I’m not going to attempt to summarise the plot of this book, other than to say that it revolves around political events in the fictitious Balkan state of Herzoslovakia, with attempts to reinstate its royal family, and also international crime concerning the theft of jewellery  by a thief known in Europe as ‘King Victor’. It reminds me of P G Wodehouse’s books, written in the same light and humorous style.  It is sheer escapism and although it is not one of my favourite of her books, it is an entertaining book.

Reading Challenges: Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, Mount TBR challenge and Golden Vintage Mystery Cover Challenge: Bloodstains

11 thoughts on “The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie”

  1. ITV did this one a few years ago but turned it into a Miss Marple for some bizarre reason… with Julia McKenzie, who I liked better in the role than Geraldine McEwan, but not as well as Joan Hickson. At the time I remember thinking the chap who played Battle was quite good… Stephen Dillane… and that I’d never seen him in anything else at all. Which is odd as usually these AC dramas have someone quite well known as the policeman.

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    1. Cath, I also preferred Julia McKenzie to Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple but neither fitted the role as well as Joan Hickson in my eyes. I was so irritated by all the changes they made in the Marple series as a whole and although I watched them I rather dismissed them as ‘not the real thing’. Looking at IMDb I see that they made massive changes with this one!

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  2. I’m glad you enjoyed this,Margaret. I think it’s interesting that Christie did both these sorts of lighter,’adventure-ish’ novels as well as some deeper, more psychological novels. And that’s not to mention the straightforward whodunits. Such flexibility!

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    1. Margot, I love the variety in Christie’s writing. I haven’t read any of the ‘romantic’ ones she wrote as Mary Westmacott yet, but I’m hoping I’ll like them too.

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  3. No I haven’t read this one either, and I don’t watch the TV adaptations, although I may get round to it one day as they’re forever being repeated! In fact the name didn’t even ring a bell. I like to collect the old copies second-hand, the older the better. You can’t beat those retro covers!

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    1. Crimeworm I watched all the Joan Hickson TV adaptations years ago before I began reading Christie’s books (I had read some a long time ago in my teens) so I didn’t know if they were different from the books. And I really liked David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot! But the more recent adaptations have mainly irritated me so much I’ve found them hard to watch. Joan Hickson was ‘Miss Marple’ for me and still remains so.

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    1. Thanks, Kerrie – I doubt I’d have read them if you hadn’t started this challenge which reminded me that I’d loved reading Christie’s books as a teenager. I was surprised to learn she had written so many – and so very many short stories!

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  4. Congratulations on finishing the challenge! I think I’d managed to read all of her mysteries by the time I finished college, but re-reading them now I realize I had absolutely no idea of their context when I was a kid. It’s an enlightening journey.

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