Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Secret of Chimneys: Agatha Christie


Introduction to the novel at Goodreads:
A bit of adventure and quick cash is all that good-natured drifter Anthony Cade is looking for when he accepts a messenger job from an old friend. It sounds so simple: deliver the provocative memoirs of a recently deceased European count to a London publisher. But the parcel holds more than scandalous royal secrets. It contains a stash of letters that suggest blackmail -- and lead to the murder of a stranger who's been shadowing Anthony's every move. Discovering the dead man's identity means retracing his steps -- to the rambling estate of Chimneys where darker secrets, and deadlier threats, await anyone who dares to enter.
In A Talent to Deceive, Robert Barnard says:
If you can take all of the racialist remarks, which are very much of their time, this is a first-class romp, all the better for not being of the "plot to take over the world" variety. It concerns the throne and crown jewels of Herzoslovakia... By far the least awful of the early thrillers.
Personally, I have enjoyed all of the Agatha Christie thrillers that I have read so far. And I did enjoy this one, up to a point. I enjoyed the political intrigues and the many twists and turns the plot takes. It required much suspension of disbelief but I did not mind.

I liked many of the characters. This was the first book featuring Superintendent Battle, and I found him appealing. Lord Caterham is the owner of the stately manor that is the center of this mystery. He and his daughter Bundle Brent are very unique and charming characters. Every male falls for Virginia Revel, a young widow. There were very many other characters and I admit to getting confused sometimes, having trouble keeping up with characters and the plot. I even enjoyed the romance in this one. Christie is very good at misdirection. I was never sure where the romance was going and who was really interested in whom.

However, there are the ethnic slurs that were common in books at the time this was written. Close to the end one of the major characters gives a speech, seeming to support authoritarian government for the good of the people. Not only was it offensive, but it also did not seem to fit the character as he was portrayed throughout the book. But maybe I missed the hints.

The cover artist for my paperback edition shown above is William Teason. He was also the cover artist for two other books I have: The 39 Steps by John Buchan and The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie.

Other reviews at Clothes in Books, In So Many Words, Joyfully Retired, and Leaves and Pages.

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Publisher:  Dell, 1967. Orig. pub. 1925.
Length:     224 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Superintendent Battle, #1
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Adventure, spy thriller
Source:    Purchased my copy at the Planned Parenthood booksale, 2005.  


31 comments:

  1. Tracy, I have not read this novel. This year I plan to recommence my reading of Agatha Christie's novels in chronological order. It'd include the ones I have read before.

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    1. It is amazing, Prashant. This book was written 90 years ago. I hope you enjoy your reading of Christie novels.

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  2. Not my favourite Agatha Christie but I love the character of Superintendent Battle. I read all the Christies as a teenager and this isn't one I've ever really returned to. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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    1. Sarah, I was pleasantly surprised to like Superintendent Battle so much. I am eager to try another one with that character.

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  3. I noticed many ethnic slurs in a Christie I read not long ago. I doubt she even realized they were slurs because I heard the same sort of sentiments expressed in my childhood. Adults then thought various ethnicities shared certain characteristics. I guess it's still true today but not aired in our circles or in books.

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    1. Patti, I am sure that is true and the ethnic slurs bothered me much less than the speech leaning toward authoritarian government. That part really surprised me right at the end, although with a book written that long ago it really should not matter. And you are also right that today's books are more politically correct, although the attitudes are still there.

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  4. I recently read an Arthur Upfield book probably written about the same time. Writers (nor anyone else) were not politically correct. I haven't read an Agatha Christie book in ages, sounds like a good place to start again.
    Ann

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    1. Ann, I have been reading the Christie books roughly in order, and this is towards the beginning. It is interesting to see how the books change over the years.

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  5. I think I read a play adaptation of this book - not sure I actually read the book. Don't you just love that name "Bundle"? I'm planning on re-reading the Christie plays soon. They finally made that big book that includes The Mousetrap available for Kindle. Yay!

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    1. Kay, I do like the name "Bundle" and it helps that the character is so appealing.

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  6. Tracy - I like the character of Superintendent Battle. In fact, I'm glad he re-appears in Cards on the Table. This may not be exactly Christie's finest work, but I think it does show her skill at intrigue! Oh, and I couldn't agree more about the slurs. That's hard to take in Golden Age crime fiction...

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    1. Although this one seemed very complex to me, Margot, I was really enjoying it up to the end. Loved the characters. So all in all I think I liked it, it just isn't at the top of the list.

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  7. I read this too long ago for me to remember but in my youth did tend to be sniffy about her thrillers, so I suspect I might be with Barnard on this one - and shame about the racism - it may have been common but it was not ubiquitous (you won't find it in Allingham or Carr after all) - thanks TracyK, I must look at these again.

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    1. Sergio, it is definitely easier to read a book without the racial slurs, etc. but I generally try not to let it affect my view of the book. But I do like to note that it is there for other readers. Until the very end I liked it a lot, notwithstanding the complexity. I think I am more affecting by the end of a book, which is silly, I suppose.

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  8. Terrific review, TracyK! Like Sergio, I read this too long ago to remember it much, but I did love all the Christies when I read them growing up.

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    1. Thanks, Bev. I wish I could remember which ones I read. I am sure I just picked up whatever was available at the library. The advantage is I remember nothing, so it is all new again.

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  9. I've read a lot of Christie, but none of the books with Battle except, perhaps, CARDS ON THE TABLE. As for the language, dress, settings, slurs or characterizations, I just accept them for what they were: a sign of the time, when "politically correct" didn't exist.

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    1. I try to do that too, Richard, and sometimes I am more successful than others.

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  10. I actually love this book, mainly because I love Virginia Revel and Anthony Cade. I thought they were perfect together, and they made this book that much better. I will admit the story line is rather convoluted and just about anything under the sun is in it, but I do think Christie had a unique way of bringing it all together and making it work.

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    1. I do like those characters, Ryan, and I think Christie did a great job with both the plot and the romance. I usually don't like romances but this one worked well for me.

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  11. Shameful confession... I have never read Agatha Christie. I know.. I need to fix that.

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    1. Sheila, Agatha Christie is not for everyone, but I agree, you should try a couple of her books. I read a lot of them when I was younger, but even so had the mistaken impression that her books were bland. I have enjoyed all the Agatha Christie books I have read in the last three years.

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    2. I've been telling you that for years Sheila!

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  12. Thanks for the shoutout Tracy - I did enjoy this one when I read it recently, and have just read another of the early thrillers, which will feature next week. In general I prefer the straight detective stories, but I do like the Seven Dials Mystery and - one of my very favourites of Christie's - The Man in the Brown Suit. I really like that cover, and have just gone and check the matching one from Brown Suit - also nice.

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    1. Moira, I am looking forward to reading the Seven Dials Mystery. I wanted to go buy the map back edition of Secret of Chimneys which had a great cover, but I held myself back ... too many other ones that I want to get.

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  13. I'm just getting started with Agatha Christie. I started reading They Came To Baghdad along with several other books a week ago. So far, I've enjoyed what I've read by her. Not sure if I'll ever get to this one. Sounds like I could give it a miss for now considering so many other books in her backlist that are unread by me....

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    1. You probably could give this a miss, Keishon. It is not bad at all but there are better ones.

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  14. I will read Christie at some point, I doubt it will be this one though.

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    1. No, Col, I don't see this as being the Christie you would pick. When I run into one that would be perfect for you, I will point it out. It has been a long time since I read it, but maybe The Murder of Roger Ackroyd would be good for you.

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  15. This is one of my very favorite Christie books for a very personal reason: I am in love with Lord Caterham. Ha. Truth.

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    1. Lord Caterham is very appealing, and I saw on your blog that there is an adaptation of The Seven Dials Mystery with John Gielgud playing that role. I have not read that book yet.

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