Monday, June 17, 2019

The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys (1925) by Agatha Christie is her third mystery/adventure in her first five years as a detective novelist. It introduces Superintendent Battle who shares a great deal of the spotlight with our mysterious adventurer, Anthony Cade. It has just about everything imaginable--country house party with murder, various characters in disguise (sometimes in more than one disguise), secret passages, missing jewels and a master jewel thief, a secret code, blackmail, secret societies, and the missing memoirs of a recently deceased high-ranking Balkan official. 

So...about that story: It opens in Africa where our hero, Anthony Cade, is conducting tours for middle-age ladies and couples. He'd rather be doing something more exciting--preferably in South American, but you take what you can get, right? His old pal, Jimmy McGrath, arrives on the scene and offers him the chance for a change of scenery. It's not nearly as exciting as a revolution in South America, but at least he won't be flirting with middle-aged women any more. For a share of a thousand pounds, Anthony will need to deliver Count Stylptich's memoirs about the Balkan state of Herzoslovakia to a certain publisher in London. In addition, there is a stack of letters used for blackmail (not by Jimmy) that Jimmy would like to see delivered into the hands of the lady who wrote the indiscreet missives. The lady in question is one Virginia Revel. More of her later.

Meanwhile, back in England George Lomax talks his friend Lord Caterham to host a very special house party at his country estate Chimneys. In addition to any innocuous guests--including his own cousin Virginia (you guessed it--Revel), Lomax wants to slip in some principals in fantastic plot to restore the monarchy in Herzoslavakia and, incidentally, securing oil rights for a British concern. Caterham, unlike his recently deceased brother, has no head for politics and resents his place being used as a combination hotel and embassy--but he doesn't have the stamina to forestall Lomax when the man is in a politically conniving mood. 

Once Anthony arrives in England, the fun begins. He is visited by Herzoslavakian dignitaries and members of the Red Hand (political secret society) who are interested in obtaining the memoirs. The blackmail letters are stolen and he heads out to find Virginia Revel anyway. The waiter who stole the letters visits Virginia, tries to blackmail her and apparently succeeds(even though we find out the signature on the letters is not hers), and then winds up dead in her drawing room. Anthony shows up and immediately is ready to hide dead bodies for the lady. He does so and both he and Virginia head (separately) to Chimneys. Where another dead body is found--this time a member of Lomax's political plot. Superintendent Battle is called in when it's discovered that the murdered man is Prince Michael of Herzoslavakia in disguise and a famous French member of the Sûreté arrives in search of the jewel thief, King Victor, who is rumored to be in search of the Koh-i-Noor diamond which had been stolen some years earlier. Chimneys is one place where it may be hidden, though many searches have not found it. 

Of course, the diamond is found, King Victor is captured, the murderer is discovered, all mysteries are resolved, and a new heir to the throne appears to settle the Herzoslavakian question once and for all. Lots of excitement all round. Anthony certainly traded up in adventures when he abandoned the middle-aged ladies to act as courier boy for Jimmy McGrath. This is pure fun and fantasy--certainly not a down-to-earth murder mystery and definitely not fair play detection. All intrigue and adventure, it makes for a great escape read. ★★ and a half.

[Finished on 6/6/19]
Deaths = two--shot

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