Detective: Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard
Published: 1925 (6th published book)
Length: 314 pages
Setting: Bulawayo Zimbabwe, London, Chimneys
Written at: during a trip to South Africa, etc.
Well, what an extraordinary silly book!! I must say I’ve been somewhat taken aback by the early works of Agatha Christie. Being so used to Poirot and Miss Marple, I thought those types of mysteries comprised the majority of her works, but obviously during her earlier career she set sail on a different course and the focus on her two famous sleuths came later. Who knew?
The Secret of Chimneys is a hodge-podge of locations, crimes, characters, and expected behaviour, with a grande dose of a fictional country and political intrigue thrown into the mix. To begin with, in Zimbabwe, Anthony Cade, a nomadic, restless, adventurous young man is trusted by his friend to take sensitive memoirs of an important Herzoslovakian political figure to a publisher in London, along with incriminating letters written by a woman named Virginia Revel. Through a series of circumstances, Anthony finds himself rescuing a young woman, burying a dead body, hiding a murder weapon, and then as a guest at Chimneys, the famous country home of Lord Caterham, a man who is hosting a Balkan entourage from Herzoslovakia. But there is another murder and Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard arrives with his quiet yet penetrating demeanour prepared to solve the crime. However, there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. Determining the perpetrator and his net is not an easy task even with the arrival of M. Lemoine of the Sûreté.
Royal succession, stolen jewels, murders, ciphers, Balkan politics, secret societies, blackmail, and romance abound in a capering mish-mash of ridiculousness that is fascinating at least and delightful at best.
And to add to the confusion, there are 26 major and minor characters in The Secret of Chimneys. Many of them are more like caricatures and, given a closer examination, were not that likeable. Highly imbued with that 1930s devil-may-care, self-centred, flippant, frivolous attitude that appears somewhat foolish as well as annoying, the characters did not capture my interest at first, but the wildly extravagant crafting of the whole novel soon overshadowed any reserve I was feeling and carried me along the madcap journey to the final revelation of the nefarious criminal mastermind.
Usually with a Christie mystery, as a reader you get somewhat focussed on finding out the culprit. Strangely with this one, I was so caught up in the story, I didn’t think too much about it which turned out to be providential. There was no possible way, using any sort connected clues, that you could figure out the murderer in this one and of course the culprit was part of a bigger plan. It would have been a guessing game. And Christie used a high measure of misappropriated identities, so who really knew who was who.
It sounds quirky doesn’t it? It sounds confusing, doesn’t it? It sounds over-the-top and to a certain extent implausible, doesn’t it? But for some reason the unbelievable, the silly, and the improbable worked. Only Christie could manage to put together a thriller such as this and make it enjoyable.
Chimneys, along with other characters from this novel will reappear in The Seven Dials Mystery. I can’t wait to compare but in the meantime, this novel finished Christie’s six book contract with Bodley Head and her next book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, would begin her new publishing relationship with William Collins, Sons. And of course, it will feature her sleuth with the inestimable mind, Hercule Poirot!