The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys Agatha Christie

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.

the secret of chimneys

Abney Hall, Cheshire, the inspiration for Christie novel settings such as Chimneys and Stonygates

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.

English Countryside

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.

The Secret of Chimneys

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!


The Man in the Brown Suit


Photo #1 courtesy of Michael Mep; Photo #2 Public Domain; Photo #3 courtesy of Artsy Bee

28 thoughts on “The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

  1. Glad to see you’re still rolling along with your Christie read. I had a go at her stuff a couple of years ago and read enough to realize that on the whole she just isn’t for me. Maybe as a once year palate cleanser? But honestly, I read enough non-SFF stuff that I don’t feel the need for even that.

    The fact that you like Poirot though seems like a great indicator that you’ll just breeze through all her stuff 🙂

    • May I be honest? I’m surprised I’m breezing through Christie AND am able to write reviews for it. It’s not like me. Usually I’d be pining for a “real” classic. Perhaps I need a brain-break but, as everything just seems to be flowing, I’m going with it. Perhaps because I’m reading The Divine Comedy and I just started Gödel, Escher, Bach, that is giving me a balance of extremes, lol! I wonder if I’ll hit a wall.

      I like Christie’s Poirot but I don’t love him and he just might start to bother me. However, we’ll see. I do, however, LOVE David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot. I can watch those over and over again!

        • That’s because thinking take effort and work. It’s much easier to have fun and in our infantilized society we can no longer recognize rewards that come later for something worked at now. Wow, I’m starting to sound like you, lol! 😉

          • *klaxons sounding*
            RED ALERT! RED ALERT!!!

            You know something is off when you start sounding like me 😉

            Actually, the fact that we can talk about things like this, even just for a sentence or two, is one of the huge reasons I really enjoy following your blog. You are real and thoughtful and even when I disagree with you on a point, you’ve always laid out the why.
            *pats you on the back*

          • Thanks for the stupendous compliment, Bookstooge. I’ve enjoyed meeting someone who is not afraid to speak his mind but I can also have an excellent conversation with you without you becoming offended (I’m not sure if it’s a Canadian thing, but many of the people here either run from genuine conversation or get offended). It’s refreshing to be able to have a genuine exchange of ideas! 🙂

          • It isn’t just a canadian thing. It’s becoming a first world thing. I have to admit, I find those two tendencies popping up in myself and I have to zealously squash them down or they’ll bloom and turn me into a full blown millennial. And considering that I’m a Gen-X’er, that would be a fate worse than death 😉

            I also think that bloggers are people who realize the power of words but too many of them aren’t trained to truly handle “words” so they’re like a new soldier handling their rifle for the first time.

          • Training people to truly handle words …. Your words completely remind me of Dorothy Sayers’ essay The Lost Tools of Learning …

            “For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalised in 1940 when men were sent to fight armoured tanks with rifles, are not scandalised when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotised by the arts of the spell-binder, we have the impudence to be astonished. We dole out lip-service to the importance of education—lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school leaving-age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school-hours, till responsibility becomes a burden and a nightmare; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it.”

            It’s a great essay if you have the time to read it.

          • Holy smokes! Now that is a statement I can get behind! It’s even more apropos now than when she wrote it.

            I think I’ll have to go dig up the essay. Is it in any books or just online?

          • I think you could probably find it in both but it’s easier to find online. I think I saw it on Gutenberg. You would like Sayers theological books (hint, hint, for your non-fiction promise!). She is direct, no-nonsense and is not afraid to say exactly what she thinks.

  2. i recall reading this once and for some reason it reminded me of “The Prisoner of Zenda”; don’t ask my why. but i liked it and read a whole lot more of AC… i’ve never tackled her books under pseudonomia, though… maybe some day…

    • Well, now I have to read The Prisoner of Zenda to find out why! I’ve heard her pseudonomia isn’t nearly as good but one never knows …. one might find a gem within the dross …

        • Yes, it must have been on your blog that I read they were weird. Okay, a new experience! I’ll try it when I get through this pile of Christie’s!

  3. Wow, I don’t remember this one either! Sounds fun. I just got the Man in the Brown Suit and I’m not at all sure that it’s the one I was looking for, but I’m only on about page 5 so we’ll see.

    • Well, at least it will be a fun read. This book was fun but in a different way. I’m now back to Poirot who is all about order and method. Hmmm …. I think I prefer her thrillers more …

  4. I have not read this Christie. I may have to find it. I’m always glad to add to my mystery reading list.

    • Yes, you might want to add this one. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it when you read it!

  5. I’ve never read this, but the title is so familiar that I think I saw a TV adaptation. But I think Miss Marple was in it (maybe–my mind is very fuzzy on this), which suggests that most readers/viewers need some Marple or Poirot in the Christie. Sounds lots of fun though–I really am going to have to follow this Christie rabbit-hole, just as soon as I finish all the others, ha!

    • They put Miss Marple in The Secret of Chimneys?!!! Argh! That is just so wrong! This one’s a thriller more than a detective novel. And I see Miss Marple as so very astute whereas there was much in this read that was just plain silly.

      The Christie rabbit-hole is fun! Come and join me! 😉

  6. Based on that plot description, it sounds like Christie wrote her own fan fiction. 😀 I missed this one during my Christie phase; I kinda want to read it to just see how outrageous it is.

    One of my professors raved about Gödel, Escher, Bach… I peeked at the first pages once and ran away screaming. Well, almost… 😉 What are your impressions so far?

    • You should read it for a little bit of a lark! G,E,B is VERY dense and VERY difficult. I’m re-thinking whether I want to read it now. But I’ve always wondered why I’m “I” and I thought it might be enlightening. I’m having some difficulty buying his premise so far (never mind, following it! 😉 ) but I’m still in the preface so I need to give it a longer try.

  7. I’m a bit partial to Christie’s crazy thrillers (well, most of them). They may not be as polished and clever as her mysteries but they tend to be a lot of fun. I like this one but so far The Secret Adversary remains my favourite Christie thriller.

    • I’m really enjoying reading her works in chronological order much more than I expected. Her thrillers are certainly fun, aren’t they? I do like The Man in the Brown Suit best but The Secret Adversary is a close second. Thanks for stopping by!!

  8. Yeah… I feel like Christie was in search of the best course to write her crime story – which one is more appealing. I’m glad she’d stay a lot with Poirot and Marple after the first six. Have fun with Roger Ackroyd – I can’t wait to read your thoughts! I have feeling we’ll both like it this time.. 😉

    • I’m enjoying not reading about Miss Marple or Poirot but I must admit that her writing including those two detectives is more polished. I’m part way through Roger Ackroyd but life has become busy and I haven’t had time to pick it up again. Soon though … And I’m liking it so far so your intuition will probably be right! 🙂

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