17 February 2011

The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys ~ Agatha Christie ~ 1925
Summary: 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.
Comments: No Poriot, no Miss Marple, but tan, educated, charming, intelligent Anthony Cade. A ner-do-well to be sure, but bound by a task and unflinching to complete it. Sigh.
Anthony Cade is the center of this story that starts in Africa and leads to London via the repercussions of the failing government of Herzoslovakia that will have an impact in many other countries, including England. Cade is leading a group of British tourists - a job he hates, but it pays the bills when approached by Jimmy McGrath, an old friend, who asks Cade to take the memoirs of Count Stylptitch to a publisher in London. Many, many, people want this memoir to disappear, so it's not a violence-free chore, but it could be exciting - much more so than touring a bunch of old people around. McGrath also asks Cade to take a bunch of letters to Mrs. Virginia Revel - letters that it appears she wrote to her lover while married. McGrath thinks that backmail may be involved and it would be the right thing to do to return the letters to Mrs. Revel. Now widowed, Mrs. Revel is an independent woman who speaks her mind. Though young, she is observant, intelligent and accustomed to getting what she wants. That's simple, since she's a beauty as well.
While I would love to go through the entire story in detail, that would defeat the purpose of my comments. There are several recognizable Christie characters in The Secret of Chimneys, or I should say characters in this book will become recognizable as types in later works. Cade is the independent man who you can trust even though you may not know his entire story. Virginia Revel is a type that is easily seen in other Christie works - this is not a negative.
I enjoy these types of characters. There are a couple of plot twists that I didn't expect and a romance that I did. The Scotland Yard Inspector Battle is sincere in his duties, intelligent and secretive, but still very likable. The French Inspector (involved because Count Stylpitch) died in Paris, Monsieur Lemoine, has some of the (slightly annoying) qualities of Poirot. There is an interesting sub plot to the two murders in the book - King Victor, the exquisite jewlery thief has recently been released from prision and may be at Chimneys to steal something left there, perhaps, many years ago.

One of my favorite parts in the book, I have to note since it won't give anything away. While trying to make heads and tales of all the things happened at Chimneys, Cade says, "Watson to your Sherlock, in fact?" "Detective stories are mostly bunkum," said Battle unemotionally. "But they amuse people," he added as an afterthought. "And they're useful sometimes." Love Christie's sense of humor. 
The Secret of Chimneys is a very good Christie read, while comfortably predictable in some ways, there were turns in other parts. A very enjoyable read.

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