originally published 1925
As the novel opens, one Anthony Cade, is working as a tour guide in Africa. At a bar one day Cade meets an old buddy, James McGrath, who has been tasked with the delivery of the memoirs of the now-dead Count Stylptitch of Herzoslovakia to a London publishing firm. But McGrath has decided to seek his fortune in the gold fields, and offers Cade a tidy sum to go to England with the memoirs and a stash of letters that could be blackmail fodder for an unsuspecting Virginia Revel. Cade is off to England, and finds himself caught up between two sides of a touchy political situation. He also finds that he is a target of some very nasty people who are trying to get both the memoirs and the letters. The situation leads him to a house called Chimneys, the home of Lord Caterham, his daughter Bundle, and various diplomats and others interested in the political situation in Herzoslovakia. Upon his arrival, Cade finds himself as a chief suspect in the death of Prince Michael Obolovitch, the heir to the Herzoslovakian throne and negotiator of British oil interests in that country. Enter Superintendent Battle and the hunt for the murderer begins.
As with most Christie novels, there are plenty of suspects, an abundance of motives, and an interesting array of lead characters. Unlike most of her stories, this one is filled with political intrigue, and the reader has to digest the background story of the country of Herzoslovakia before really delving into the mystery. This may be a bit off-putting to regular Christie readers, but it's worth the time and effort to get the story and the list of who's who regarding that nation as it sets an important backdrop to the various criminal activity throughout the book. It is rather complicated and at times convoluted, but still an interesting read, with a lovely twist at the end.
If I were a reader who has decided that he or she would like to read through the Christie novels, I would not want to start with this one, since imho, it doesn't deliver the best Christie has to offer. My advice: read through the Poirots and the Marples, then tackle the others for something just a bit different.
Having said all of that, my local PBS station is airing "The Secret of Chimneys" as part of the Masterpiece Mystery! series, which is set to TiVo from my television this evening. For me, there is absolutely nothing like reading a book and then watching it come to life on the screen (in that order). So wondering who's going to play whom, I went over to the PBS website and discovered that lo and behold, the star of this program is Miss Jane Marple, you know, the newest one, Julia McKenzie. And then I said "what?????" Okay, actually my "what" was more like WTF -- this isn't a Miss Marple mystery at all! How does it happen that this nice little old lady from St. Mary Mead is dropped into a murder mystery at an English country home filled with political intrigue and some pretty rotten bad guys when she wasn't even in Christie's original story? And why does the blurb say "based on the novel by Agatha Christie?"
I wonder if the writers of the screenplay (John Strickland, Paul Rutman) were sitting around one day thinking that they ought to throw in Miss Marple just for the heck of it, because surely they actually read the original story. But perhaps not -- it seems that Miss Marple has shown up in a Tommy and Tuppence adventure as well. As a Christie purist, this really upsets me and takes out some of the fun of watching the televised Secret of Chimneys because I know that Chimneys didn't really host Miss Marple, so what is she doing there? Maybe the screenwriters thought no one actually reads Agatha Christie any more and that no one would notice.
Not that this issue will consume my entire day, but it is rather annoying. Is it too much to ask, do you think, that screenwriters at least get the characters straight? I like my screen adaptations to be adapted -- not made up. Maybe I'll drop a line and see if I get an answer!
fiction from England