The Secret of Chimneys: Wikis

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The Secret of Chimneys  
The Secret of Chimneys First Edition Cover 1925.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Percy Graves
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Crime novel
Publisher Bodley Head
Publication date June 1925
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 310 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN NA
Preceded by The Road of Dreams
Followed by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Secret of Chimneys is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by The Bodley Head in June 1925[1] and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year[2]. It introduces the characters of, among others, Superintendent Battle and Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)[3] and the US edition at $2.00[2].

Christie later used the "Chimneys" mansion, along with some of the characters in this book in the 1929 novel The Seven Dials Mystery.

Contents

Plot summary

Seven years previously, the Balkan state of Herzoslovakia had one of its periodic revolutions that resulted in the death and bodily mutilation of its monarch, King Nicholas IV and his wife Queen Varaga. The latter personage was the cause of the uprising, as she was formerly a dancer at the Folies Bergère called Angèle Mory. This woman had been bribed by a Herzoslovakian revolutionary organisation called the "Comrades of the Red Hand" to lure the King into a trap when he visited Paris but instead she double-crossed them, seduced Nicholas and subsequently married him. The populace did not like their Queen coming from such common and dubious stock, hence the uprising and the establishment of a republic which has been in force ever since.

Now the people of Herzoslovakia wish to restore the monarchy and offer the vacant crown to the exiled Prince Michael Obolovitch, a distant relation of the murdered King. The British government are acting as powerbrokers to the restoration in return for which they want oil concessions in the state. The head of the syndicate who is financing the deal, Herman Isaacstein, is to meet Prince Michael at the English country house of Chimneys whose reluctant owner, the ninth Marquis of Caterham, is bullied into hosting the get-together by George Lomax, a foreign office minister. A difficulty has arisen though: a Count Stylptitch, twice Prime Minister of Herzoslovakia and in exile in Paris since the revolution, died two months previously and his memoirs—believed to contain many indiscreet references to the Herzoslovakia monarchy—were smuggled to Bulawayo and the care of a gold prospector living there called Jimmy McGrath who four years ago saved the Count's life when he was being attacked in Paris. As part of his will, the Count has asked the trusted Mr McGrath to safely deliver in person the manuscript of his memoirs to a firm of London publishers on or before 13 October in return for one thousand pounds and McGrath is due to arrive in London the next day.

What Lomax doesn't know is that McGrath's gold prospecting is about to bear fruit in Bulawayo and he is loath to leave Africa. Meeting Anthony Cade, an old friend and a similar adventurer to himself, one day in that city, he asked Anthony to impersonate him and deliver the manuscript for a quarter share of the thousand pounds. McGrath had another task which he wanted Anthony to carry out: he came into the possession of a set of letters from an Englishwoman called Virginia Revel to her lover, a Captain O'Neill, which have been used to blackmail Mrs Revel and which McGrath wanted to be returned to her, thus saving her from further embarrassment. Anthony agreed to deliver both sets of documents.

Arriving in London, Anthony checks into the Blitz hotel where several attempts by fair means and foul are made to obtain the manuscript. The final one is at night when one of the hotel waiters, Giuseppe, enters Anthony's room. He wakes and the two men fight but Giuseppe gets away, not with the manuscript but with Virginia Revel's letters. The next day Giuseppe visits that lady and blackmails her with one of the letters. She gives him forty pounds but doesn't reveal to the man that she has no idea who the letters came from—although in her name, she is not their author. She expresses her puzzlement to George Lomax who has asked her to also be one of the house party at Chimneys—as the widow of a former diplomat to Herzoslovakia she will be just the person to charm Prince Michael.

Dell Mapback #199, first U.S. paperback edition, 1947
Crime map showing "Chimneys" from Dell Mapback #199

Anthony completes his task for Jimmy McGrath when a Mr Holmes of the publishers collects the manuscript from him and hands him the cheque for the agreed amount. He also receives, in the name of McGrath, a government invitation to the meeting at Chimneys where it is hoped he will be persuaded not to hand over the manuscript at all. Anthony decides to travel under his own name, stay at the village inn outside the house and investigate matters. Before that he visits the Pont Street home of Virginia Revel where that lady has returned after a tennis match to find the dead body of Giuseppe in her study. On him is a scrap of paper with "Chimneys 11.45 Thursday" written on it. Anthony finds out about Virginia's invitation to that house and deduces that their unknown opponents are attempting to stop her travelling there. To outwit them he will dispose of the body (in a trunk in the left luggage department of Paddington Station) and follow Virginia to Chimneys—she instinctively trusts this "Ex-Eton and Oxford" man.

At the appointed time on the Thursday night a murder is committed at Chimneys on the eve of the concessions meeting. Travelling under the pseudonym of "Count Stanislaus" the murdered man is none other than Prince Michael Obolovitch. George Lomax insists that Inspector Battle of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. Footprints are spotted in the grass leading to and from the open window to the council chamber where the body was found and the police’s suspicions are immediately drawn to the arrival of a stranger at the village inn the night before, Anthony Cade. Further investigations are confounded though when the self-confident Anthony suddenly appears at the house and introduces himself; moreover he tells Battle and the police all of the events to date, judiciously omitting the story of Virginia's letters and the later murder and concealment of Giuseppe. He further reveals to them that he did indeed come to Chimneys the previous night and manages to convince the investigators that he was lured there on a pretext and they set him up for the crime. Anthony though is in for a shock though when he is shown the body of Prince Michael: it is Mr Holmes who collected the manuscript from Anthony at the Blitz Hotel.

Aside from Isaacstein and Virginia Revel (who vouches for Anthony) a third visitor to the house is Hiram P. Fish who is there to inspect Lord Caterham's collection of first editions; his other hobby is criminology and he takes a close interest in events in the house.

Two strands of investigation take place in the house: the official one and Anthony's own. The police are interested in who benefits from Prince Michael's death and are told that his successor for the vacant throne is Prince Nicholas, a somewhat dissolute young man who has not been seen for several years in his wanderings around the globe. Anthony meanwhile is interested in the occupant of a room whose light he saw briefly go on and off when he heard the shot at the time of the murder and "Bundle" Brent, Lord Caterham’s eldest daughter, tells him that is the room of Mademoiselle Brun, the French governess to her two young sisters, who has been with them only two months from her previous position in a Château in Dinard. There is a further French connection with the matter when Anthony finds a bearded stranger with a French accent near the boathouse in the grounds who claims to be lost while on a walk from his stay at the village inn.

Matters are further complicated by news that the master jewel thief, King Victor, has been released from jail in France and might be in the area. His connection with the case is that Angèle Mory, in her days before becoming Nicholas IV’s consort, was an accomplice of King Victor's and there is every reason to suppose that she was involved, while Queen, with the most audacious theft King Victor ever committed: the theft of the Koh-i-Noor diamond from the Tower of London (a paste copy being substituted and the public not being informed of the event). Queen Varaga was a guest at Chimneys at the time and it is believed she hid the jewel somewhere in the house and now, seven years after her death, King Victor has come to get it back.

Anthony meets Mademoiselle Brun and his suspicions of her are allayed when he sees the plain middle-aged woman; nevertheless he gets permission to go to Dinard to follow up on her references. While he is away there is a midnight break-in at Chimneys when Virginia and Bill Eversleigh, one of George Lomax's staff from the Foreign Office, surprise a shadowy intruder who is searching the council chamber. Virginia and Bill's attempts to apprehend the man are foiled by Mr. Fish who mistakes them for the intruder; the real one gets away through an open window.

Anthony returns from France—Mademoiselle Brun has proven to be above suspicion—and learns of the break-in. He realises that another attempt might be made and he joins Virginia and Bill that night when they successfully apprehend the bearded French stranger, only for Battle to reveal that it is Monsieur Lemoine of the Sûreté. This officer had been keeping watch on the house and had again seen movement in the council chamber. His "apprehension" by Anthony and his friends has again meant the suspect has got away. Lemoine is on the trail, with Scotland Yard, of the Koh-i-Noor and he tells them that Angèle Mory sent coded letters to King Victor using the aliases of "Captain O’Neill" and "Virginia Revel" (who Mory knew from her husband's posting to the British Embassy in Herzoslovakia) and it is these that have been mistaken as the blackmailing letters. These were stolen from King Victor and found their way to Africa and, eventually, Jimmy McGrath. Anthony is non-plussed though when the letters, stolen from his Blitz hotel room, reappear mysteriously on his dressing-table at Chimneys. Battle's theory is that they have been returned as King Victor has been unable to decode them and, knowing that the council chamber is now heavily watched, is letting the authorities decode the message and find the jewel which he will then take at his convenience. He and Lomax decide to take the bait and employ an expert codebreaker, Professor Wynwood, who deduces that the coded message is "Richmond seven straight eight left three right". Bundle equates this to an old passage behind a Holbein painting but the trail proves fruitless.

After several preparations Anthony reveals to the assembled people at Chimneys that the "Richmond" reference in the code was to a valuable book on the life of the Earl of Richmond in the library. This revelation though is a trap for the murderer of Prince Michael: Mademoiselle Brun, in reality the supposedly dead Queen Varaga (whose "body" seven years ago was a substitution, mutilated beyond recognition). This time she really is killed in a struggle over a revolver with Boris Anchoukoff, Prince Michael's loyal valet, in the library as she tries to retrieve the jewel. Anthony realises that the real Mademoiselle Brun might well have been kidnapped on the passage from Dinard and that the murder of Giuseppe in Virginia's house was an attempt to stop that lady going to Chimneys where she would be the only person who could recognise the former Queen. There was one other person there though who also knew her—Prince Michael—and when he found her searching the council chamber, she shot him. Anthony reveals another substitution when he produces the real Monsieur Lemoine who had been held in a house in Dover, whose address slipped out of the impostor's pocket and that impostor is none other than King Victor. The man tries to get away but is stopped by Mr. Fish, in reality an American agent.

Anthony has several final surprises. The memoirs he gave to "Mr Holmes" were false: he gives the real memoirs (which have no incriminating anecdotes after all) to Jimmy to deliver to the publishers to get his one thousand pounds. The "Richmond" clue refers not to a painting or book but to the rose bed in the grounds. Anthony is the missing Prince Nicholas (who even King Victor impersonated in the United States) and he has just married Virginia, who will be his Queen.

The missing diamond is subsequently recovered in the rose bed as predicted.

Characters in "The Secret of Chimneys"

(Identities assumed by characters in the novel are given in [square brackets]).

Inhabitants of "Chimneys"

  • Marquis of Caterham
  • Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, his eldest daughter
  • Daisy and Dulcie Brent, his younger daughters
  • Tredwell, the butler

British Government

  • The Honourable George Lomax
  • Bill Eversleigh, of the Foreign Office

Herzoslovakians

  • Prince Michael Obolovitch of Herzoslovakia [Mr Holmes from Balderson and Hodgkins, publishers] [Count Stanislaus]
  • Captain Andrassy, his equerry.
  • Boris Anchoukoff, his valet
  • Baron Lolopretjzyl, London representative of the Loyalist Party of Herzoslovakia
  • Prince Nicholas Obolovitch of Herzoslovakia [Anthony Cade, adventurer], [Jimmy McGrath]
  • An agent of the "Comrades of the Red Hand"

Police and criminal investigators

  • Inspector Badgworth
  • Dr. Cartwright
  • Constable Johnson
  • Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard
  • Monsieur Lemoine of the Sûreté
  • Professor Wynwood

Others

  • Virginia Revel, daughter of a peer, society beauty and widow of Timothy Revel, a foreign office diplomat
  • Herman Isaacstein, of an oil syndicate
  • Jimmy McGrath, Canadian gold prospector
  • Giuseppe Manuelli, Italian waiter and an agent of the Herzoslovakian Comrades of the Red Hand
  • Hiram P. Fish (in reality, an American agent on the trail of King Victor)
  • King Victor, international jewel thief [Monsieur Lemoine of the Sûreté] [Captain O’Neill] [Prince Nicholas Obolovitch of Herzoslovakia] [Monsieur Chelles]
  • Angèle Mory, former dancer at the Folies Bergère, later Queen Varaga of Herzoslovakia [Miss Brun, French Governess to the Brent girls]

Literary significance and reception

The Times Literary Supplement reviewed the novel in its issue of July 9, 1925 and after setting up the story stated favourably that "there is...a thick fog of mystery, cross-purposes and romance, which leads up to a most unexpected and highly satisfactory ending".[4]

The novel was not reviewed in The New York Times Book Review

The Observer of June 28, 1925 said, "Mrs. Christie plunges lightheartedly into a real welter of murders, innocently-implicated lookers-on, Balkan politics (of the lighter Ruritanian kind), impersonators, secret societies, ciphers, experts, secret hiding-places, detectives (real and pretended), and emerges triumphantly at the end, before her readers are too hopelessly befogged. Nobody is killed who matters much. The right people marry, after it all, having first endeared themselves to us by their frivolous attitude to the singularly animated doings around them." The reviewer concluded that Christie's, "ingenuity and clear-headedness are really remarkable."[5]

The Scotsman of July 16, 1925 began, "Despite Herzoslovakian politics and a background of oil and finance, this new novel by Agatha Christie gets a grip of the reader when it comes down to the business of disposing of a corpse, innocently come by but not to be repudiated without danger of grave scandal." and went on to say, "It is an exciting story with a bewildering array of potential murderers and a curious collection of detectives, amateur and professional, and with a crook of international importance and (alleged) consummate ability." The review concluded: "There is more than murder in this story; there is a treasure hunt in it, not for gold but a diamond, and the story is suitably staged for the main part at Chimneys, that historic mansion whose secret will be found in Chapter XXIX, though the wise in these matters may have discovered it a little earlier"[6].

Robert Barnard: "If you can take all of the racialist remarks, which are very much of their time, this is a first-class romp, all the better for not being of the 'plot to take over the world' variety. It concerns the throne and crown jewels of Herzoslovakia, and combines such Hope-ful (sic) elements with bright young things and some effective caricatures. By far the least awful of the early thrillers."[7]

References or Allusions

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References to actual history, geography and current science

The Blitz Hotel is a play on words on London's Ritz Hotel. Christie uses the same location (and the same name for it) in the 1924 short stories Blindman's Buff and The Man Who Was No. 16, which later formed part of the 1929 collection Partners in Crime.

References in other works

The fictional country of Herzoslovakia makes a return appearance in the short story The Stymphalean Birds which was first published in the April 1940 issue of the Strand Magazine and later appeared in the 1947 collection The Labours of Hercules

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

1931 stage adaptation

The Secret of Chimneys was adapted by Christie into a stage play in 1931 but its planned performance was cancelled. The manuscript was lost until 2001 when a copy surfaced in Canada where it received its world premiere on October 16, 2003.

Graphic novel adaptation

The Secret of Chimneys was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation August 20, 2007, adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by Laurence Suhner (ISBN 0-00-725059-2). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2002 under the title of Le Secret de Chimneys.

Television adaptation

An adaptation was produced for the fifth series of Marple, with Julia McKenzie as the lead.

Publication history

  • 1925, John Lane (The Bodley Head), June 1925, Hardback, 310 pp
  • 1925, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardback, 310 pp
  • 1947, Dell Books (New York), Paperback (Dell mapback number 199), 224 pp
  • 1956, Pan Books, 1956, Paperback (Pan number 366), 222 pp
  • 1958, Pan Books, 1958, Paperback (Great Pan G106)
  • 1958, The Bodley Head, 1958, Hardback, 224 pp
  • 1978, Panther Books, 1978, Paperback, 224 pp
  • 1989, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), 1989, Paperback, 272 pp
  • 2007, Facsimile of 1925 UK first edition (HarperCollins), November 5, 2007, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-726521-2

This was the last novel published under Christie's six book contract with the Bodley Head which had been agreed back in 1919. Christie had signed without literary agent representation and had come to resent its terms which she stated were unfair.[8] Her future books in the UK were all published by William Collins & Sons (with the sole exception of The Hound of Death) once a new and more favourable contract had been signed with them by her newly-appointed agent, Edmund Cork of Hughes Massey. Cork became a lifelong friend.

This novel was much admired by her future mother-in-law, Marguerite Mallowan, who penned a note in a leather-bound copy she commissioned of this book together with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Hollow. The note read "Passing a bookshop while I was in Paris in 1932, I bought The Secret of Chimneys, now almost unobtainable. I had just heard of Agatha Christie. Though not a reader of detective stories, her book captivated me so much that I never left it until I had finished it. Soon after she married my son, whom she had met in Mesopotamia while he was working under Sir Leonard Woolley. Later I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which, I think, made her reputation universal. Lastly came The Hollow, a book dear to me as revealing her artistic, simple and sincere temperament. This is the reason for my choice of these three books to be bound together. I wish them to be a testimony of my admiration for her art, and above all, of my gratitude for her loving kindness through all the years I have known her". The copy of the book was sold at auction in September, 2006[9].

Book dedication

Christie's dedication in the book reads:
"To my Nephew. In memory of an inscription at Compton Castle and a day at the Zoo".

The ‘nephew’ is James (Jack) Watts (1903 – 1961), the son of Christie’s brother-in-law and sister James and ‘Madge’ Watts. Christie became very close to her nephew after his birth when she was thirteen and joined her mother in looking after him at his home, Abney Hall when her sister and brother-in-law went on skiing holidays to St Moritz and at Christmas[10], memories of which she writes enthusiastically about in the foreword to her 1960 collection of short stories The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding. The reference to Compton Castle and the zoo are obscure. It is possible that the house “Chimneys” is based on Compton Castle but Abney Hall is equally a probability. Christie gives no description of “Chimneys” in the book, merely stating that “Descriptions of that historic place can be found in any guidebook.”[11]

Dustjacket blurb

The dustjacket front flap of the first edition carried no specially written blurb. Instead both the front and back flap carried adverts for Christie’s five other Bodley Head books together with one or two short quotes from reviews for those books.

References

  1. ^ Announcement in The Publishers' Circular and Booksellers Record June 3, 1925. Volume 122, No 3076, Page 733
  2. ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
  3. ^ Vanessa Wagstaff and Stephen Poole: Agatha Christie: A Readers Companion (Page 41). Aurum Press Ltd, 2004. ISBN 1-84513-015-4
  4. ^ The Times Literary Supplement July 9, 1925 (Page 466)
  5. ^ The Observer June 28, 1925 (Page 7)
  6. ^ The Scotsman July 16, 1925 (Page 2)
  7. ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Pages 204-5). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3
  8. ^ Christie, Agatha. An Autobiography. (Pages 317-8). Collins, 1977. ISBN 0-00-216012-9
  9. ^ Shotsmag the best ezine for crime and mystery fiction (Latest News)
  10. ^ Morgan, Janet. Agatha Christie, A Biography. (Page 36) Collins, 1984 ISBN 0-00-216330-6
  11. ^ Christie, Agatha. The Secret of Chimneys. (Page 95) The Bodley Head, 1926. No ISBN

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