The Secret of Chimneys (Agatha Christie)

By Agatha Christie

First published: UK, Bodley Head, 1925; USA, Dodd Mead, 1925

My review

Christie - The Secret of Chimneys.JPG

Surprisingly accomplished for very early Christie, and probably the first demonstration of her skill at misleading the reader. Is the hero really as heroic as he seems, or does Anthony Cade’s past conceal the criminal activities of the infamous King Victor? Is the mysterious American, Hiram P. Fish, King Victor, or someone else? What of the bearded Frenchman and the stolid English superintendent? The game of false identities and masks is played out against the backdrop of Chimneys, a stately home so famous that Christie doesn’t even bother describing it. Fortunately the place comes to life through the dialogue and characters, all more vibrant and vivid than anyone in her previous four novels; one is reminded more of early Wodehouse. Throw in Balkan politics, secrets and spies, a murdered dauphin and a second incognito, and a sinister foreign gang, all of which may have some connection with the disappearance of the Koh-i-noor, and one has one of Christie’s best books of the 1920s.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (9 July 1925): Years ago before the war the pretty little Parisian actress who had long been a member of a gang of international jewel thieves met an amorous Balkan monarch and exchanged her liberty for a few years of uneasy Queenship in a stormy capital.  During the brief period before her husband’s living subjects hurried him to a blood-stained grave she corresponded with her former associates using a code in which the whereabouts of certain jewels which have been hidden is described.  Her letters are stolen; and the author cleverly sets a number of people to work at trying to recover them.  Many of her characters are not what they seem.  No one is quite certain of the identity or intentions of all the others; there is a corpse—a Royal one at that—a secret passage, ingenious policemen, more ingenious rogues, and a thick fog of mystery, cross-purposes, and romance, which leads up to a most unexpected and highly satisfactory ending.

Sat R (Gerald Bullett, 4th July 1925, 30w): The Secret of Chimneys is one of her best.

Boston Transcript (23rd September 1925, 320w): The usual ingredients of a mystery yarn are herein cleverly handled in the usual way.

NY Tribune (Ruth Von Phul, 27th September 1925, 220w): It really is just another of those international intrigue affairs, but extremely well written and very baffling.

Lit R (C.P. Sawyer, 31st October 1925, 200w): Here’s another capital detective story by Miss Christie, which will keep the reader guessing until the very end, not only as to the identity of the arch-villain—the murderer—but also that of the hero, Anthony Cade.

Booklist (December 1925): A rapidly moving mystery story with a complicated plot of increasing interest.