Agatha Christie first published The Secret of Chimneys in 1925. It is the first appearance in any of her books of Superintendent Battle (Here an Inspector) and it also features an amateur detective by the name of Anthony Cade.
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The Secret of Chimneys begins in Africa with Anthony Cade playing the unwilling tour guide to a group of middle-aged English women. He is intercepted by an old friend who has a proposition for him. If Anthony can deliver a manuscript to a London publisher before an upcoming date, then he will share with Anthony the thousand pound pay day that he has been promised.
Anthony is an adventurer and he has been looking for any excuse to get away from his mundane job. His friend explains the history behind the manuscript – it is the memoirs of an old Count from the Balkan country of Herzoslovakia (Fictional) – and it is sure to contain some explosive revelations about the country.
Anthony accepts the job and he heads back to London to complete his mission. At his hotel, he is confronted by a number of people who want to get their hands on the manuscript – but Anthony made a promise to his friend and no matter how good the offers are, he insists that he will deliver the manuscript by the predetermined date.
In the meantime, there are problems in the Balkan republic of Herzoslovakia. They had a revolution a few years earlier and killed their king and queen, however the monarchists and getting ready to install a new king and he has the support of Britain because he has promised them oil concessions. The soon to be King is visiting London and with the manuscript still out there and the King’s grip on his country in a tenuous position, a British official organises a party down at a manor house called Chimneys.
All the interested parties converge on Chimneys, and as they do murder and mayhem ensue and it is up to Anthony Cade and Inspector Battle to save the day.
Agatha Christie is known the world over for being the queen of the murder mystery. Her amateur detectives, the most famous being Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, use equal parts of wit, observation and luck to solve mysterious murders with little more than a few clues. Her twists and red herrings keep the reader guessing until the very end.
The Secret of Chimneys strays away from Agatha Christie’s usual style of having an amateur detective outsmart the police while they bumble around looking silly. Inspector Battle is serious and driven, he always is one step ahead and is extremely switched on. Anthony Cade on the other hand always seems to be leaning the wrong way, and most of the time he appears to be incriminating himself, which makes the reader wonder exactly whether they should be so trusting of Anthony Cade.
The plot of The Secret of Chimneys is rich and complex. On top of the international politics, revolutions and secret monarchs, there is also blackmail, missing jewels and murders. I wasn’t able to put the book down and although I had some idea as to the perpetrator and their motive, there were so many different threads to the story, that I wasn’t disappointed with the ending.
For a tale of international intrigue and mystery, I highly recommend this book. It is similar in style to Cat Among the Pigeons, and it showcases the depths of Agatha Christie’s talent for intricacy and complexity. And I love the fact that she invented a new country called Herzoslovakia!