The Secret of Chimneys

A light-hearted caper with a satisfying ending

The cover of the 2017 edition,  published by Harper Collins
The cover of the 2017 edition, 
published by Harper Collins
Agatha Christie once again chose the adventure story format for her fifth novel, The Secret of Chimneys, rather than the detective story conventions she had employed in her first and third novels, which both featured her Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot.

Published in 1925, The Secret of Chimneys details the exploits of a good-looking young adventurer, Anthony Cade. The story starts in Africa, moves to England and is influenced by the political intrigues going on in the Balkan state of Herzoslovakia.

Needing money and looking for a new adventure, Cade accepts two jobs from a friend. He has to deliver some potentially controversial political memoirs safely to a publisher in London and restore some stolen letters to a woman who has been blackmailed because of them.

Linking these two jobs is an English country house called Chimneys, which is famous for hosting informal weekend parties, where politicians, heads of corporations and foreign dignitaries are able to mingle socially and conduct their business privately in its comfortable surroundings.

A shooting party is to take place at Chimneys, to be hosted reluctantly by its owner, Lord Caterham, who has been asked to assist the Government. Prince Michael of Oblovic is to be a guest at the party and it is anticipated that important Government business will be done.

In the course of carrying out his tasks, Cade goes to Chimneys himself. A murder occurs in the house just after he arrives, starting off a series of fast-paced events. Cade finds himself caught up in an international conspiracy and it soon becomes obvious that someone will stop at nothing to prevent the monarchy being restored in faraway Herzoslovakia.

ITV reimagined the story as a Miss Marple mystery, with Julie McKenzie as Marple
ITV reimagined the story as a Miss Marple
mystery, with Julie McKenzie as Marple
Despite the presence in the house of officers from both Scotland Yard and the French Surete, Cade has to pursue his own ideas in order to find the murderer, to be with Virginia, the woman he has fallen in love with, and ultimately fulfil his own destiny.  

Agatha Christie, who was born 132 years ago today in 1890, was widely praised for writing The Secret of Chimneys. Reviewers said it was more than just a murder mystery as it involved a treasure hunt. In July 1925, The Times Literary Supplement praised the ‘most unexpected and highly satisfactory ending’ of the story.

The novel has since been called ‘a first-class romp’ and been judged to be one of the author’s best early thrillers. I thought it was a light-hearted caper and found it enjoyable to read. I admired the way Agatha kept the ‘secret’ of Chimneys up her sleeve right to the end.  

The novel introduced the characters of Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard and Lady Eileen ‘Bundle’ Brent, who were both to appear in later novels.

It was the last of Agatha’s crime novels to be published by Bodley Head as the author then moved to Collins, later to become Harper Collins. It is known to have been translated into 17 different languages.

The Secret of Chimneys was adapted as a stage play by Agatha in 1931, but its world premiere did not actually take place until 2003 in Canada. It has also been adapted for television and as a graphic novel, although a version made by ITV in 2010 turned it into a Miss Marple mystery and took several other liberties with the plot.

The fictional Eastern European country of Herzoslovakia is also referenced in two Poirot stories, The Stymphalian Birds and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.

Agatha went on to become such a popular and successful novelist that even though we are now well into the 21st century, her books are still being purchased from shops and online and are regularly borrowed from public libraries. New film and television adaptations of her wonderful stories are constantly being made and she remains the most translated individual author to this day.

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