The Secret of Chimneys was Christie's fifth mystery, published in 1925. In this novel the reader is introduced to Scotland Yard Superintendent Battle, a character that returns in four more of Christie's novels.
But Battle does not work alone; the reader also meets the handsome, witty, and very affable Anthony Cade who begins the story by offering to help a friend, Jimmy McGrath, with a small favor. His mission: to travel from South Africa (where he is making his living as a tour guide) to England and deliver a package of memoirs to a publisher; at which point he will collect a thousand pounds to be shared with McGrath.
Of course when Cade promises McGrath this simple errand he has no idea what he's really getting himself into, but it doesn't take long for Cade to discover that he is smack in the middle of an international conspiracy complete with mysterious letters, political intrigue, blackmail, missing jewels, and even murder! All this culminating at Chimneys, one of England's historical country house estates.
Although Cade is central to the book, the story is told from a third-person point of view, which allows the reader to oversee more than just one perspective and to be places that Cade is not. All the characters make for an exciting and fun read with their descriptions and interesting quirks. From the start I really liked Cade's character and having finished the novel I have to say he has become one of my favorite Christie characters.
I did make an effort to solve this mystery -- a series of crimes both in the story's past as well as the present, but I soon found myself distracted (in a good sense) by the dialog and plot. The plot twists and turns and there are several surprises, but that's what makes Agatha Christie's novels so good.
In the end I was surprised, but still satisfied. In fact, I have to say I loved this novel! I should have known better than to have claimed favorites so early in my reading of Christie's novels. As you may recall I have declared Murder on the Links a favorite... and then later The Man in the Brown Suit also as a favorite... But now I'm going to have to amend that statement to include this book. I realize now that if I keep this up, pretty soon I'll be saying something silly like, "These are my twenty favorite crime novels..."
At any rate, I can say that The Secret of Chimneys was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to those looking for a fast paced and witty crime novel. In other words, if you are looking for mystery that isn't your run of the mill "body in the library who-dun-it" this is it!
As I do with all of Christie's novels, I borrowed this book from the library. Her writing is easy to read, the plots make the books hard to put down, thus lending to fast reading. I started Chimneys last weekend, but my reading was interrupted by other books and other activities. I finally picked it back up the other day and was able to finish it in two evenings.
The next published Christie mystery was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), which I've read at least twice in the past, so I will pass over it this time. This much I will say, it is an excellent book -- no surprise there. And is actually the book that made Agatha Christie a world-renowned crime writer. Watch for my review of The Big Four (1927) in the coming weeks/month.
And as a post script: I have decided that once I finish reading through all of Christies crime novels I will post a top 20 list, but it will be some time till I get there, so you'll have to be patient.