Desert Isle Keeper
The Secret of Chimneys
If I could take only one book with me to the deserted island this would probably be it. It has everything: mystery, romance, humorous parody, a hero to remember and more twists than an album of Chubby Checker hits. I’ve adored The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie since I was thirteen and I’m not about to stop.
Anthony Cade travels from Africa to England incognito on an errand for a friend of his. He has to return a bundle of indiscreet love letters for a woman called Virginia Revel who apparently has been blackmailed about them. He also has to deliver an important set of memoirs to a publisher. The memoirs may contain scandalous revelations that would seriously affect the future of Herzoslovakia, a politically unstable country where several kings and presidents have been assassinated. The British government supports the restoration of monarchy in Herzoslovakia, and Prince Michael, whom they hope will be the new king, has come to Chimneys, Lord Caterham’s stately home, to discuss these plans. Rumors fly that famous jewel thief King Victor is also around. Unfortunately there’s a murder and Anthony Cade and Virginia get mixed up in the case.
I don’t want to reveal more of the plot since that would ruin it. You just have to read it for yourself to appreciate all the twists and surprises. The Secret of Chimneys has an endearing naïve charm that still entertains me no end, even though the plot is well familiar to me after dozens of rereads. (No, I am not exaggerating.)
Anthony Cade has become my yardstick to measure heroes by. He’s witty, funny, chivalrous and never loses his cool in sticky situations. He doesn’t worry about things, he simply deals with them. He has seen a lot in his adventures. His past is mysterious, as no one seems to know exactly what he’s been doing, but a little mystery just adds to his charm. What can I say? I just love him. Virginia may look delicate but she actually enjoys being blackmailed for the sake of experience and has the guts to deal with a murderous situation.
Other characters are a joy as well. The unimposing Lord Caterham attempts to take it easy but is plagued by the zealous politician George Lomax, who is hilarious in his pomposity. Lord Caterham’s daughter Bundle manages her father and drives far too fast. A Herzoslovakian Baron does strange things to English word order and Prince Michael’s valet is very gothic.
The tone of The Secret of Chimneys is lighter than most other Christie mysteries. If it were set on stage it would make a great farce. And no conceited little Belgians in this one! However, Dame Agatha’s plotting is as complex and clever as always. Lord Caterham’s daughter Bundle and George Lomax’s secretary Bill return in The Seven Dials Mystery.
The Secret of Chimneys is my one comfort read I know by heart. It’s one of Dame Agatha’s less well-known mysteries, but were it up to me it would be hailed as her masterpiece.