Agatha Christie, one of the greatest mystery writers of all time - some would say the greatest - was one author whose works I found too creepy to read when I was a kid. (I have to blame this on my sis; she used to feed me Christie's stories when we were alone in our room at night with the lights turned off etc - and when images of dead bodies and children being murdered while bobbing for apples can be quite traumatising and scar one for life:D)
Anyway, when my interest in Agatha Christie was rekindled some time back, I found myself picking up The Secret of Chimneys as a starting point, wondering what I would find inside. I expected lots of crime and dark shadows, villains and knives.
I wasn't disappointed.
Christie works these elements as only the best storytellers can. What got me hooked though was the addictive narrative, the humourous, witty turn of the tale following Anthony Cade's footsteps as he assumes the identity of a friend to deliver the memoirs of a foreign Count to London publishers.
That manuscript... It caused such a stir before it was even published that I felt a bit jealous of the Count:)
You see, every political party from the small European nation of Herzoslovakia wants to get their hands on the Count's memoirs, afraid of the secrets that would be revealed by it. As a result, the story becomes a delighfully sinister (yes, I too never thought those two words could ever go together:D) romp through London and then to the English countryside and Chimneys mansion, complete with political intrigue every step of the way.
There are attempted (and successful) assasinations, little gibes at Sherlock Holmes (I could almost see a sardonic smile on Agatha Christie's lips as she put those in) and, of course, intriguing personalities that Christie flushes out so very well.
The characters in the story are very much what makes the book so interesting, so I won't go into too much detail here for fear of spoiling anyone's experience of it:) Let me just say that Anthony Cade was witty and amusing, Virginia entrancing, and Superintendent Battle became an unexpectedly pleasant surprise of a character (no doubt meant to be yet another dig at detectives with the personalities of Sherlock Holmes).
A mention has to go to Chimneys' owner, the ninth Marquis of Caterham. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the beleagured fellow as he reluctantly allows foreign office minister George Lomax to bully him into using Chimneys once again as a base from which to support the cause of British hegemony in Europe.
At the end of it all, The Secret of Chimneys was a really addictive book. I just kept turning to the next page, and laughing out loud when I least expected to. That's the best kind of book there is, don't you think?
I understand now why Agatha Christie's stories are still in print, and voraciously read, after all this time. They're entertaining, witty and atmospheric; who wouldn't want to read something which packs such an enjoyable punch, especially on a dark and stormy kind of day (or night)...
Chimneys has been a cool introduction (re-introduction, really) to Christie's writing. I have to say I'm encouraged to read more of her work now, so it's on to The Secret Adversary for me!
I hope you enjoyed this short review:)