Day 29) Five, Six, Pick Up Sticks: Sticks symbolize Power, Strength, or Judicial decisions. Choose a book that revolves around a powerful Ruler or Ruling.
The Secret of Chimneys (Superintendent Battle #1) by Agatha Christie
I started reading Agatha Christie when my grandma gave me an anthology called Murder at the Manor, which had the books The Seven Dial Mysteries, Ordeal by Innocence, and Crooked House. I thought they were amazing novels and continued to read her books, mostly out of order.
I’m not sure how I was introduced to The Secret of Chimneys. I just remember a few years ago I found it at the library and wanted to check it out but couldn’t.
I immediately requested it, waiting until a copy came in. I started a few pages, but couldn’t stop reading and completely devoured the entire thing.
I thought it was incredible! It is a great mystery, fantastic adventure story, and just full of wit and witticism.
This counts double for this place on the list as the book not only centers on trying to find the next King of a Eastern European country but was written by the Queen of crime.
This book is one of her earlier novels, being the fifth mystery she has ever penned.
So our tale of intrigue begins in Zimbabwe. Anthony Cade is thirty-two years old, handsome, well educated and traveled; and currently working as a tour guide. He runs into his old friend Jimmy McGrath, who needs help with something.
Before Jimmy can tell him the job, he first gives Anthony a history lesson. The Eastern European country Herzoslovakia has recently had some real civil unrest. King Nicholas IV married a music hall performer, and called her some outrageous name, and later after the marriage crowned her as Queen Varaga. The two were later assassinated and the prime minister, Count Stylpitch, left to France.
Well one day, Jimmy was in Paris on one of his get-rich-quick schemes and saw some French toughs beating up a gentleman. Jimmy got involved and beat them up and the gentleman thanked him taking his name and going on his way.
Later Jimmy was contacted by the man and it turned out to be Count Stylpitch. Count Stylpitch has recently passed away and Jimmy was shocked when he received a package from the man. In the package is Count Stylpitch’s memoirs and a note that if they are delivered on or before October 13, then he will be given £1000. Jimmy unfortunately already has plans in a gold mine and needs someone else to do the job, promising to share £250 with Anthony if he will do it. Anthony agrees.
There isn’t time to change passage name or anything like that, so Anthony will just use Jimmy’s tickets. However, that’s not the only thing Jimmy needs him to do. One time when Jimmy was in Uganda and he saved a Herzoslovakian, strangely called Dutch Pedro. When he died from fever a few weeks later, he gave Jimmy “a gold mine” in papers. When Jimmy checked them out they were love letters from a Mrs. Virginia Revel.
Jimmy was disgusted at this idea of “gold mine”, blackmail and wants to return the items. There is no address on them and Jimmy had no plans or money to head to England, but with this free trip it seems like the best time.
Meanwhile in England, the death of Count Stylpitch has created a black hole in the government. George Lomax is trying to broker a deal with a British oil company and Prince Michael Obolovitch, contender for the Herzoslovakian throne. He wants to use the old historic Chimneys as the perfect meeting place, twisting Lord Caterham’s arm as he wants nothing to do with it.
George is worried about the memoirs as to what might come out, especially the disappearance of the Herzoslovakian treasures. He wants to get his hand at those remembrances and plans to use the feminine persuasion. He has just the right person in mind as well: widow to the Herzoslovakian ambassador so she knows the affairs, charming, intelligent: his cousin is perfect. His cousin Virginia Revel.
George returns home to complete the errand, but his lovesick assistant, Bill Eversleigh, manipulates his way into going to see the woman of his dreams, Virginia. Virginia agrees to go to a meeting with George, Bill also declaring his love for her; but Virginia isn’t interested.
George sends Bill to find out when the ship Granarth Castle is due to arrive. Unfortunately for George, Bill doesn’t pronounce Granarth correctly, and the worker thinks he says Carnfrae Castle instead, which is due next Thursday. Anthony, however, had arrived the previous day. Like they say, you can’t plan for everything.
Anthony has arrived in England under the name Jimmy McGrath and when he arrives at the Blitz Hotel, as per instructions, he is approached by a Herzoslovakian who wants the memoirs, Baron Lolopretjzyl. He wants to protect Prince Obolovitch from any bad press and is willing to pay £2000. When Anthony refuses, Baron Lolopretjzyl promises he will try another way.
Anthony is on his guard and decides as he has a week to take the work to the printer he will try and deliver the Revel papers instead. There are many Revels, (and she is under her husband’s name even though she is a widow), but he happens to luck onto her picture and discover which one she is.
Before he can journey to her, he is attacked by an Eastern European, a member of the Red Hand and after the memoir. He tries to pull gun on him, but Anthony Cade is not a pushover, he takes him down lickety-split.
Later he is attacked by an Italian waiter, Giuseppe. He manages to stop Giuseppe from harming him, but Giuseppe takes off with the Revel letters.
Anthony has only been here a day and has already been approached/attacked by three people. What will the next day hold?
The next day Virginia Revel is approached by a man with letters. At first she doesn’t understand why he is here, but then he shows her the signature on the letters! That is her name!
The blackmailer wants £1000 for the whole lot, and Virginia tells him she will think on his offer and get back to him if he comes over at six the next day.
Now the weird thing is that first of all, Virginia never loved her husband and has enjoyed widowhood. She doesn’t think of herself as a saint or worry about her reputation to the extent of the woman in the letters. Secondly, she never wrote any such letters or had a lover named Captain O’Neil in Paris. This is all so strange and doesn’t make a bit of sense. But at the same time it is extremely thrilling, and Virginia is having fun being caught up in it all.
George arrives to discuss his meeting with Virginia and she tells him about the blackmail.
“[Forty pounds is] only what I pay for an evening dress. It’s just as exciting to buy a new experience as it is to buy a new dress–more so, in fact.”
George asks for her assistance in charming Jimmy McGrath in order to weasel the memoirs out of him. Virginia agrees, but warns that she can’t promise anything.
“I don’t charm as a profession, you know. Often I like people–and then, well, they like me. But I don’t think I could set out in cold blood to fascinate a helpless stranger.”
George was hoping that Virginia would just be a willing dupe to his plans, but she won’t get involved in anything without getting the whole story. She is smart, sassy, and doesn’t let anyone pull the wool over her eyes.
George changes his mind about Virginia and tries to get her not invited, as she will wreck all his plans, but it is too late. Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent, Lord Caterham’s daughter, has already invited her.
Meanwhile, Anthony has gone to the hotel manager and reported the theft. He decides not to call the police, and uses that as leverage to get the info on Giuseppe. Later he is contacted by Mr. Balderson of Balderson and Hodgkins Publishing, the company contracted to print the memoir. They wish to have the memiors now as there are many out there after them and they will not rest until they have finished the contract. They send a Mr. Holmes who pays him the £1000.
That taken care of, Anthony heads off to see Mrs. Virginia Revel and tell her the bad news. As he is heading out he is given a note sent by George Lomax asking him to wait to give the memoirs until he speaks to him and invites him to come down to Chimneys. Anthony writes a letter informing them that he already sent of the memoirs and cannot attend the function signing Jimmy McGrath. Exit McGrath, Enter Anthony.
Meanwhile, that day Virginia had been playing tennis. When she arrives home she sees a handsome man selling poems. So handsome, she wishes she had a real job for him or reason to have him stick around.
Virginia goes inside and finds the whole household gone!
Apparently they received a telegram from Virginia that she wanted her cottage set up as she decided that she was going to head down there for a party. The only one who remained was her french maid, Élise, as she would be needed to prepare clothing and dress Virginia.
Virginia calms down the maid and has her get things ready for Chimneys while she prepares to call the cottage, to set things right, and police to keep an eye on the house. She goes into the next room and sees the blackmailer! She had completely forgotten all about him. As she approaches him she sees that he is dead!
Virginia is unsure what to do and who to call to help. George? No, he is too stuffy and wouldn’t get caught in anything that could possibly damage his political career.
BIll?! Yes Bill! Oh darn, he already left for Chimneys.
So Virginia goes outside and asks the handsome young man. She tells him the story of the blackmailing and coming across the body, and strangely enough he believes her and promises to help her. Who is this amazing young man? Anthony Cade.
It is too bad that Virginia and her maid didn’t find the dead man together, that would make things less complicated. As it is, it is pretty murky.
Anthony recognizes the man as Giuseppe, the waiter that stole the letters. Anthony looks at the pistol that shot Giuseppe and asks if it belongs to Virginia. She says no she has never seen it and never owned one in her life. Well that’s strange as this one is engraved, Virginia.
Anthony knows there are only two things left to do:
- Ring up the police, tell the whole story, and trust your position and blameless life.
- Try to dispose of the body.
Anthony starts looking through the body to see if there is anything on him to help with this determination. He lucks out finding a note that was caught in the lining of his coat.
Chimneys 11:45 Thursday
Virginia finds this odd as she was supposed to be there at Chimneys today, Thursday.
Anthony figures out that someone must have been trying to get rid of Virginia and keep her from coming to the party. They decide to go with plan B as calling the police means that they won’t be able to make it to Chimneys.Virginia gets rid of her maid, sending her off on an errand and telling her to meet her afterwards at Chimneys. They then decide to get rid of the body.
As they prepare Virginia asks him why a perfect stranger is being so kind, there’s no time for Anthony’s life story; they must be on their way. Virginia heads to Chimneys as she originally planned. Anthony goes on to hide the pistol in a tree, he then leaves the trunk in Paddington station, continuing onto Chimneys.
When he gets there he waits to see what will occur. At 11:45 he hears a shot!
He tries the windows to go inside, but all are locked. No one rises at the sound either. A light springs up in one of the windows on the first floor but then the whole place goes into darkness.
The next day it turns out that one of the guests was murdered! Count Stanislaus was found this morning by a maid.
Lord Caterham calls the police, but George insists that they must have the best, Inspector Battle of Scotland Yard.
When he arrives they bring in Anthony Cade as they found his boot tracks through the grass when he was out late that night. He’s brought to Chimneys where he tells his story. He changes a bit to leave out Virginia’s part, and lies saying that when he struggled with Giuseppe in the hotel, Giuseppe dropped a note about Chimneys which brought him there.
It is revealed that Count Stanislaus was not the one murdered but Prince Michael Obolovitch. When Battle has Anthony survey the area to look at where the shot came from, Anthony recognizes the body. But not as Prince Michael Obolovitch, but Mr. Holmes, the man Anthony gave the memoirs to.
So we have a dead prince, espionage, mistaken identity, a secret prince, thief unknown as he has picture perfect disguises, stolen and missing cultural treasures; a mystery and a treasure hunt. Anthony and Virginia team up to discover what the truth is.
I thought it was a fantastic book; it is fun, challenging, and just all around fantastic. I just love it and read it again and again.
It isn’t anything like her later novels, but just all around a great adventure.