Top critical review
A thriller that was great when I read it as a teenager forty years ago, though it hasn't aged well.
on 28 August 2016
In my early teens, some forty years ago now, I encountered Agatha Christie’s novels, and, as is perhaps customary with teenage obsession, started working through them, as if driven to complete the set as quickly as possible. One of the first of her books that I read was this one, The Secret of Chimneys, and at the time I thought it was about as good as literature could get.
It features neither Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple (although the recent television adaptation did recast it as one of Miss Marple’s cases), and it isn’t even a true whodunit, being instead a simple thriller, straight out of the John Buchan mould. Certainly all the key ingredients of a boisterous story are there – stolen jewels, beautiful but mysterious women, a stately home and quasi-Balkan intrigue (it was, after all, written just a few years after the end of the First World War when the map of Europe had been redrawn under the auspices of Versailles, and newly-minted states were strewn across the continent) and a handsome, intelligent and boundlessly gallant hero thrown in. Sadly, other clichés of the 1920s shocker are also to the fore, and the book is shot through with casual anti-Semitism manifested through a succession of throwaway remarks from most of the characters.
The story does rattle along, and I could see why I enjoyed it so much at the age of thirteen. Forty years on I found it rather irritating. None of the characters displayed any vestige of realism. Of course, one doesn’t read Agatha Christie for her gritty verisimilitude, but this book also lacked her lightness of touch with regard both to characters and plot. It was one of her ealier books, and she was clearly still getting to grips with the genre.