My rating: 6/10
Setting: Briefly in Africa, with most of the action taking place in the stately English country house, “Chimneys”.
Detection by: SUPERINTENDENT BATTLE of Scotland Yard and various international colleagues; ANTHONY CADE and several aristocratic acquaintances.
Final Body Count: 3 in this narrative; more in the background story.
Method(s) of Death: SINGLE PISTOL SHOT x 3
100 Word Plot Summary:
Anthony Cade, international adventurer, comes into a double commission to deliver a politically sensitive Herzoslovakian manuscript of memoirs and a bundle of blackmailing letters to England. Both appear to be in high demand and swap hands several times; two men are shot, and the diplomatic and aristocratic guests at stately country home “Chimneys” are embroiled in multiple mysteries. Hidden identities, a violent revolutionary society, an accomplished jewel thief, a fabulous diamond, coded letters, secret passages and misleading clues… Can anyone be trusted? Is anyone really who they appear to be? And who does beautiful young widow Virginia Revel really love?
The dead bodies are a side plot to this thriller, written, one suspects, with tongue firmly in cheek. What with a butler named Tredwell, an Inspector Badgworthy, and a bumbling politician, one George Lomax – not to mention a stay at the posh Blitz Hotel in London – the author appears to have been having a lot of innocent fun with this one. Another thriller versus an out-and-out murder mystery, for though we have a number of violently killed bodies by the end of the saga, the other players view the deceased with cold speculation versus shocked emotion.
What a busy plot it is, too. Political intrigue and revolution in fictional Balkan state Herzoslovakia! A commoner queen brutally massacred by a mob along with her royal spouse; a missing prince (or two?); sensitive political memoirs; an aristocratic Englishwoman’s blackmailing letters; a master jewel thief and a missing diamond of fabulous worth; untold reserves of oil (in Herzoslovakia) just waiting for development; several bullet-riddled corpses of swarthy foreigners; and a stately English country home much used to hosting diplomatic gatherings. Drop in several lovely ladies of impeccable breeding and soothing manner, and a thrillingly handsome young man just off the boat from Africa acting as courier to the papers in question, and stir well.
Moments of truly humorous farcical writing made me smile with delight, but this was tempered by the many jaw-dropping racial slurs. These were aimed at everyone under the sun not a true-blue upper-class Conservative Brit, but were extra heavy regarding those of Jewish heritage, as well as the broadly categorized Balkan/Italian/swarthily foreign “dagos” of various nationalities who do all of the heavy lifting in the background story.
Did I enjoy this story? Well yes, I did, in a general sense. It had its moments. But very much a product of its time. Very vintage.
I’m more than ready to move on from this rather ridiculous romp. What about a cozy village murder mystery? Luckily the next one up is just that, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
The cover gallery for The Secret of Chimneys is respectably diverse, and perhaps just a little bit misleading on occasion. Let’s take a look…