The Secret of Chimneys is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by The Bodley Head in June 1925 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. It introduces the characters of Superintendent Battle and Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
At the request of George Lomax, Lord Caterham reluctantly agrees to host a weekend party at his home, Chimneys. A murder occurs in the house, beginning a week of fast-paced events with police among the guests.
References in other works
The fictional country of Herzoslovakia makes a return appearance in the short story The Stymphalean Birds which was first published in the April 1940 issue of the Strand Magazine and later appeared in the 1947 collection The Labours of Hercules. It is also briefly mentioned in the 1940 novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.
Christie later used the “Chimneys” mansion, along with the characters of Bill Eversleigh, Bundle, George Lomax, Tredwell, and Lord Caterham from this book, in the 1929 novel The Seven Dials Mystery.
When they meet up in Bulawayo, Anthony Cade agrees to take on two jobs for his friend James McGrath. Anthony heads for London to deliver the draft of a memoir to a publisher, and to return letters to the woman who wrote them. In England, politician George Lomax persuades Lord Caterham to host a house party at Chimneys. George’s cousin Virginia Revel is invited, as is Hiram Fish, a collector of first edition books, along with the principals in a political scheme to restore the monarchy in Herzoslovakia – while assuring that newly discovered oil there will be handled by a British syndicate.
On Cade’s first night in London, the letters are stolen from his hotel room by his waiter. The publisher sends Mr Holmes to pick up the memoirs. These were written by the late Count Stylptitch of Herzoslovakia; now that oil has been discovered, the nation is in turmoil between republicans and royalists. On advice, Cade puts a dummy package in the hotel safe. The thief brings one letter to Virginia Revel at her home, as it is her name in the signature of each letter. Unaware she did not write the letters, he wants to blackmail her. On a whim, she pays, and promises more money the next day. When she arrives home the next day, she finds him murdered in her house, and Anthony Cade on her door step. Cade arranges to have the body discovered elsewhere by the police, to avoid a scandal and allow Virginia to proceed to Chimneys.
At Chimneys, Prince Michael, presumed heir to the long-empty throne of Herzoslovakia, is killed the night of his arrival. Cade was at Chimneys that same evening, leaving footprints outdoors but not indoors. He boldly introduces himself to Superintendent Battle, explaining the story of the memoirs, and persuading Battle of his innocence in the murder. After seeing that the dead prince had posed as Mr Holmes, Cade pursues his own ideas in finding the murderer, while Battle leads the main investigation. The next heir to the throne, Nicholas, cousin to Michael, was raising money on his expectations in America. Cade checks out the governess, a recent addition to the household; he travels to France to speak with her prior employer.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond had been stolen from the Tower of London and replaced by a paste copy some years earlier, by a French thief named King Victor. Chimneys is one place where it may be hidden, though many searches have not found it. King Victor was released from prison in France a few months earlier, so Battle expects he will seek to recover it. The night Cade is in France, there is a break-in at Chimneys. Virginia Revel hears the noise, and sees one or two men taking old armour apart. She and Bill Eversleigh do not catch the thief. The next night, the three wait for a second attempt; they catch M Lemoine of the Sûreté, on the track of King Victor. Battle has been waiting for him. The stolen letters appear in Cade’s room. Battle realizes the thieves want him to decode the letter that points to the location of the stolen gem, because Count Stylptitch had moved it from the place where the Queen had hidden it. This is done, revealing the clue: “Richmond seven straight eight left three right”. Battle follows the Richmond clue to a brick in a hidden passage, which in turn reveals a puzzling conundrum. Cade slips out to Dover, to find an address on a slip of paper given him by Boris Anchoukoff, valet to the late prince. He finds the meeting of King Victor’s gang; Hiram Fish, really a Pinkerton detective on the thief’s trail for his crimes in America; and the real M Lemoine tied up as a hostage.
At Chimneys, all are gathered to hear the mysteries explained. In the library, Boris finds Miss Brun with a pistol, as she means to kill him and get the jewel. They struggle; the gun goes off in her hand, killing her. Miss Brun had killed Prince Michael, because he had recognized her as someone else. She was the last queen consort of Herzoslovakia, thought to have been murdered with her husband in the revolution; but she escaped. She wrote the coded letters to Captain O’Neill, an alias of King Victor, and signed them with Virginia Revel’s name. Cade introduces the real M Lemoine to the group, while Hiram Fish snares King Victor, who has been posing as the French detective and in America as Nicholas. Anthony Cade gave “Mr Holmes” the dummy package; he gives the real memoirs to Jimmy McGrath to earn his £1000. Cade and Fish solve the conundrum; it points to a rose on the grounds, where the Koh-i-Noor is subsequently recovered. Anthony presents himself as the missing Prince Nicholas, ready to ally with the British syndicate. He offers himself as Herzoslovakia’s next king. Earlier that day, he married Virginia, who will be his queen.
- 1925, John Lane (The Bodley Head), June 1925, Hardback, 310 pp
- 1925, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardback, 310 pp
- 1947, Dell Books (New York), Paperback (Dell m
- apback number 199), 224 pp 1956, Pan Books, 1956, Paperback (Pan number 366), 222 pp
- 1958, Pan Books, 1958, Paperback (Great Pan G106)
- 1958, The Bodley Head, 1958, Hardback, 224 pp
This was the last novel published under Christie’s six-book contract with the Bodley Head which had been agreed back in 1919. Christie had signed without literary agent representation and had come to resent its terms which she stated were unfair. Her future books in the UK were all published by William Collins & Sons (with the sole exception of The Hound of Death) once a new and more favourable contract had been signed with them by her newly appointed agent, Edmund Cork of Hughes Massey. Cork became a lifelong friend.
This novel was much admired by her future mother-in-law, Mrs Marguerite Mallowan, who penned a note in a leather-bound copy she commissioned of this book together with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Hollow. The note read “Passing a bookshop while I was in Paris in 1932, I bought The Secret of Chimneys, now almost unobtainable. I had just heard of Agatha Christie. Though not a reader of detective stories, her book captivated me so much that I never left it until I had finished it. Soon after she married my son, whom she had met in Mesopotamia while he was working under Sir Leonard Woolley. Later I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which, I think, made her reputation universal. Lastly came The Hollow, a book dear to me as revealing her artistic, simple and sincere temperament. This is the reason for my choice of these three books to be bound together. I wish them to be a testimony of my admiration for her art, and above all, of my gratitude for her loving kindness through all the years I have known her”. The copy of the book was sold at auction in September 2006.
The Secret of Chimneys – First Edition Book Identification Guide
The books are listed in the order of publication. While the majority of Agatha Christie’s books were first published in the UK. There are many titles that were first published in the US. The title of the book may differs from the UK edition in some cases.
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1925||The Secret of Chimneys||The Bodley Head, London , ||First edition. "First Published in 1925" stated on the copyright page. No statement of later printings. Decorative clue cloth, lettered in black. Price 7/6.|
|1925||The Secret of Chimneys||Dodd, Mead & Co, NY, 1925||First American edition. Date on the title & copyright page matches. No statement of later printings. Dark purple cloth, lettered in orange. Price $ 2.00.|
Note about Book Club Editions (BCE) and reprints:
UK: You can see statements of later reprint dates or of book club on the copyright page.
US: The US reprint publishers usually use the same sheets as the first edition and are harder to identify by looking at the title page or the copyright page. One may identify a BCE by looking at the DJ, which doesn’t have a price on top of the front flap and a “Book Club Edition” imprint at the bottom. If the dust jacked is clipped at both the top/bottom of the front flap. You can safely assume it’s a BCE . If the book is missing the dust jacket. Later BCE editions can be identified by its plain boards, while first printings are issued in quarter cloth.
Please refer to the gallery for detailed images of true first edition bindings and dust jackets.
The Secret of Chimneys – First Edition Dust Jacket Identification Guide
First edition bindings and various dust jacket printings identification.