Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guest Blog - The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

When I was about thirteen, I read my first Agatha Christie novel. That first book by Christie was The Mystery of the Blue Train. I have been a Christie fan ever since and the Blue Train remains one of my favorites.

Last Sunday my husband and I watched a new dramatization of The Secret of Chimneys on PBS. The mystery was solved with the combined efforts of Chief Inspector Finch and Miss Marple. I do like Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. She is neither flirty nor frumpy. Just an intelligent woman. A pleasant change. However, while watching I puzzled over the story. Why was it that I did not recognize this story?

At the first opportunity, I checked the novel out from the library. And it was not at all surprising that I did not recognize the story. I am sure I must have read it at some point in my long, long life, but I certainly do not remember it. For one thing, the original story does not include Miss Marple. It is one of those rare novels that does not include any of Christie's well known sleuths. In fact the original book bore little resemblance to the television production. I will commit heresy and confess that I thought the story was much improved by this new production.

Christie has just a few mysteries that are based upon stories of political intrigue or organized crime. In my opinion, she does not do them well. Her forte is definitely the small village or snowed-in cottage mystery with few complications beyond love and hate and greed and fear of exposure. The Secret of Chimneys has political intrigue occurring in some fictitious Balkan country with a mastermind jewel thief thrown in. The characters are likable but the story is too heavy. It is bogged down in contrived rebellions of post WW I Europe and royalty with unpronounceable names.

Watch the new version of Chimneys and enjoy but don't bother with the old novel. Christie has much better books to reread and enjoy than this one. (By the way, click on the previous word "chimneys" and watch the PBS mysteries for a limited time online.)

By the way, I do highly recommend The Complete Christie by Matthew Bunson. He does not give the plots away but he has a great encyclopedia of characters and preludes to plots that is a handy addition to the personal library of any Christie fan.

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