10 March 2009

Review: ACRC#9, THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY - Agatha Christie

First published in 1929 by William Collins. The edition I read was Fontana Paperback 1984, 189 pages, ISBN 0-00-616541-9

A weekend house party at the fashionable country mansion Chimneys turns to tragedy when Gerry Wade, one of a party of young men employed by the Foreign Office, dies in his sleep. Always late for breakfast, surely even Gerry could not have slept through the eight alarm clocks set to ring one after the other at half past six in the morning. The doctor's verdict is that Gerry took an overdose of a sleeping potion. But wait, one of the clocks is missing: there are only 7 dials lined up, ticking away on the mantlepiece of his bedroom.

Another of the young men from the Foreign Office is dead within weeks. His dying words to Lady Eileen (Bundle) Brent, into the path of whose car he stumbles, are Seven Dials and Tell .... Jimmy Thesiger.

Gerry Wade had referred to Seven Dials in his last letter to his sister, so Bundle and Jimmy begin to investigate the connections. The policeman investigating the death of the latest victim is Superintendent Battle who first appeared in THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS and whom Bundle knows quite well.

Some readers won't have picked up on the connection between THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY and Agatha Christie's earlier novel THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS. Not only is the location the same, but some of the same characters whom we already know and trust make an appearance: Lady Eileen Brent, Superintendent Battle, and Bill Eversleigh.

Sir Oswald Coote, an industrialist of great influence and power in the British economy, has been renting Chimneys from the Marquis of Caterham for 2 years. After the death of Gerry Wade Lord Caterham and his daughter Bundle move back into Chimneys.

Other things to consider:
  • Is Agatha Christie in this, her 9th novel in as many years, still looking for a protagonist/detective?
    This is Superintendent Battle's second appearance. To me he is still a rather stolid character, and we almost never see how his mind works. By the end of THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY we certainly know more about him, but will we see him again?
  • It is interesting to note that THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY is almost a sequel to THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS and carries with it the same sense of espionage and industrial secrets being sold to enemies. At the time of its publication, fans of Agatha Christie would have recognised this.
  • In places in THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY the dialogue is almost theatrical, stagish, with swift repartee and sometimes very evocative of a comedy of errors.
  • Christie presents a number of possibilities, there are many characters to whom we must attach a real identity and so there are many puzzles to be solved. But it could also be said that here again is another case where she doesn't quite "play fair" with the reader.
  • BEWARE POSSIBLE SPOILER: Agatha Christie plays with her readers. I won't disclose too much here, but the reader actually trusts the culprit and at times sees events from his point of view, with little indication that he is not to be trusted. Other people whom we trust also trust this character, so not only do we have to sift through the red herrings so liberally provided, but we have to deal with an unreliable witness.
My rating: 4.0


Anonymous said...

WHat memories I have of this book! This is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels.

Dorte H said...

What an interesting review, and I like your thoughtful considerations. I think it is quite a good idea this returning to a series because you read it in a different way and notice many new aspects.

Martin Edwards said...

This was one of the first Christies I read, at the tender age of nine. I remember being stunned by the brilliant twists at the end. Although it is not, by any means, a masterpiece, for me Seven Dials is a book full of pleasurable memories.


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