Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Seven Dials Mystery: Agatha Christie

The Seven Dials Mystery begins with a house party at Chimneys, the country estate of Sir Oswald Coote and Lady Coote. They are renting it from Lord Caterham, and have invited a slew of young people to join them. The title comes from a prank that is pulled on one of the guests, Gerald Wade, who always wakes up very late in the day. Eight alarm clocks are put in his room to awaken him, but the morning of the prank he does not wake up at all. It is initially determined that the death was accidental. One of the guests then notices that seven of the clocks were lined up on the mantel in Gerald's room. When another guest at this house party is killed, although not while still at Chimeys, a connection between the deaths is suspected.


This is the second book featuring Superintendent Battle, who seems to be called in when affairs of state are tied up with a crime. The first book was The Secret of Chimneys. Much of action in The Seven Dials Mystery also takes place at Chimneys, and many of the characters from the first book return in this mystery.

Agatha Christie described this book as a thriller in her autobiography,:
I had followed up The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with The Seven Dials Mystery. This was a sequel to my earlier book The Secret of Chimneys, and was one of what I called "the light-hearted thriller type". These were always easy to write, not requiring too much plotting and planning.
This Agatha Christie mystery did not disappoint, although I would not place it among my favorite Christie novel.

PROS:

The characters are delightful, from the main characters to the bit players. I find Superintendent Battle to be very appealing, and I like the role he plays in this story.  Lord Caterham and his daughter Lady Eileen are very unique and charming characters. They provide a lot of the humor that makes this book stand apart for me.

I especially enjoyed the character of Lady Coote, who features most prominently in the initial chapters of the story, and the contrast she provides to Lady Eileen, known to friends and family as "Bundle". Lady Coote worries about everything: people coming late to dinner, how to deal with the gardener. There is an extended conversation with MacDonald, the gardener, regarding doing some work on the estate, and he circumvents her wishes very easily.  As soon as Bundle is back on the estate, she asks him to do exactly the same things and takes no flak from him when he demurs.

Overall, I found this to be a fine and engaging story. Initially, I was not impressed with the plot, which seemed too light and silly. For the first half of the book, I was aghast at how unbelievable the story was, though even at that point I enjoyed the various character portrayals. Very shortly, the plot picked up, the story came together, and made more sense.

Even though I was making no effort to guess the perpetrator of the crimes, I was totally surprised by the identity of this person. As many point out, this is a thriller and as such is not trying to lay out clues for the reader to discover, but still, I though Christie did a great job of obfusating the bad guys.

CONS:

I wasn't thrilled with the element of the secret society in the plot, but that was par for the course in thrillers written at this time, and an element that Christie used more than once. Other than that and the time it took to get engaged in the plot, I was quite happy with this book by Christie. I liked it better than The Secret of Chimneys, but some Christie fans go the other direction.

Other resources:


This book was my choice for the Crimes of the Century meme, hosted by Rich at Past OffencesI also read this book for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries In Paradise, which I am working on very gradually. And it fits into the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Hand Holding Weapon" category.

The cover painting on my edition is by the wonderful artist, Tom Adams.

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Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1981. Orig. pub. 1929.
Length:      217 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Superintendent Battle, #2
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Adventure, spy thriller
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2015.


30 comments:

  1. This one has a lot of sentimental value to me. I read it in the eighth grade and did a book report on it! Amusing and, yes, it is impressive how Christie plays with the reader, a true mistress at the shell game.

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    1. Sometimes I just marvel at Christie's plotting, I had read many of her books when I was younger but did not appreciate her talent so much.

      I think I remember your comments on your blog about doing that book report. I know you are much younger than I, but I can't remember much about that time of my life.

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    2. I went on a major Christie reading rampage in junior high school!

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    3. I know I read Erle Stanley Gardner in my teens, Curt, and probably Rex Stout. I even remember my grandmother passing on all her Rex Stout paperbacks to me, probably when I was in college. So I am guessing it was Christie in my twenties, although I have no firm memories of what I read then. But it was always primarily mysteries, and for fun.

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  2. Don't think I'll be rushing to find a copy of this one Tracy, not one for me I'm afraid.

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    1. This is pretty much the opposite of what you like, Col.

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  3. I don't know that I've ever read this...or any of the Superintendent Battle stories...although it's possible I have and can't remember...anyway you've made this one sound quite appealing even if the plot isn't entirely credible

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    1. I know I read some of the Tommy and Tuppence books years ago, but I think I misses the other "thrillers." This is sort of like a cozy, amateur sleuth with added policeman type plot, plus espionage, and I did like the characters a lot.

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  4. Yet another reminder to continue my reading of Agatha Christie. Thanks for the review, Tracy. My wife has this book with the exact same cover, I think.

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    1. I love this cover, Prashant. I am going to be on the lookout for more Agatha Christie vintage paperbacks at the book sale this year, and then seek out more of the ones I like online. You should get back to Christies's books. I gather your wife is a fan?

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    2. A very big fan of Christie, Wodehouse, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters. She has better taste in books than I do.

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    3. I have never read Wodehouse, Prashant, but one article I read was making comparisons between characters in this book and those created by Wodehouse. I always say my husband has better taste in books than mine, but really they just have different tastes.

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  5. I know what you mean about the secret society, Tracy. It's not my top part of the mystery, either. But you're right; those characters are terrific. That in itself makes it worth reading.

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    1. The secret society made sense within the context of the book, Margot, but it confused the plot for me, and seemed unnecessary. But, overall, a good book, well worth my time.

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  6. I really liked this one Tracy - when I first read it years ago, and just recently for the Past Offences meme, and several times in between. It stands up well, and I like the jokes. And it is slightly more surprising than you might expect...

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    1. I think it's one of her funniest books!

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    2. I have many, many stickies in my copy of the Seven Dials Mystery, Moira, which is always a good sign. Lots of good quotes.

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  7. This may have been the first ever Christie for me as a kid - at the time it seemed pretty amazing, but yes, the secret society stuff is very sub-Edgar Wallace frankly. Really enjoyed the review - love that cover of yours!

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. I was very happy to find that edition at the book sale last year. A Christie book I did not have AND a Tom Adams cover! I was lucky to find several Tom Adams covers at the sale last year, and I hope to find more this year.

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  8. Unfortunate name, Coote. Afraid were I to read Seven Dials I'd burst out laughing every time one of those old Cootes was onstage. Sorry, Tracy, I couldn't resist. That terrific cover, tho, would keep me sober, I'm certain.

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    1. I agree, Mathew, Coote is an unfortunate name. Although Lord Caterham's name is not funny his character is very eccentric and his character is the source of a lot of the humor in this novel.

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  9. If anyone tells you that Christie only writes about aristocrats, just murmur "Lady Coote". As I recall she is from Yorkshire and "new money", kind and down-to-earth.

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    1. Very true, Lucy. I loved Lady Coote's background and that she was happier when she and her husband lived in humbler abodes.

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  10. This isn't one of my top ten favorite books of hers, but I really did enjoy it. I loved the spy vs. spy feel of this one, and I absolutely adore Bundle.

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    1. I have only read somewhere between 10-15 of Christie's books in the last 10 years (thus the only one I remember well) and this one would fall somewhere in the middle. You are right, Ryan, Bundle is a great character.

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  11. It is entirely possible to hear about a Christie I never knew about. She has such a vast backlist. I double I'll read them all. I don't think I have this one. I kind of cherry picked titles that are popular. I don't recall this one tho. Thanks for the review, Tracy. --Keishon

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    1. Since I am a list keeper, Keishon, I am always trying to amass all of her books and some have lovely covers which are a bonus. I enjoy authors like Christie who wrote for so long and thus covered various periods of time in their books.

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  12. Well, I go the the other way too, Tracy. I simply adore THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS because of it is so preposterous. And I love Virginia Revel as a character and because her name is so cool. AND I make no secret that I would drop everything and marry old Lord Catherham and of course, there's Bundle - Christie was so good at making up nick-names. :)

    THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY is fun but I'll tell you something, the original BBC (or is it Granada?) adaptation is even better. With Cheryl Campbell as Bundle and John Gielgud as her father the earl. A terrific cast and pretty faithful to the book.

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    1. The only thing I didn't like about SECRET OF CHIMNEYS was the ending, Yvette, although I did find it confusing at times. I probably liked less of SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY percentage wise but I liked the ending. I must be swayed by endings.

      I will watch the adaptation of SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY with Gielgud as soon as I get access to it, Yvette. I was convinced by your post on that adaptation.

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  13. P.S. Oh, and Harry Andrews is wonderful as Battle.

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