Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Secret of Chimneys (published in 1925) - A book by celebrated detective author Agatha Christie

'The Secret of Chimneys' is one of the early works of Agatha Christie, with the word Chimneys referring to a mansion, used in more works by Agatha Christie. Like some of the other books written by Christie, it incorporates political intrigue of that time, with assassinations, spying, monarchies, double identities, and so on. If you read the plot in one go, it can seem somewhat outlandish and out of this world, but if you get into some pleasure book reading and watch the plot twist and turn, then the book can be very interesting. In this case, the book deals with a monarchy of the fictional country of Herzoslovakia located in the Balkans, which had overthrown the king some time back and setup a Republic, but now wanted to restore the monarchy and had identified a relative of the murdered king, and had extended him an invitation to come back and take the throne (although in modern times it is difficult to find a country which would do something like this, unless it is setting a king for ceremonial purposes).



The cause of the uprising in the country was primarily due to the queen, who was a dancer, was of common stock, and was propped by a revolutionary organization to trap the king, but she double-crossed the organization and instead married the king. She was the primary cause of the uprising in which both the king and queen were killed by a mob. But, in a turnabout, the people want a distant cousin, Prince Michael Obolovitch, to take over, and the British are broking this deal (and since no one does something for free, they are looking for oil concessions in the country). However, this entire situation is mixed with some memoirs that could prove embarrassing, and which are being sent for publication. Mix this with some lady's letter up for blackmail, and political discussion in the mansion of Chimneys, and you have a very interesting tale.

The Secret of Chimneys (published in 1925) - A book by celebrated detective author Agatha Christie

The Big Four (published in 1927) - written by Agatha Christie - a series of short stories

By this time of publication of this novel, Agatha Christie had developed a huge reputation, and a large number of fans. However, when this novel was published, Agatha Christie had gone through a major upheaval in her life, with her husband declaring that he wanted to divorce her (in late 1926) after stating that he was in love with somebody else, and in December, Agatha Christie had vanished for a period of 11 days after a fight with her husband, with a massive manhunt (and till now, there is no credible story of what happened in those 11 days).
'The Big Four' stars the famous detective Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and Inspector Japp, the familiar figures from the Hercule Poirot series. This book is not one single long book involving a crime, but instead a series of short crimes, all of them involving the Big Four villains (and these are in turn linked to a series of short stories that appeared in a magazine called 'Sketch'). The novel however depicts characters that are very cliched, such as the Chinese villain characterised as a Fu-Manchu type of villain, a French charming and dangerous girl, and an American multi-millionaire.



The novel starts with Hastings going to meet Hercule Poirot, who is going to America after an invitation from millionaire Abe Ryland, who is a soap king. At this time, Poirot asks whether Hastings has ever heard of a group called 'The Big Four', but Hastings has no idea. Then a man comes in and starts describing the various members of the The Big Four:
- Number 1 - A Chinese mastermind called Li Chang Yen, the person behind The Big Four
- Number 2 - No Names, but represented by the sign $, so most likely an American
- Number 3 - A charming French lady
- Number 4 - Just the destroyer
Poirot and Hastings faked their departure, but when they come back to the house, they find the man to be dead; the man was identified by Inspector Japp as a member of the Secret Service. And then they get into more adventures, fighting with The Big Four, including more murders.

The Big Four (published in 1927) - written by Agatha Christie - a series of short stories

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Man in the Brown Suit (published in 1924) written by Agatha Christie

This was another book of Agatha Christie that was written without her main characters of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The book was published in 1924, and is more like a thriller than a detective novel, following the adventure of a young orphan girl who gets into a mystery after encountering an accident on the London tube station where she encounters a man who fell onto the track, and a doctor then tends to the man. While leaving, the supposed doctor drops a note which the young girl (Anne Beddingfeld) picks up, and so starts her adventure. She could have been like other people, dropping the note into a trash can, and not thinking about it again; in which case there would have been no novel, and no story. However, she did pick it up, and so started a major mystery story that crosses several countries, thrilling escapades and encounters with diamond robbers, murderers and political intrigue. Mixed in is the tale of a former international criminal called the Colonel, who organizes terrorism and who is hanging up his boots; what happened to his former agents ? Nothing, since he decides to leave them as they are and they have to tend for themselves now.



The book starts with one of the former agents, Nadina, who acts like a Russian dancer, and also another agent called Count Sergius Paulovitch, both of them agents of the Colonel, who are pondering their future. The Colonel has decided to leave them as they are, without any financial support or protection against their enemies; and they have to take care of their own future now. There are multiple people involved in this adventure, besides Anne, and as would be expected from such a book, one can never be sure about who is on the right side and who is a villain. Some of the people involved in the book are:
- Sir Eustace Pedler, MP, who is also 'The Colonel', a criminal mastermind
- Guy Pagett, Sir Eustace Pedler's secretary
- Anita Gr├╝nberg, alias Nadina, alias Mrs de Castina – one-time agent of 'The Colonel'
- Arthur Minks, alias the Rev. Edward Chichester alias Miss Pettigrew, alias Count Sergius Paulovitch - an agent of 'The Colonel'
- Mr Flemming, solicitor, and his wife: Anne's landlords after her father's death
and many others.
This was a pretty interesting book, and well worth reading.

The Man in the Brown Suit (published in 1924) written by Agatha Christie

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Secret Adversary (published in 1922) - a detective novel by Agatha Christie

Agatha Cristie had started with her first book published in 1920 (The mysterious affair at Styles), and wrote a number of books during her career. 2 of her main characters were the detectives - Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, but she also had novels that did not have these 2 characters. One of these was an early book of hers, called 'The Secret Adversary', published in 1922. The book introduces the character of Tommy and Tuppence who also features in other novels of hers. The book met with praise from critics on its release, and was later turned into a movie released in 1929, and also into a TV drama. One small problem was the book that there were a lot of cliched characters in the book, with many characters being obvious villains. The book was set in 1919 in London and other locations in Britain. It depicts a young couple Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley, who offer themselves out as adventurers, since they have no money and no work. And there starts the adventure.



They soon find themselves stuck in a political and spying game, when they use the name of 'Jane Finn' for Tuppence; using this name Tuppence is rejected for a job (and they had over-heard this name in a conversation earlier); a person named Whittington hears scraps of their conversation and believes that they are blackmailing, and pays them some money for them to stop using their information (information that they do not possess). However, when they realize that they can get more information from Whittington, they find that he has vanished. Knowing that the name of 'Jane Finn' seems to be causing this search, they put an ad in the paper with the same name, and get a response from a Mr. Carter, who tells them the background to what Jane Finn actually was, and the significance of the name to intelligence agencies. They are contacted by more people, including police officials (and they realize that they had also been contacted by a villain earlier). The rest of the story is about contact with these secret agencies, with bolshevik agents out to topple the British government, and so on.

The Secret Adversary (published in 1922) - a detective novel by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles - The first book by Agatha Christie (introducing Hercule Poirot) (published in 1920)

In 1920, a phenomenon showed up in the literary world, by the name of Agatha Christie. She soon became a prolific creator of detective novels, and created 2 incredible characters in the shape of Hercule Poirot (the egoistical Belgian detective) and Miss Marple (the elderly spinster). It was in this novel (written in 1916 and published in 1920), "The Mysterious Affair at Styles", that Hercules Poirot was first introduced to the public, the start of what was to become a number of novels. The novel also introduced the other characters that seem to accompany Poirot in all his novels, in the shape of Inspector (later, Chief Inspector) Japp and Lieutenant Hastings (later, Captain), and the story is told by Hastings (who is on sick leave from the ongoing war). The book got good reviews and critical acclaim. Like many of her other novels, this one was also adopted as a TV drama and as a BBC radio adaption.



The novel was set in a typical Christie set, in an old manor, with many suspects, of whom many of them could have a motive for the murder. This novel was set in a manor at Essex. Mrs. Cavendish, a wealthy widow, had become wealthy after the death of her husband, with inhering an estate and also much wealth. She had recently remarried the younger Alfred Inglethorp, and she lived at Styles along with her step-children (the children of Mr. Cavendish from an earlier marriage), and in the event of her death, Styles would pass to Mr. John Cavendish, her eldest stepson. Lieutenant Hastings, is a guest over there when Mrs. Emily Inglethorp dies from strychnine poisoning; and Hastings calls his friend, Hercule Poirot. Alfred seems to be chief suspect, but was not present when Emily died. Most damning, he had to gain from his wife's death, and had also purchased strychnine in the village earlier. But Poirot clears him, and then John is arrested. But who did the murder ?

The Mysterious Affair at Styles - The first book by Agatha Christie (introducing Hercule Poirot) (published in 1920)