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Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, which introduced the now famous Hercule Poirot was published in 1920. Her other well known creation, Miss Marple, first appeared in a short story in 1927 but she also created a number of other detectives who appeared in her novels.
During her lifetime Christie wrote a number of novels, short stories, poetry & plays. Her play "The Mousetrap" holds the world record for the longest run in history as it has been performed since 1952.
Christie is estimated to have sold around 4 billion copies of her collected works, putting her second only to The Bible. She was married twice and was a Dame of the British Empire. She died on January 12th 1976.
Background to the novel:
The Seven Dials Mystery was first published in 1929 and was the first of Agatha's "post divorce" novels. Agatha had found it difficult to write whilst her divorce from first husband, Archie Christie, was underway and had had particular problems with her previous book, "The Mystery Of The Blue Train". However, once that divorce was finalised, she found that ideas were coming to her much more readily and that the writing process was much easier. She had enjoyed writing "The Secret Of Chimneys" 5 years previously and, realising that her thrillers didn't require as much plotting and planning as her murder mysteries did, she decided to use some of the characters from her earlier book.
Characters from "The Secret of Chimneys" who also appear in this book are:-
+ The Marquis of Caterham
+ Bundle Brent, his daughter
+ George Lomax, of the Foreign Office
+ Bill Eversleigh, Lomax's "go-fer"
+ Superintendent Battle
+ Tredwell, butler at Chimneys
Sir Oswald and Lady Coote have been leasing Chimneys for some time now and have a number of guests staying with them. It's a standing joke amongst the party that Gerald Wade gets up late, sometimes staying in bed until almost lunchtime. A number of the younger guests decide to play a joke on him and go into town to purchase a number of alarm clocks that will be set to go off at various intervals. If that doesn't get him up and down to breakfast on time nothing will.
Next morning, the clocks don't appear to have delivered the required result. Gerald Wade is still in bed. Finally, at lunchtime Tredwell sends one of the other servants up to Wade's room and the young man is found dead. The initial theory is that he has died of an overdose of a sleeping draught.
Soon afterwards, the Coote's lease expires and Bundle and her father move back into Chimneys. Bundle finds an unfinished letter in her room written by Gerry on the night he died. Two things catch her attention, the mention of "Seven Dials" and a reference to the fact that he's so tired he can hardly keep his eyes open. Bundle can't understand why he would take chloral to make him sleep if he was tired anyway.
Next day she decides to drive up to town when a man appears without warning from the side of the road in the path of Bundle's car. All he can get out is:"Seven Dials ... Tell ... Jimmy Thesiger" before his body goes limp. Fearing the car has hit him she manages to get him to a nearby doctor and is told that he's been shot. The man proves to be Ronny Devereux and he was amongst the guests at Chimneys were Gerald Wade died. Jimmy Thesiger was another of the guests and the three men were friends.
Bundle, of course, is now convinced that both Gerald and Ronny were murdered by "Seven Dials" whoever or whatever that is and, joined by Jimmy Thesiger and Gerald's half sister Loraine the three of them start their own enquiries to find out the truth behind the deaths of the two young men.
Despite the fact that this is a sequel of sorts to "The Secret Of Chimneys" and that it uses some of the same characters the two books themselves are quite different. There are very few double identities in this book (aside from the "Seven Dials") and no subplot revolving around the politics of any foreign countries.
Although there are two murders in this book, Gerald Wade and Ronny Devereux, the main focus of the story is on investigating the "Seven Dials" and finding out who they are rather than the usual sort of motive, means, opportunity detective work of some of Christie's other novels. It soon becomes obvious from the narrative that Gerald has been drugged and we're told that Ronny has been shot but practically no attempt is made by Bundle, Jimmy or Loraine to ascertain who had the opportunity to carry out these acts. It is however possible for the reader to identify who is responsible for the murders of Gerald and Ronny even though that's not the focus of the investiagtion in the book.
Whether you'll like this book will, I suspect, come down to a couple of things. Firstly there's Bundle and Jimmy. They take up the lion's share of the space in the book and if you don't like them you're unlikely to enjoy reading the book. Secondly there's the story itself. If you don't like reading about the unmasking of secret societies then this book isn't for you. Thirdly there's the language that Christie uses some of which, as you might expect revolves around the upper class in the late 1920s. There's a fair of of "What!" at the end of a few lines of dialogue. There's a "bally" couch that a character lays on and even the odd "top hole" which can make you feel that you've wandered into some straight version of "You Rang M'Lord"
Bundle is, without doubt the best drawn character in the book. Daughter of the Marquis of Catherham she's never had to work for a living and spends her time organising her father's household and driving around very fast in her car. Very fortright and independent she knows what she wants and doesn't take any prisoners in getting it. There's quite an amusing sequence towards the beginning of the book when Lady Coote has asked the gardener at Chimneys to have to lawn rolled out for bowls and also whether they can have some grapes from the greenhouse. She doesn't get her own way because she's not assertive enough. When Bundle and her father return there's almost a replay of the conversation about the grapes and the lawn being rolled out for bowls. Needless to say she's not fobbed off by MacDonald, the head gardener, in the same way that Lady Coote was.
Bundle, of course, can be viewed by the reader in one of two ways. She can be seen as part of the "idle rich" who has never had a job but can still do pretty much as she chooses because of "family money" or you can choose to view her as an independent woman who does what she wants to do and goes where she wants to go without any sort of reference to a man. Her primary drive isn't to look for love or find herself a husband so she's not like the female characters in some of the "classic" novels that had been written by female authors before this.
I'm not trying to equate this book with the classics in any way, or trying to say that it has any sort of depth to it in terms of class or social commentary, but if nothing else you have to give Christie some credit for writing characters like Bundle Brent and Anne Bedingfeld (from The Man In The Brown Suit) who were determined to go their own way and do their own thing without having a man along in tow. Of course, readers of contemporary fiction may be well used to having independent female characters in books they choose to read but this wasn't generally the case at time time that this book was written.
Personally, I quite like Bundle, despite the fact that she's one of the "idle rich". She's assertive, pro-active, resourceful and rather likeable. In contrast, the men in the book, Jimmy Thesiger and Bill Eversleigh come across as a bit "thick". We're told that Bill in particular only has his job at the Foreign Office because he looks "decorative" rather than because he has the brains or the aptitude for the position. Jimmy, like Bundle, appears to have an income of his own which allows him the luxury of getting up late and not having to work. But, I never felt as if I really got to know him as a character.
Sir Oswald is a self made man who has a strict routine and work ethic. Lady Coote who, like her husband came from nothing, gets her own way with her husband which is amusing when she can't be assertive with the gardener. The reader also feels quite sorry for her because all she wants is a small, comfortable home that she can put her own mark on yet her husband keeps renting huge houses with armies of servants that she can't be assertive with!
The book itself is a very light read and there's no particular evidence regarding the two murders for the reader to puzzle over. It's obviously fairly dated now, particularly in terms of some of the speech but it's an average read that you can quite happily pass a couple of hours or so reading. This book is unlikely to convert anyone into a Christie fan if it's the first of her books that they've read, but, confirmed Christie fans would admit that it's by no means the worst book she ever wrote.
Paperback: 375 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Masterpiece ed edition (3 Dec 2001)
Official Website: www.agathachristie.com
Published in 1929 and clinging determinedly on to the vestiges of that Roaring decade, "The Seven Dials Mystery" might be better described as an adventure, rather than a murder mystery story. Certaintly murders do oocur within the story and a solution needs to be found, but the roles of the detectives in the story are either understated or amateur, leaving the focus of the narrative on the "gripping yarn" than Christie seems to have attempted. In this way it is similar to its prequel, "The Secret of Chimneys" and to "The Man in the Brown Suit", both of which were also published in the 1920's.
"The Seven Dials Mystery" begins with a party of (mostly) young people, roughly in their 20's, who are staying at a large manor house named "Chimneys", the ancestral home of Lord Caterham and his daughter Eileen "Bundle" Brent and, as the story opens, being rented out to Sir Oswald and Lady Coote. Their guests are enjoying their time there, but several of them are irked at the habit one of their group, a man named Gerald Wade, has of sleeping in very late. Consequently the decision is made to wake him up very early with eight alarm clocks, all ringing at close proximity to his head and thus the arrangement is made. The following morning, however, they are at first annoyed and then worried to find that Mr Wade has not stirred and go in to check, revealing that he has died the night before, seemingly of an overdose of sleeping tablets. Moreover, a brief investigation of the room reveals that one of the alam clocks has been removed, leaving seven dials remaining.
There then follows a fairly quick paced adventure story, involving further murder, theft, intrigue and a series of twists and turns leading to a surprising conclusion. Bundle takes it upon herself to investigate the occurrences and is joined in her endeavours by one of the members of the house party, one Jimmy Thesiger. Together they attempt to uncover not only the identity of the killer, but also the meaning behind the mysterious "Seven Dials Club", an organisation that appears to be working towards criminal acts and which is surely behind the murder of Gerald Wade.
Christie's story is enjoyable and one which makes for light and interesting reading, yet there are times in which the class divisions within the story are made all too apparent. Bundle, Jimmy and their associates frequently give the impression that they have the right to act as they like regardless of the impact it might have upon others. Bundle especially can seem rather intimidatingat times and whilst it is made clear in the story she has good reasos for wanting to do the things she does, it is made evident that she feels she has the right to demand, rather than ask. These are a privileged group of young people, with no ties or financial obligations and the impression is given that the investigations of the murders and other events are almost little more than a pastime for them. I presume that this was not Christie's intention and there are several rather tense points within the story, but nevertheless I was unable to shake off the overall impression stated above.
In at least one way this story also draws a comparison between "The Murder of Roger Acroyd", albeit with some differences and it is this partly this which lifts the novel from what would have been an averaging pleasing adventure story to one which is well merited. Not one of Christie's greatest works, yet managing to competently stand firm, this isthe sort of narrative that can be enjoyed for pure escapism.
Gerry Wade is not known for his early mornings, so his friends decide to play a joke on him by setting eight alarm clocks by his bed. When the alarm clocks are due to have gone off and there is still no sign of Gerry, they presume he rumbled their plan and is turning the tables on them. Then someone goes into his room. Gerry is dead, apparently murdered, and one of the clocks is missing. When another young man dies, Bundle Brent becomes convinced that something is going on - and it seems to be linked to an organisation called The Seven Dials. Can Bundle, with the help of her friends and Superintendent Battle, work out what the members of The Seven Dials are up to before there are more deaths?
I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie's work and it is rare that I come across a book I don't already know off by heart. The Seven Dials Mystery is one that I have read, but so long ago that I had forgotten the plot. Reading it again showed me why the book is not one of Christie's best-known; it is an entertaining read, but it lacks some of the taut story-telling that some of her more famous works have. It is, though, still a good story and I did enjoy reading it.
Most people will know that Christie's most famous characters are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. In this book, we are given Lady Eileen 'Bundle' Brent and Superintendent Battle. Bundle is the daughter of a titled Lord and has never done a day's work in her life. Bundle, in fact, has so much time on her hands that she likes to stick her nose where it isn't wanted; that is, when she isn't running people down with her haphazard driving. Perhaps because of her upper class roots, I found it hard to identify with her and she was frankly a little annoying. Superintendent Battle has appeared in other books, including Cards on the Table and The Secret of Chimneys and this book is marketed as one of the Superintendent Battle Chronology. Despite this, he hardly appears in the book and we certainly don't find out much about him, except that he is a rather taciturn, solid sort of man. He does at least make Bundle a little easier to bear.
This story is one of Christie's political thrillers. I must admit that I much prefer Christie's more traditional cozy village mysteries; her political thrillers never seem to be that well written, as if she herself didn't feel that comfortable writing them. At times, it felt as though I was reading an Enid Blyton and I half expected to read about lashings of ginger beer and camping out in tents. Now, I love Enid Blyton and must admit to still reading the odd Famous Five story, but I prefer that my adult fiction is a little better written. It left me feeling slightly dissatisfied, as if I was missing something.
The one thing I did like about this book is that it doesn't take itself too seriously and mocks the upper classes. It has been likened to a Jeeves and Wooster story, and I think this is a good comparison, because fun is poked at the wealthy aristocracy and noveau riche. Even the stalwarts of the Foreign Office are regarded as being 'pompous asses', something that makes me really happy because my ex was a pompous ass of the FCO. I suppose in this day and age, there is nothing particularly amazing about this, but the book was written in 1929 when the upper classes were generally considered with awe and respect.
In the book that I have, there is an introduction by Val McDermid, which discusses class/race issues in the book. Although not a reason to buy the book in the first place, it did make for an interesting read, and, because it was at the beginning of the book, I found I was thinking about the things she mentioned as I was reading. Whereas I don't believe in over-analysing fiction, the introduction is definitely worth reading if your version has it.
I did enjoy this book; it is fun to read and I finished it within a few hours. However, it is definitely not one of Agatha Christie's best and, for a newcomer to her work, I really would not recommend that you start with this one - the ones featuring Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot tend to be much better and it is not hard to see why this one is one of her lesser known books. If, however, you are already a fan of Christie's work, you will still like this. Three stars.
The book is available from play.com for £5.49 (and from the cover, this appears to be the version with the introduction). It is, however, worth shopping around - I bought mine for £3 from greenmetropolis.com, and Amazon have much cheaper versions. Published by HarperCollins, it has 375 pages. ISBN: 9780007122592
A healthy young man dies in his sleep, despite the ringing of eight separate alarm clocks...Gerry Wade had proved himself to be a champion sleeper; so the other house guests decided to play a practical joke on him. Eight alarm clocks were set to go off, one after the other, starting at 6.30 a.m. But when morning arrived, one clock was missing and the prank had backfired with tragic consequences. For Jimmy Thesiger in particular, the words 'Seven Dials' were to take on a new and chilling significance!