Friday, August 12, 2022

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

Title: The Seven Dials Mystery
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication: Bantam paperback, originally published in 1929
Genre: Mystery (well, obviously)
Setting: England
Description: At a country house party, Gerry Wade sleeps so ridiculously late every morning that his friends decide to play a joke on him by setting so many alarm clocks he will be forced to wake up. But in the morning Wade is dead – of natural causes or was it murder? Some of his friends and Lady Eileen Brent (aka Bundle), whose family owns the estate where the death occurred, decide to investigate and their search leads to the infamous Seven Dials part of London . . .

My Impression: This book has no Poirot or Miss Marple but is the sequel to The Secret of Chimneys (1925) and features some of the same characters (so is technically not a standalone). I particularly enjoy Christie’s mysteries that feature intrepid heroines and Bundle is one such, driving like a maniac in her Hispano-Suiza, bullying people into admitting her to places she has no right to be (something I greatly admire), and entering into any deception necessary to discover the truth.  In fact, except
A Hispano-Suiza

for Bundle and Superintendent Battle of Scotland Yard (who also appeared in Cards on the Table), the characters do not seem to be the sharpest:
Jimmy yawned and strolled slowly down to the lake. The girls were there, three of them – just the usual sort of girls, two with dark, shingled heads, and one with a fair, shingled head. The one that giggle most was (he thought) called Helen – and there was another called Nancy – and the third was, for some reason, addressed as Socks. With them were his two friends, Bill Eversleigh and Ronny Devereux, who were employed in a purely ornamental capacity at the Foreign Office.
Contemporary reviewers saw the influence of P.G. Wodehouse in the lighthearted upper-class characters featured in this story and their badinage. There is some amusement to be found in the struggles of Lady Coote, happier before her husband became a self-made millionaire, to cope with her insouciant house party guests and even to get the gardener to pick some of the grapes to which she is entitled from the home she is renting! He browbeats Lady Coote successfully but in contrast, Bundle bullies him right back and wins.
“Let’s have some of those grapes in from the far house. I know it’s the wrong time to cut them because it always is, but I want them all the same. See?
It is funny that Bundle knows how to deal with difficult retainers and Lady Coote does not, but it is also a mean attack by Christie on a nice woman, merely because Lady Coote has been jumped-up above her station and hasn’t learned how to navigate the shoals. Bundle compares her father to Sir Oswald Coote:
Sir Oswald had one of those powerful personalities which make all those with whom they come into contact appear faded. He was, as Lord Caterham had said, a human steam-roller. And yet, undoubtedly, in many ways, Sir Oswald was a stupid man. Apart from his special line of knowledge and his terrific driving force, he was probably intensely ignorant. A hundred delicate appreciations of life which Lord Caterham could and did enjoy were a sealed book to Sir Oswald.
That doesn’t really seem fair, does it? Even charming Bundle is a product of her upbringing with these harsh judgments.  Sir Oswald is not as endearing as his wife but there is no evidence he is ignorant. Bundle’s father, Lord Caterham, spends the whole book playing bad golf, but that is considered “appreciation of life” while Sir Oswald’s financial success is depicted as somewhat crass and indicative of his lack of class.
I got distracted from the mystery by the class issues but this is a lively puzzle that keeps the reader guessing, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, with a varied cast of characters. This is my fifteenth book for Carol's 2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.

Source: This well-worn copy turned out to be from my sister’s high school library! I would consider returning it if I visited that part of Connecticut regularly or if the back cover hadn’t fallen off while I was rereading it.


Helen said...

This is a Christie I haven't read yet. It sounds like an entertaining one, although I should probably read The Secret of Chimneys first as I haven't read that one either! I tend to prefer the books without Poirot or Marple, I think.

Cath said...

AS this was published in 1929 I'm going to save it for Simon's 1929 club which takes place from the 24th. to the 30th. October. A perfect read in my opinion.

OneVikingGirl said...

Really a lovely story.

CLM said...

Yes, Helen, if I'd remembered it was the second in a two book series, I would have gone back to The Secret of Chimneys first (however, I don't seem to own that one). I might also have saved it, as Cath suggests, for the 1929 Club! What was I thinking?

JacquiWine said...

I read this way back in the mists of time when I was in my teens and although much of the detail has slipped from my mind since then I do remember enjoying it a great deal. Many thanks for a lovely reminder!

Lark said...

This is one of my favorite Agatha Christie mysteries because Bundle is such a fun character! It's one I'd like to own. :)

TracyK said...

I remember liking this book a lot when I read it, and I enjoy Superintendent Battle in Christie's books.

Carol said...

I liked Bundle in Secret of Chimneys but I haven't read this one yet.