“I say, Jeeves,” I said, “this new Agatha Christie’s not half bad. That French chappy hasn’t appeared yet though. What’s his name – Achilles Thingummy?”
“Hercule Poirot, sir,” replied Jeeves. “I would venture to suggest that he is in fact a Belgian.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Jeeves, as always. Anyhow, it’s still jolly decent. Very lifelike too. There’s a bunch of chaps who would fit in perfectly at the Drones Club – complete fatheads the lot of them. Although there is this fellow Pongo who is a bit of a thinker. He suggests playing a prank on this Gerry Wade chappy by leaving a whole lot of alarm clocks in his room – he’s a heavier sleeper even than Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps by the sounds of things.” I broke off to make a mental note that this would be a suitable trick to play on old Tuppy Glossop and would serve him right for his beastly behaviour regarding the business of the rings and ropes over the swimming pool.
“And was the intended effect produced, sir?
“Unfortunately not. Alarm clocks cannot awaken the dead. Someone had poisoned him during the night and lined up seven of the clocks on the mantlepiece and chucked one out the window.”
“Most unusual, sir.”
“And then this second chap gets run over – only actually he’s been shot.”
“Most regrettable, sir.”
“Well, their pal Jimmy Thesiger decides he won’t stand for this, so he starts to investigate this Seven Dials business with Bundle.”
“Lady Eileen Brent. Think of a cross between Honoria Glossop and Bobby Wickham and you won’t be too far off. Sounds alright on the page, but in real life…” I suppressed a shudder. “Well anyway, that’s as far as I’ve got so far.”
“Very good, sir”.
I considered the weather through the window. It looked pleasant and summery.
“Jeeves, kindly lay out my new waistcoat.”
Sometimes Jeeves can be difficult about my wardrobe.
“Yes, Jeeves. The new waistcoat with the green and vermillion stripe.”
“If I may mention to say, sir, that colouring is not, I feel, suitable for a gentleman such as yourself.”
“I find it very becoming,” I replied, “but as I’m feeling in a sporting mood here’s what we’ll do: if I can identify the villain in this book then the waistcoat stays, if not, you may do with it what you wish.”
“Very generous, sir. Will that be all?”
“Thank you, Jeeves.” I settled back into my chair. Having made a study of the detective writer’s art, I felt confident that this wager was in the bag. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is not such an ass as others may believe.
(Narrative of BWW continues in Spoiler section below).
This semi-sequel to “The Secret of Chimneys” is even more Wodehousian in tone, yet still maintains a strong central puzzle and a satisfying conclusion as Jimmy and Bundle successfully discover the secret of the Seven Dials organisation, as well as navigating proposals of marriage, a captain of industry and an irascible Scottish head gardener.
Recurring character development
Previously described as devoid of expression, here he looks “supremely unintelligent and more like a commissionaire than a detective.”
Signs of the Times
It is four years since the events recorded in “The Secret of Chimneys” which places the story in 1930, a year after publication.
Jimmy applies the quote “Life is real, life is earnest” to Pongo Bateman. This comes from the poem “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).
Three girls have shingled heads. This refers to their fashionable bob cuts, where the hair is cut straight around the head, about jaw level, often with a fringe at the front.
The old fashioned spelling of “alarum” clock is used.
Lord Caterham says that Lady Coote is “very like my idea of Mrs Siddons”. Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was an actress, most famous for her performance as Lady Macbeth.
Bundle has got rid of the Panhard and now drives a Hispano. Spaniard Emilio de la Cuadra founded a motor car company, under his own name, in 1898. This became Hispano-Suiza after he hired Swiss engineer, Marc Birkigt. They made aircraft engines during the First World War before returning to luxury cars in the 1920s.
Seven Dials is the junction of seven roads in Covent Garden, London, and also refers to the surrounding area. At its centre was a column with six sundials (it was commissioned before a seventh road was added to the plans). Although a poor neighbourhood when the book was written, it is now quite prosperous.
Bill recommends that Babe St Maur “try the legitimate stage – you know, Mrs Tanqueray – that sort of stuff”. “The Second Mrs Tanqueray” is an 1893 play written by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934).
Lord Caterham reads The Field. This is the world’s oldest country and field sports magazine, first published weekly in 1853, now published monthly.
Jimmy talks about “getting a special licence and being married and living happily after” which I presume here refers to obtaining a licence from a registrar and being able to marry the next day, avoiding the three weeks necessary to have banns read. Currently within the Church of England a special licence can only be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and allows a couple to marry at a church to which they have no legally recognised connection.
Lord Caterham attempts to play golf and hence the following are referenced: mashie (now an iron); spoon (now a 5 wood); and jigger (now a chipper, a lofted putter).
The Pentonville Murderess referred to by Battle seems to be fictitious.
References to previous works
Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent, Lord Caterham, Bill Eversleigh, George Lomax, Doctor Cartwright, Tredwell, and MacDonald all appeared in “The Secret of Chimneys”, but we will not be meeting them again.
Inspector Raglan and Chief Constable Colonel Melrose, representatives of the local police appeared in the same capacity in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”. It is implied that Raglan was involved in “The Secret of Chimneys” but that was actually Inspector Badgworthy.
Vintage Reading Challenge
Fulfils “How – Death by shooting”.
“Well, I’ll be blowed, Jeeves,” I said. “That Agatha Christie is more diabolical than my Aunt Agatha.”
“I thought I’d cracked it. Superintendent Battle was too wooden to be true. A dashed rum cove in fact. When he removed his mask to reveal himself as the leader of the Seven Dials I was turning mental cartwheels but then it turns out that the Seven Dials are actually the good chaps and the villain was someone you couldn’t possibly have guessed.”
“Having glanced at the first page, sir, may I hazard that the murderer was in fact Jimmy Thesiger?”
“You’re bally right, Jeeves,” I gasped. “Though I’m dashed how you figured that out!”
“I merely observed that in a great proportion of detective novels the murderer appears in the first chapter and coupled with the fact that Mr Thesiger was specifically introduced as being amiable, I had my suspicions.”
“Amazing, Jeeves,” I goggled, “I suppose that’s what comes from eating all that fish.”
“Very kind, sir,” he replied. “Which waistcoat will you be requiring today, sir?”
“The brown,” I sighed. “You may dispose of the green and vermillion as you see fit.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said as he left the room.
I strolled over to the bookcase. Perhaps it was time for a change. I picked up “All For Love” by Rosie M. Banks.
(Many thanks to the estate of P. G. Wodehouse for their permission in using this rare extract, which was cut from the original draft of “Thank You, Jeeves”.)
I originally read this shortly after one of Christie’s later works, so when Battle was revealed as the head of the Seven Dials, my thoughts were “Oh no! You can’t use that one again!” so I was then very pleased (and relieved) when the final twist came.
Given Christie had used sinister organisations in the past, it is wonderful that here the Seven Dials are on the side of the angels, and thus everything that has gone before is turned around, particularly Ronny Devereux’s dying message. It’s the literary equivalent of the bowler setting up the batsman with a couple of outswingers before trapping him with the inswinger.