Friday, March 13, 2015

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie (1929)

Not one of Agatha Christie's best efforts - the true masterpieces of detective fiction are yet to come.  This features the same characters as (the abysmal) Secret of Chimneys, but I liked this one slightly better than that stinker.   Christie's "thrillers" are anything but, although I suppose in 1929 they were high adventure.  Not so much anymore. It had a very good ending, which made up for some of the stupidity along the way.   Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent is an interesting character though, what someone on Wikipedia described as an "it girl" and very much a "flapper."  I heartily wish she was in a better book.  She almost gives Lady Georgie from Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series a run for her (definitely lack of, ha ha) money. Superintendent Battle, on the other hand, is pretty wooden.  I don't think I'd ever read this particularly Christie before; I'm sure I will never read it again.  Although I love the cover. 



Comme il faut.  "The young lady, sir, is most undoubtedly strictly comme il faut, if I may use the expression."  I don't know whether Stevens, Jimmy's valet? butler? is allowed to use the expression or not, but he did anyway.  According American Heritage Dictionary online, it means she's a proper young lady.  I bet the subtext is that she's of Jimmy's class.

Hispano.  "At half-past eight Bundle had breakfasted and was on her way to Chimneys in the Hispano."  A Spanish made luxury car of 1920s. Although Bundle's specific model isn't named, the Hispano-Suiza may have looked like this 1930 model:


colleté.  "Bundle was staring with a good deal of interest, for it was the back of a singularly beautiful woman very much décolleté."
I always though though of décolleté as referring to the plunging neckline of the front of woman's dress, but in this case, to enhance the plot, Christie is referring to back of a woman's dress. Bundle, hidden and spying, sees this mystery woman's back only, and because she had a backless gown on, Bundle can see a clue:  "a tiny black mole just below the right shoulder blade that enhanced the whiteness of the skin."

Empressement.  "George Lomax came forward to welcome her with considerable empressement."  What is it with Agatha Christie and the constant French phrases?  Webster's says this means "warmth or cordiality."  The French original meaning apparently had some sense of "hurry" or "press," which to me implies that George Lomax, who wants to marry Bundle, is perhaps coming on too strong in his social encounter with her.

"Bundle felt her breath taken away.  She had a nightmare version of England with innumerable Cootes in innumerable counterparts of Chimneys - all, be it understood, with an entirely new system of plumbing installed."  Dame Christie, your slip is showing.  If we understand Christie's slip to be her very much cemented sense of class, at least in these early books (I imagine this remains true the whole way through).  Sir Oswald Coote, the selfmade millionaire, nouveau riche to his middle class core, has just said that Bundle's beloved estate Chimneys needs bringing "up to date."   The Cootes of the world apparently won the Bundle battle:  they married into the Royal Family.  Even last week, Prince Charles was complaining through anonymous channels about the ticky tacky Middleton family and how they won't let him see his grandson.  

Bally.  "I was still lying on that bally sofa," said Bill."  "Bally" is a euphemism for the the British swear word "bloody."  A Broadway show I've seen (and like) is Me and My Girl, and on the cast album, one of the characters says "Well, you've bally gone and broken by bally heart.  I hope your satisfied."  Bill instantly became that character after saying this.

The many covers of The Seven Dials Mystery over the years have been quite interesting to say the least.  Here are a few:

This is the first American edition.  It's very modern art, I think.  And kind of scary looking.  



















This if from a 1967 paperback.  























Italian paperback from 1981.  Her dress looks very Dynasty and not very 1920s.  I love how they all have clocks for their heads.  Like something out of A Wrinkle in Time or The Phantom Tollbooth.


















boekkaft1990s Dutch paperback.  Very cutesy, huh?  Like a children's book.


The Seven Dials MysteryThe Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Agatha Christie's thrillers are anything but, although obviously in 1929 this was a best seller.  Tastes change.  Lady Eileen Bundle Brent is a great character, stuck in a humdrum book (although I have to admit, the end was surprisingly great).  She almost gives Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgie from Her Royal Spyness a run for her money (if Lady Georgie actually had any money, that is).  Unless you are a glutton for punishment - and clearly I am, when it comes to Agatha Christie, skip this one and move on to Marple.


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"The Seven Dials Mystery First Edition Cover 1929" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Seven_Dials_Mystery_First_Edition_Cover_1929.jpg#/media/File:The_Seven_Dials_Mystery_First_Edition_Cover_1929.jpg

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