Little did Anthony Cade suspect that an errand for a friend would place him at the center of a deadly conspiracy. Drawn into a web of intrigue, he begins to realize that the simple favor has placed him in serious danger.
As events unfold, the combined forces of Scotland Yard and the French Sûreté gradually converge on Chimneys, the great country estate that hides an amazing secret…
If I remember correctly this was adapted to the TV as a Miss Marple case, I suppose to ensure it got the funding and the distribution/sales figures. Easier to sell a Marple story than a Buttle story eh?
As such, there are things in the book that are the same as the TV and much that is different – enough to allow for the reading of the book, especially when you haven’t watched the episode in a while.
As with several of Christie’s (unedited) books, there is the usual casual racism that we have come to expect. It’s not as bad as some – The original title of ‘And then there none’, anyone? – but in the same way that everyone in Midsomer is white (at least for the first 20 something series), expect the usual words for ‘foreigners’ to be bandied about.
At the beginning of a book, a man called Anthony Cade, who is established as being one who struggles to commit to settling down to any job for any length of time agrees to take on two jobs for his friend James McGrath. One job is to deliver the draft of a memoir to a publisher, with the other to return letters to the woman who wrote them.
Meanwhile, a plot is developing to restore the monarchy to Herzoslovakia, where the previous King and Queen were assassinated previously. British politicians are backing Prince Michael (the most logical and available member of the monarchy). Americans are backing Prince Michael’s Nicholas cousin for the seat. The fact that noone really knows what either man looks like (is one even still alive?) is beside the point. There is Oil to be had!
Therefore Lord Caterham is ‘persuaded’ to host a house party at Chimneys. A number of people are invited to occlude the nature of the party.
Cade, pretending to be McGrath (for various reasons), arrives in London a few days earlier than expected. On his 1st night, the potentially incriminating letters are stolen by <insert dubious term here> the waiter. The memoirs, which were written by the late Count Stylptitch of Herzoslovakia and are believed to contain politically sensitive information which could damage the monarchy, so need to be surpressed. Not being entirely stupid, Cade hands over a dummy version of the memoirs, and keeps the real ones.
The letter thief brings one letter to Virginia Revel at her home, and tries to blackmail her (she did not write them). On a whim, she pays, and promises more money the next day. When she arrives home the next day, she finds him murdered in her house, and Anthony Cade on her door step. Cade arranges to have the body discovered elsewhere by the police, to avoid a scandal and allow Virginia to proceed to Chimneys, as per the house party invite.
At Chimneys, Prince Michael is killed on the night of his arrival, not long after everyone has retired to bed. Crime scene details, such as footprints outside the downstairs room where Prince Michael is found dead, seems to be an odd clue, and Superintendent Battle is presented with Cade introducing himself, the story of the memoirs (and therefore partially explaining his presence), and persuading Battle of his innocence in the murder.
We learn much about the thief King Victor, who has masterminded the theft of many jewels, including The Koh-i-Noor diamond and replaced by a paste copy some years earlier. Chimneys is one place where it may be hidden, though many searches have not found it. With the release of King Victor from prison a few months earlier, so Battle expects he will seek to recover it. There are several break in attempts, all of which are interrupted. In an attempt to find the location of the gem, the stolen letters appear in Cade’s room. People have already been suspecting that the letters were in code (and why Virginia had never written them), so Battle gets them decoded revealing the clue: “Richmond seven straight eight left three right”.
At Chimneys, all are gathered to hear the mysteries explained. In the library, Boris (Prince Michael’s now ex valet) finds Miss Brun (an imposter posing as the governess) with a pistol, as she means to kill him and get the jewel. They struggle; the gun goes off in her hand, killing her. It turns out that Prince Michael had identified Miss Brun as the last queen consort of Herzoslovakia, thought to have been murdered with her husband in the revolution; but she escaped. Cade gives the real memoirs to Jimmy McGrath to earn his one thousand pounds. Cade and Fish solve the conundrum; it points to a rose on the grounds, where the Koh-i-Noor is subsequently recovered.
Anthony presents himself as the missing Prince Nicholas, ready to ally with the British syndicate. He offers himself as Herzoslovakia’s next king. Earlier that day, he married Virginia, who will be his queen.
There are many characters in the book, that I’ve chosen not to cover as quiet honestly, there are so many and it’s really confusing in a review. Plus – why read the book if you’ve got everything covered in a review, right?
Some slightly dubious word usage aside, this is a good start to introduce Battle (I believe he appears in other books somewhere along the line), as well as Cade and McGrath.
I guessed Cade’s ‘reveal’ a few chapters before and found that the book was different enough to the rebranded Marple episode that makes this worth spending the time to read.