Murder! The Secret of Chimneys

Spoiler Warning: I discuss details of the episodeAgatha Christie’s Marple: S05E02 The Secret of Chimneys which is related to the Agatha Christie book. However the stories are different enough that I can’t assure I’m actually spoiling the book. Read, as usual, at your own risk and peril.

The Agatha Christie’s Marple version of The Secret of Chimneys inserts Jane Marple (Julia McKenzie), adds the elements of The Herb of Death and then there’s a different killer and a different motivation from the book. Regulars who watch the show are not fond of this episode, but whether that is loyalty to the source or a disagreement with the revision is not mine to say. The detective of the original novel, Anthony Cade remains (Jonas Armstrong), not merely a suspect but one of hoodlumish character.

One might think that this book features an odd trait of fire flues, perhaps an idiosyncrasy known only to professional Bowbell Cockney sweeps, but no. Chimneys is the titular manorhouse setting for this mystery (Hatfield House plays the part of the Chimneys mannerhouse.). Chimneys is so named for its countless smokeshafts due to fireplaces for each of many rooms.

The titular secret is revealed early on, a secret passage with a switch hidden behind a painting. My notions of how to utilize a secret passage in a cozy are affirmed by Christie; let the audience know there’s a passage early on, at which point it becomes a fanciful prop and not a means by which to confound detective readers.

The secret door rule is not the only mystery genre proscription that Mrs. Christie toys with in Chimneys. Wright’s Twenty Rules suggest the crime must be murder or at least there must be a corpse, the deader the better. And in this case there is more than one (at least two by the time the proverbial game is afoot), but there is also a missing diamond. The Koh-i-noor Diamond in the book, but in the show, it’s The Mizur Diamond from India, possibly the most revered diamond in the world. Sadly I couldn’t find it on Wikipedia’s list of notable diamonds.

Christie also dabbles in international affairs in Chimneys, breaking Wright’s nineteenth rule precluding them. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction, Wright suggests. In this story, the affairs of state serve as a backdrop in which a most personal murder takes place. Christie borrows from the current events of the time. The restructuring of the Balkan states presented the kind of opportunity that was being exploited in England’s name at Chimneys, setting the stage for the country house mystery to come.

For the novel, proper, it was too soon for explicit references, the middle-European royalty who participate in the affairs at Chimneys rule over a fictitious state. In the twenty-first century Beeb version, Count Ludwig Von Stainach (Anthony Higgins) is distinctly Austrian. He is also tall, dark-haired and handsome, a bit pale and adorned with gothic styles from another era. Stainach has class and refinement. He speaks elegantly if with a thick accent. He waltzes perfectly and is completely charming with the young ladies. And he is not a vampire. Really!

Oh yes, parties in those days were all the pomp with extra circumstance!

It is a grand deal for England, but he insists it be arranged at Chimneys.

He couldn’t be more… unsuitable. No cash. No prospects…

England can have all the iron she wants. But I want Chimneys.

Chimneys has been in the family for centuries. It is family.

Marry me… or else.

Lady Sommerset borrowed a large brooch for the evening. By breakfast it had disappeared. As did that good-for-nothing parlourmaid!

BLAM Good heavens! Was that a gunshot?

Someone built a fire. I didn’t build a fire. Did you build a fire? There was a fire. Who built it?

Light in the second window!? Ridiculous. That was my room and I was fast asleep!

Of course I didn’t tell anyone. Think of the scandal! We’d been through so much.

It’s not a song, it’s a code!

An arranged mugging?

I wasn’t a thief. I was a rake.

Not English. Austrian!

If the cook poisoned us all, how did she know it would only kill Treadwell?

It’s the very same typewriter!

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