The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie (1929)

A practical joke takes a deadly turn with the death of a healthy young Foreign Office worker while he was a house guest at historic ‘Chimneys,’ an English country estate. At first his death seems to have been an accidental overdose or suicide but his friends who are also staying at Chimneys aren’t convinced. Their doubts are confirmed when Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent nearly runs over another young man of their party when he staggers onto the road. The man gasps out a few words and then dies. He had been shot.

Bundle is the eldest daughter of Lord Caterham, the owner of Chimneys, and he had let the house out to Sir Oswald Coote, an eminent businessman and his wife. Bundle is the antithesis of her father ‘whose prevailing characteristic was a wholly amiable inertia.’ Christie calls him ‘the egoist’ and he only really cares about his own comfort. Widowed some years ago, he is managed by his butler Tredwell and Bundle while he avoids anything that requires an effort or a decision.

Bundle puts herself in the way of investigating the murders focusing on ‘Seven Dials,’ the words the dying man uttered. False trails, espionage, a secret society and an unwanted married proposal face Bundle as she goes about her sleuthing.

The Seven Dials Mystery is a light-hearted and very enjoyable thriller. Agatha Christie’s humour shines in this book and she finishes the story with a neat twist.

Some favourite bits:

As part of Bundles’ modus operandi, she feigns an interest in politics to attract the attentions of ‘Coddles,’ (a la George Lomax) the boring government official. He is so taken by Bundles’ transformation from flapper to thinking woman that he proposes:

‘It was awful. He spluttered and he stuttered, but he would go through with it – he must have learnt it out of a book. There was no stopping him. Oh, how I hate men who splutter! And unfortunately, I didn’t know the reply.”

“You must have known what you wanted to do.”

“Naturally I’m not going to marry an apoplectic idiot like George. What I mean is, I didn’t know the correct reply from the book of etiquette. I could only just say flatly: ‘No I won’t.’ What I ought to have said was something about being very sensible of the honour he had done me and so on and so on. But I got so rattled that in the end I jumped out of the window and bolted.”

‘What a fatal thing to pretend to take an interest in a man’s pet subject.’

And Bill Eversleigh’s reaction to Lord Caterham’s revelation of George Lomax’s intentions:

“Proposing to Bundle? The dirty swine. At his age.”

Bill’s face grew crimson.

“He says he’s in the prime of life,” said Lord Caterham cautiously.

“He? Why, he’s decrepit – senile! I”— Bill positively choked.

“Not at all,” said Lord Caterham coldly. “He’s only five years younger than I am.”

“Bundle! Bundle! Why I’ve never dared to ask Bundle to marry me because I knew she’d only laugh.”

The Seven Dials Mystery is a standalone novel – no Poirot or Miss Marple; Inspector Battle makes his appearance along with other characters in her 1925 book, The Secret of Chimneys. Linking to the 1929 Club:

And also to Cloak & Dagger Reading Challenge.

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