The Seven Dials Mystery
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Not known|
|Publisher||William Collins & Sons|
|24 January 1929|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||282 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Mystery of the Blue Train|
|Followed by||Partners in Crime|
The Seven Dials Mystery is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by William Collins & Sons on 24 January 1929 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
In this novel, Christie brings back the characters from an earlier novel, The Secret of Chimneys: Lady Eileen (Bundle) Brent, Lord Caterham, Bill Eversleigh, George Lomax, Tredwell, and Superintendent Battle.
Reviewers clearly did not like Mrs Christie deviating from what they considered the strict rules for a detective novel. One reviewer noted a change in style ("Less good in point of style") but felt the novel "maintains the author's reputation of ingenuity." Another was quite disappointed in the change in style from some of her earlier novels, saying that she had "deserted the methodical procedure of inquiry into a single and circumscribed crime for the romance of universal conspiracy and international rogues." Another felt that the story started out well, but then earned sharp criticism for the author as "she has carefully avoided leaving any clues pointing to the real criminal. Worst of all, the solution itself is utterly preposterous." In 1990, this novel was considered to have the same characters and house parties as The Secret of Chimneys "but without the same verve and cheek."
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In the last days of renting the estate Chimneys, Sir Oswald and Lady Coote host a party including Gerry Wade, Jimmy Thesiger, Ronny Devereux, Bill Eversleigh and Rupert "Pongo" Bateman, Sir Oswald's secretary. Gerry Wade has a bad habit of oversleeping. The others plan a joke on Gerald by placing eight alarm clocks in his room and timing them to go off at intervals the next morning. The alarms are heard but Wade is not awake. A footman finds that he is dead in his bed, with chloral on his nightstand, a shocking event. Jimmy Thesiger and Ronny Devereux break the news to Loraine Wade, Gerry's step-sister. At Chimneys, Jimmy notices that there are seven alarm clocks; one is missing. It is later found in a hedge.
Lord Caterham and his daughter Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent move back into Chimneys. The coroner gives a verdict of Death by Misadventure for Gerry. Bundle, a friend of Bill Eversleigh, puzzles over this. Gerry Wade died in her room; she finds an unfinished letter from Gerry to Loraine dated the day before he died. He asks Loraine to forget about that Seven Dials business. Bundle goes to London to see Bill. On the way, a man steps out of a hedge and into the road. Bundle misses him but he collapses anyway, muttering about "Seven Dials..." and "Tell... Jimmy Thesiger." The man dies. Bundle gets his body into the car and to a doctor who tells her that the car did not hit the man; he was shot. The man is Ronny Devereux. Bundle returns home and tells her father what has happened, and he tells her that George Lomax has received a warning letter written on Seven Dials letterhead.
The next day Bundle reaches London and gets Jimmy's address from Bill. She tells Loraine Wade and Jimmy of Ronny's death. Was Gerry's death a murder? Bundle tells the other two of the warning letter that George Lomax received. Lomax is hosting a house party the following week at his house at Wyvern Abbey; Jimmy and Bundle get themselves invited to it.
Bundle visits Superintendent Battle at Scotland Yard; he hints that Bill knows something about Seven Dials. According to Bill, Seven Dials is a seedy nightclub and gambling den and Bundle insists he takes her there. In the club, Bundle recognizes the doorman as a footman from Chimneys. Bundle returns to the Seven Dials club and questions Alfred, the footman. He tells her that he left Chimneys for far higher wages offered by Mosgorovsky, owner of the club. Further, Mosgorovsky sends a replacement for Alfred at Chimneys, John Bauer. Alfred takes her into a secret room with a table and seven chairs. She hides in a cupboard in the room and witnesses a meeting. They wear masks with eye slits and clock faces on the hoods, each clock showing a different time. One is a woman with a mole on her exposed shoulder blade. They talk of the always-missing Number Seven, and about Lomax's party at Wyvern Abbey where Eberhard will be present with a valuable invention. The meeting over, Alfred frees Bundle from her watching place.
Eberhard has invented a formula which could strengthen metals, revolutionizing airplane manufacturing. The meeting at Wyvern Abbey is for a possible sale to the British Air Minister.
Bundle and Jimmy arrive at Wyvern Abbey and are introduced to the Cootes, Sir Stanley Digby the Air Minister, Terence O'Rourke, and the Hungarian Countess Radzky. Superintendent Battle is there, disguised as a waiter. Bill Eversleigh is there as staff of Mr Lomax. Realising that Sir Stanley is staying one night, they deduce that any theft will be attempted that night. Jimmy and Bill agree to keep watch, changing over at 3.00 am.
On the first watch in the hallway at 2.00 am, Jimmy thinks he hears a noise coming from the library. He continues his watch from there.
Bundle, acting alone, changes her clothes and climbs down the ivy outside her room. She runs into Superintendent Battle, on his own watch outside. He persuades her to go back. She does so, and then checks on Jimmy in the hall. Finding him gone, she goes to Bill's bedroom but finds that she has erred and is in the Countess's empty room. Bundle hears a tremendous struggle in the library, and two gunshots.
Loraine Wade arrives at Wyvern at the dead of night. A few moments before the commotion, a paper packet lands at her feet near the darkened terrace. She picks it up and sees a man climbing down the ivy from above her. She turns and runs almost straight into Battle whose questions are interrupted by the fight in the library. Running there, they find Jimmy unconscious and shot through his right arm. The household is awakened by the noise and pours into the room. Jimmy comes round and tells how he fought the man who climbed down the ivy. Sir Stanley finds that the formula is gone. Battle is not perturbed as Loraine still holds the dropped packet and is able to return its precious contents. The Countess is discovered in the library, unconscious behind a screen. She says she came down for a book to read, and fainted from fear. Bundle spots a mole on the Countess's shoulder through her negligee: she is a member of Seven Dials!
The next morning, Battle finds a charred, left-handed glove with teeth marks, in the fireplace. He theorizes that the thief threw the gun onto the lawn from the terrace and then climbed back into the house via the ivy. Bundle’s father reports that the footman Bauer is missing. Jimmy gets an invitation to the Cootes’ new house in Letherbury, because he suspects Sir Oswald of being Number Seven. Jimmy looks through Sir Oswald's study. He finds no evidence against Sir Oswald.
Bill goes to Jimmy's London flat. Ronny Devereux's executors have sent him a letter written by Ronny, and Bill is amazed. Jimmy rings up Bundle and Loraine and tells them to meet him and Bill at the Seven Dials club, Bill's story being "the biggest scoop of the century." The two girls arrive first. Jimmy arrives, having left Bill outside in the car. Bundle shows Jimmy the room where the Seven Dials meet. Loraine interrupts them to report that something is wrong with Bill. They find him unconscious in the car and take him into the club. Jimmy runs off to get a doctor. Someone knocks Bundle unconscious. She comes round in Bill's arms. Mr Mosgorovsky takes them into the meeting of the Seven Dials. Number Seven is there, he is Superintendent Battle. He reveals that they are a group of criminal-catchers and people doing secret service work for their country. Gerry and Ronny are honored as late members. The true identity of the Countess is the actress, Babe St Maur. Bill is a member. Battle tells Bundle that the association has succeeded with their main target, an international criminal whose stock in trade is the theft of secret formulae: Jimmy Thesiger was arrested that afternoon with his accomplice, Loraine Wade. Battle explains that Jimmy killed Gerry Wade when he got onto Jimmy's track. Ronny took the eighth clock from the dead man's room to see if anyone reacted to there being "seven dials. Jimmy killed Ronny Devereux for the same reason; Ronny’s last words were a warning to the Seven Dials about Jimmy. At Wyvern Abbey, Jimmy climbed up the ivy to Sir Stanley Digby's room, threw the formula down to Loraine, climbed back down the ivy and into the library where he staged the fight, shot himself in his right arm and threw the second pistol onto the lawn. As his right arm was disabled he disposed of his left-hand glove using his teeth.
Bill feigned unconsciousness in the car outside the Seven Dials club. Jimmy never went for a doctor but hid in the club, and he knocked Bundle unconscious. His plan was to leave Bill and Bundle there, dead.
Bundle is offered the empty place in the Seven Dials and she and Bill agree to marry.
- Sir Oswald Coote: Self-made millionaire.
- Maria, Lady Coote: His wife.
- Tredwell: The butler at Chimneys.
- MacDonald: Head Gardener at Chimneys.
- Rupert Bateman: Sir Oswald’s secretary. Was at school with Jimmy Thesiger, and called Pongo.
- Helen, Nancy and Vera “Socks” Daventry: Guests of the Cootes’ house party at Chimneys,
- Bill Eversleigh: Guest at the house party, works at the Foreign Office for George Lomax.
- Ronny Devereux: Guest at the house party, later murdered.
- Gerald Wade: Guest at the house party, later murdered.
- Loraine Wade: his step-sister.
- Jimmy Thesiger: Guest at the house party and later at Wyvern Abbey, and man about town; a murderer and thief.
- Stevens: Jimmy’s manservant.
- Clement Edward Alistair Brent, 9th Marquis of Caterham: Father of Bundle, owner of Chimneys.
- Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent: his daughter and a sometime amateur detective.
- Superintendent Battle: From Scotland Yard.
- Alfred: Former footman at Chimneys, now working at Seven Dials night club.
- John Bauer: His replacement at Chimneys.
- George Lomax: Under-secretary for State for Foreign Affairs, host at Wyvern Abbey.
- Sir Stanley Digby: Air Minister for the British government, guest at Wyvern Abbey.
- Terence O’Rourke: Guest at the party at Wyvern Abbey.
- Countess Radzky: Guest at Wyvern Abbey, revealed later as the New York actress Babe St Maur.
- Herr Eberhard: German inventor.
- Mr Mosgorovsky: Owner of the Seven Dials night club, and a member of the group.
- Count Andras and Hayward Phelps: members of the Seven Dials group.
Literary significance and reception
The review in the Times Literary Supplement issue of 4 April 1929 was for once markedly unenthusiastic about a Christie Book: "It is a great pity that Mrs Christie should in this, as in a previous book, have deserted the methodical procedure of inquiry into a single and circumscribed crime for the romance of universal conspiracy and international rogues. These Gothic romances are not to be despised but they are so different in kind from the story of strict detection that it is unlikely for anyone to be adept in both. Mrs Christie lacks the haphazard and credulous romanticism which makes the larger canvas of more extensive crime successful. In such a performance bravura rather than precision is essential. The mystery of Seven Dials and of the secret society which met in that sinister district requires precisely such a broad treatment, but Mrs Christie gives to it that minute study which she employed so skilfully in her earlier books." The review concluded, "There is no particular reason why the masked man should be the particular person he turns out to be".
The review in The New York Times Book Review of 7 April 1929 began "After reading the opening chapters of this book one anticipates an unusually entertaining yarn. There are some very jolly young people in it, and the fact that they become involved in a murder mystery does not dampen their spirits to any great extent." The uncredited reviewer set up the plot regarding Gerald Wade being found dead and then said, "Thus far the story is excellent; indeed it continues to promise well until the time comes when the mystery is to be solved. Then it is seen that the author has been so keen on preventing the reader from guessing the solution that she has rather overstepped the bounds of what should be permitted to a writer of detective stories. She has held out information which the reader should have had, and, not content with scattering false clues with a lavish hand, she has carefully avoided leaving any clues pointing to the real criminal. Worst of all, the solution itself is utterly preposterous. This book is far below the standard set by Agatha Christie's earlier stories."
The Scotsman of 28 January 1929 said, "Less good in point of style than some of her earlier novels, The Seven Dials Mystery…maintains the author's reputation of ingenuity." The review went on to say that, "It is an unusual feature of this story that at the end, the reader will want to go back over the story to see if he has had a square deal from the author. On the whole he has."
- 1929, William Collins and Sons (London), 24 January 1929, Hardback, 282 pp
- 1929, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1929, Hardback, 310 pp
- 1932, William Collins and Sons, February 1932 (As part of the Agatha Christie Omnibus of Crime along with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, The Mystery of the Blue Train and The Sittaford Mystery), Hardback (Priced at seven shillings and sixpence)
- 1948, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 687), 247 pp
- 1954, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
- 1957, Avon Books (New York), Paperback
- 1962, Pan Books, Paperback (Great Pan 571), 207 pp
- 1964, Bantam Books (New York), Paperback, 184 pp
- 2010, HarperCollins; Facsimile edition, Hardcover: 288 pages, ISBN 978-0-00-735458-0
In her autobiography, Christie states that this book was what she called “the light-hearted thriller type”. She went on to say that they were always easy to write as they didn’t require too much plotting or planning, presumably in contrast to the very-tightly planned detective stories. She called this era her “plutocratic” period in that she was starting to receive sums for American serialisation rights which both exceeded what she earned in the UK for such rights and was, at this time, free of income tax. She compared this period favourably with the time at which she wrote these comments (1950s to 1960s) when she was plagued with income tax problems which lasted for some twenty years and ate up most of what people presumed was a large fortune.
When Gerald Wade died, apparently from an overdose of sleeping draught, seven clocks appeared on the mantelpiece. Who put them there and had they any connection with the Night Club in Seven Dials? That is the mystery that Bill Eversleigh and Bundle and two other young people set out to investigate. Their investigations lead them into some queer places and more than once into considerable danger. Not till the very end of the book is the identity of the mysterious Seven o’clock revealed.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Following the success of their version of Why Didn't They Ask Evans in 1980, The Seven Dials Mystery was adapted by London Weekend Television as a 140-minute television film and transmitted on Sunday 8 March 1981. The same team of Pat Sandys, Tony Wharmby and Jack Williams worked on the production which again starred John Gielgud and James Warwick. Cheryl Campbell also starred as "Bundle" Brent. The production was extremely faithful to the book with no major deviations to the plot or characters.
The production was first screened on US television as part of Mobil Showcase in April 1981.
- Adaptor: Pat Sandys
- Executive Producer: Tony Wharmby
- Producer: Jack Williams
- Director: Tony Wharmby
- John Gielgud as Marquess of Caterham
- Harry Andrews as Superintendent Battle
- Cheryl Campbell as Lady Eileen 'Bundle' Brent
- James Warwick as Jimmy Thesiger
- Terence Alexander as George Lomax
- Christopher Scoular as Bill Eversleigh
- Lucy Gutteridge as Lorraine Wade
- Leslie Sands as Sir Oswald Coote
- Joyce Redman as Lady Coote
- Brian Wilde as Tredwell
- Rula Lenska as Countess Radzsky
- Noel Johnson as Sir Stanley Digby
- Robert Longden as Gerry Wade
- John Vine as Ronny Devereux
- James Griffiths as Rupert 'Pongo' Bateman
- Hetty Baynes as Vera
- Sarah Crowden as Helen
- Lynne Ross as Nancy
- Thom Delaney as Terence O'Rourke
- Norwich Duff as Howard Phelps
- Sandor Elès as Count Andras
- Douglas W. Iles as John Bauer
- Charles Morgan as Dr. Cartwright
- John Price as Alfred
- Roger Sloman as Stevens
- Jacob Witkin as Mr. Mosgorovsky
- The Observer 20 January 1929 (Page 10)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (Pages 82 and 86) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The English Catalogue of Books. Vol XII (A-L: January 1926 – December 1930). Kraus Reprint Corporation, Millwood, New York, 1979 (page 316)
- The Scotsman 28 January 1929 (Page 2)
- The Times Literary Supplement 4 April 1929 (Page 278)
- The New York Times Book Review 7 April 1929 (Page 20)
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 205. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- Christie, Agatha. An Autobiography. (Pages 413–414). Collins, 1977. ISBN 0-00-216012-9
- Thompson, Laura. Agatha Christie, An English Mystery. (Page 434) Headline, 2007 ISBN 978-0-7553-1487-4