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 pp (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. In it, 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. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
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A house party is taking place at Chimneys, a manor house, which has been rented out by the Marquess of Caterham to Sir Oswald Coote, a self-made millionaire. In addition to Sir Oswald and Lady Coote, there is a party of young people staying, three girls and five young men, namely Gerald "Gerry" Wade, Jimmy Thesiger, Ronny Devereux, Bill Eversleigh and Rupert "Pongo" Bateman, Sir Oswald's secretary. Gerry Wade has a bad habit of sleeping very late into the morning and the other young people plan a joke on Gerald by buying eight alarm clocks, putting them in his room and timing them to go off at intervals the next morning.
In the morning, all the clocks having rung but Wade not having stirred, it is discovered that he is dead in his bed, having drunk an overdose of chloral. The group is shocked. Jimmy Thesiger and Ronny Devereux drive over to see Loraine Wade, Gerry's step-sister, and break the news to her. On the way, Ronny hints at something about Gerry but stops short at fully confiding in Jimmy. Returning to Chimneys and going to Gerry's room, Jimmy points out to Ronny that there are only seven alarmclocks; one is missing. It is later found in a hedge, where it was thrown from Gerry's window.
Later Lord Caterham retakes possession of Chimneys. The inquest has taken place with a verdict of "Death by Misadventure" but no explanation has been found for the rearrangement of the clocks. Lord Caterham's daughter, Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, is a friend of Bill Eversleigh's and, puzzling over the matter, she decides to write to him. Gerry Wade died in her room, and pulling out a part of her writing desk she finds an unfinished letter from Gerry to Loraine dated the day before he died. In it he asks her to "forget what I said about that Seven Dials business." More puzzled than ever, Bundle decides to go to London to see Bill. On the way there, 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 manages to get the body into the car and to a doctor where she is told that the car didn't hit the man – he was shot.
The man is identified as Ronny Devereux, one of the Cootes' house party. Bundle returns home and tells her father what has happened, and he in turn tells her that George Lomax, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has received a warning letter written from the Seven Dials district of London. The next day Bundle makes it to London and gets Jimmy's address from Bill. Going there, she meets Loraine Wade, and breaks the news of Ronny's death to them both. Shocked, Jimmy recounts Ronny's behaviour in the car on the way to see Loraine. She, in turn, relates that the incident to which Gerry referred in his last letter to her was her discovery of a list of names and dates together with an address in Seven Dials. He had then hinted to her of some secret society with reference to the Mafia. The three wonder if Gerry's death was murder, and if the removal of one of the alarm clocks, leaving seven dials, was a warning. Jimmy knows that Gerry was connected in some way with the Foreign Office and security services. 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, and Jimmy and Bundle decide to get themselves invited to it.
Bundle then goes to see Superintendent Battle at Scotland Yard about the matter, but he proves unhelpful, hinting in an aside that Bill Eversleigh knows something about Seven Dials. The next evening, Bundle meets Bill for a night out and asks him what he knows. According to him Seven Dials is a seedy nightclub and gambling den and Bundle insists he take her there. In the club, Bundle recognizes the doorman as a former footman from Chimneys. The next day, after making arrangements to get into George Lomax's party, Bundle returns to the Seven Dials club and questions Alfred, the footman. He tells her that a Russian called Mosgorovsky visited Chimneys and offered him three times his footman's salary to leave his previous employment and work at the club. Also Mosgorovsky himself would supply a replacement for Alfred at Chimneys. A man called John Bauer. Bundle makes Alfred show her round, and he eventually takes her into a secret room in which there is a table and seven chairs. She hides in a cupboard in the room and is thus able to witness a strange meeting as five people gather. They wear hoods with eye slits and clock faces on the hoods, each clock showing a different time between one o'clock and six o'clock, and their accents reveal their different nationalities. One of the sinister group is a woman with a mole on her exposed shoulder blade. They talk of the absent Number Two and one of the figures complains about the always-missing Number Seven. They also talk of Lomax's party at Wyvern Abbey where a German called Eberhard will be present with a valuable invention. The meeting over, the group leaves and Alfred frees Bundle from her watching place.
The next day Bundle tells Jimmy of the meeting and he tells her that Eberhard has invented a formula which could make wire as strong as steel, revolutionizing airplane manufacturing. The German government turned the invention down and the meeting at Wyvern Abbey is for a possible sale to the British, represented by Sir Stanley Digby, the Air Minister.
The following Friday, Bundle and Jimmy arrive at Wyvern Abbey and are introduced to the other guests including the Cootes, Sir Stanley Digby, Terence O'Rourke and the beautiful Hungarian Countess Radzky. Bundle is surprised to find Superintendent Battle there, disguised as a waiter. Bill Eversleigh is there too in his capacity of Mr Lomax's personal assistant. Jimmy has told Bill what Bundle told him of the meeting of the Seven Dials. Realising that Sir Stanley is going to be staying only one night, they deduce that any theft of the formula will be attempted that night. Jimmy and Bill agree to keep two separate watches, changing over at 3.00 am, both using a pistol that Jimmy has brought with him.
At 2.00 am Jimmy, on the first watch in the hallway, thinks he hears a noise coming from the library, a room that leads on to the terrace. He finds nothing in the room and continues his watch from there.
Bundle, previously told by Jimmy and Bill that there was no part in their plans for her, had meekly acquiesced but instead changed her clothes into something more suitable, climbs down the ivy outside her room, and promptly runs into Superintendent Battle, also on his own watch outside the house. He persuades her to go back. She does so but goes to check on Jimmy in the hall. Finding that he has gone, and not knowing that he has moved to the library, she goes to Bill's bedroom but finds that she has made a mistake and it is the Countess's room but the Hungarian lady is also missing. Her puzzlement is interrupted by the noises of a tremendous struggle coming from the library, and two gunshots.
This noise also attracts the attention of Loraine Wade who has arrived at Wyvern at the dead of night. A few moments before the commotion, a paper packet lands at her feet as she walks along 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 woken 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 rushes back to check his room but finds that the formula has gone. Battle is not perturbed as Loraine still holds the dropped packet and is able to return its precious contents. Sir Oswald Coote raises suspicions when he comes in from the terrace, having supposedly been on a late-night walk and having seen no one suspicious, but having found the pistol of the escaped man on the lawn. The Countess is also found in the room, unconscious behind a screen. She tells a story of coming down for a book to read, being unable to sleep, and then, hearing what turned out to be Jimmy's approach, hiding from fear of him being a burglar. She passed out when the fight occurred. Bundle spots a mole on the Countess's shoulder through her negligee: she is a member of the Seven Dials! She tells Battle the whole story of her spying on the association but is told to leave matters alone.
The next morning, Battle searches the scenes of the crime and finds the place where the pistol landed when it was thrown onto the lawn, only one set of footprints leading to this point – Sir Oswald's – and 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 hears news from Chimneys that the footman Bauer is missing.
Before the house party breaks up, Jimmy asks Loraine to keep an eye on Bundle and make sure she doesn't get herself into danger. He ingratiates himself with Lady Coote and gets an invitation to their new house in Letherbury, wanting to investigate Sir Oswald further, because he suspects him of being the missing Number Seven.
At Letherbury, Jimmy looks through Sir Oswald's study in the dead of night and is almost caught by Rupert Bateman, but manages to talk his way out of the situation. The next day Loraine and Bundle arrive, their car having "broken down" a short distance away, and Jimmy is able to tell them that he has found no evidence against Sir Oswald.
Several days later, Bill turns up at Jimmy's London flat. Ronny Devereux's executors have sent him a letter that Ronny left for Bill should anything happen to him, and he finds its contents incredible. A short time later, Jimmy rings up Bundle and Loraine who are at Chimneys 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 get there first. Jimmy arrives, having left Bill outside in the car, and at his request Bundle shows him the secret room where the Seven Dials meet. Loraine interrupts them: something is wrong with Bill. In the car, they find him unconscious and take him into the club. Jimmy runs off to get a doctor and Bundle goes round the club looking for brandy for Bill, but someone knocks her unconscious.
She comes round in Bill's arms. They are found by Mr Mosgorovsky who then takes them into an emergency meeting of the Seven Dials. Number Seven is there and reveals himself: it is Superintendent Battle. He reveals that the Seven Dials is not an association of criminals but instead is a group of criminal-catchers and people who do secret service work for their country. Among the group, Mr Mosgorovsky is a member, Gerry Wade and Ronny Devereux were, the Countess having now taken Gerry's place but her real identity is the American actress, Babe St Maur. To Bundle's shock, another member of the association is Bill Eversleigh but that shock is increased when Battle tells her that the association has at last succeeded in getting their main target, an international criminal whose stock trade is the theft of secret formulae: Jimmy Thesiger who was arrested that afternoon together 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 in an attempt to see if anyone reacted to there being "seven dials". Bauer was put into Chimneys by the Seven Dials to keep an eye on things at which he failed.
Ronny Devereux was killed when he got too close to the truth and his last words were not a warning to Jimmy about the Seven Dials but the other way round. At Wyvern Abbey, there was no second man stealing the formula. 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 and he was right-handed he had to dispose of his left-handed glove, using his teeth (hence the marks) in the fire.
Bill's story of the papers Ronny left him was a fabrication to get Jimmy into the open. Jimmy gave Bill a drugged drink in his flat but it was not drunk. Bill feigned unconsciousness in the car outside the Seven Dials club. Jimmy never went for a doctor but hid himself in the club, and it was he who knocked Bundle unconscious. His plan was to leave Bill and Bundle there, dead, as a "shock" to the then-unknown Number Seven.
Bundle is offered the empty place in the Seven Dials and she and Bill agree to marry.
Characters in "The Seven Dials Mystery"
- Jimmy Thesiger, man about town
- Tredwell, the butler at Chimneys
- Sir Oswald Coote, self-made millionaire
- Maria, Lady Coote, his wife
- MacDonald, Head Gardener at Chimneys
- Rupert Bateman, Sir Oswald’s secretary. Was at school with Jimmy Thesiger.
- Helen, Nancy and Vera “Socks” Daventry – members of the Cootes’ house party at Chimneys
- Bill Eversleigh of the Foreign Office
- Ronny Devereux
- Gerald Wade
- Loraine Wade, his step-sister
- Clement Edward Alistair Brent, 9th Marquis of Caterham
- Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, his daughter
- Stevens, Jimmy’s manservant
- Superintendent Battle
- Alfred, former footman from Chimneys
- Bauer, his replacement
- George Lomax, Under-secretary for State for Foreign Affairs
- Sir Stanley Digby, air minister
- Terence O’Rourke
- Countess Radzky, revealed later as the actress Babe St. Maur
- Herr Eberhard, German inventor
- Mr Mosgorovsky, owner of the Seven Dials gambling club
- Count Andras and Hayward Phelps, members of the Seven Dials
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."
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 drama 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
- 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.
Unusually for a full-length crime novel, Christie did not write a dedication for this book.
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.
- 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 Times Literary Supplement 4 April 1929 (Page 278)
- The New York Times Book Review 7 April 1929 (Page 20)
- The Scotsman 28 January 1929 (Page 2)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (Page 205). Fontana Books, 1990. 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