The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

The Secret Adversary1919, London. Thomas Beresford, a recently demobbed soldier and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley meet up for the first time again in three years. They’re both broke and rather bored, so they decide to set up “The Young Adventurers, Ltd”. Before you can say “sounds like an Enid Blyton book, they have a case – a case that could topple the government of the United Kingdom.

Jane Finn was aboard the Lusitania when it sank in 1915. She survived, carrying a secret treaty that was written to end the war early, a treaty whose contents could, when revealed, aid in the toppling of the government – the goal of the elusive “Mr Brown”. When first Tommy and then Tuppence fall into the hands of the enemy, can the plucky young things escape and put the world to rights?

I wonder. Did people really talk like this in the twenties? You know, using phrases like “Old thing” and “Old bean” or was it parody even then? It doesn’t matter in the slightest, it fits the tone of this book perfectly, I’m just curious.

As my UK readers will know, the BBC are broadcasting a six-part series starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as Tommy & Tuppence – the first three episodes being an adaptation of The Secret Adversary, the second three being N or M. It’s being updated to the Cold War, but the cast of characters seems roughly the same as the book. I’ll report in on the adaptation after the first three episodes (unless episode one is rubbish of course…)

Oh, one other thing, the cover image is the first edition, not my version, but that’s got a mild spoiler on it (Pan, 1974 for the curious). Not a massive one, but still. And this one isn’t a spoiler. At no point does a man take off his mask to reveal he’s really a bear. Just so you know.

Oh, the book? It’s hard to believe that it’s only Christie’s second novel. This was the first time that I’d read it and it’s rather fun. I’m curious how the adaptations going to change things, as for almost all of the book, it’s Tommy OR Tuppence, rather Tommy AND Tuppence. It’s a completely different style to The Mysterious Affair At Styles, and done with such confidence, you can’t help but enjoy it. The sequence where Tommy bluffs his captors with a completely empty hand is an absolute delight.

And it’s clever – I’ll admit it, Dame Agatha had me completely fooled in the way that I was supposed to be fooled. None of her “usual” tricks (although for book 2, these didn’t exist yet) but a straightforward thriller with a whodunit thrown in for good measure.

An absolute pleasure. Highly Recommended. Now BBC, please don’t mess it up…

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18 comments

  1. Tommy and Tuppence. Ummm. Hmmm. I’ve not been too fond of the novels featuring them; that I can only (vaguely) remember ‘By the Pricking of my Thumbs’ and ‘Postern of Fate’ is not a good sign. All the more so because ‘By the Pricking’ had a blurb far more compelling than the actual novel, and ‘Postern’ is, to date, the only Christie I couldn’t complete. Perhaps I should pick up ‘The Secret Adversary’! Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

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    • I’ve not read either of the later books, but you’re not the first to find Postern Of Fate, Christie’s final book, unreadable. This one and N or M?, also reviewed on the blog, are much more fun.

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  2. I enjoyed The Secret Adversary mostly because of Tommy and Tuppence (they kind of remind me of Nick and Nora Charles), though the plot itself I found kinda wacky. My favorite book involving them is actually the short stories collection Partners in Crime-each tale is short and sweet and covers a large variety of crime, from murder to spy hijinks.

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  3. I don;t have much hope for the BBC version but will catch up with it it later today probably – ah, I see WordPress’ mucking about with headers and notwhat is not just restricted to me then!

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  4. I looked at the cover of the Pan 1974 edition carefully first with naked eyes then with a powerful magnifying glass. I don’t think anyone will guess anything from it !

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