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Agatha Christie : Secret Adversary Paperback
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In this caper, Tommy and Tuppence, ~22 year old somewhat poor residents of London around 1920, are bored enough to form a partnership where they will agree to do anything legal to obtain a salary. Tuppence wants to marry rich. Tommy doesn't care. You kinda know they have to end up together, right? A mysterious man overhears their conversation and asks them for help in finding Jane Finn who disappeared when the Lusitania sank nearly five years earlier. She was given a very important government paper by a pseudo-spy who died in the tragedy, but Jane seems to have lost her memory. No one can find her, but there are several ne'er-to-do-wells and government spies searching for her. Though WW1 is over now, if anyone finds out what was written in the papers, it might just ignite another battle. Tommy & Tuppence take the case, but soon find themselves baffled by all the different stories they hear. When they separate to get more done, each is kidnapped and nearly killed for knowing nothing but really knowing something. Then Jane's American cousin helps with the search and leads are finally flooding in around them. Now the little sleuthing pair are on their own and unable to determine who's telling the truth. Think you can? I actually solved this one.
Christie is remarkable when it comes to creating suspense, intrigue, and drama in her books. Although the story started off a tad peculiar to me, I slowly became fascinated by how different things were nearly 100 years ago. Between the phrases used to describe people, the quick allegiance people swore to one another, and the methods for doing research, it was outstanding. Sometimes I laughed at their silly tactics, others I thought they made no sense. But it was a different time and place, and under those contexts, it actually made perfect sense.
Tommy & Tuppence themselves are also weird. They speak in terms of puzzles, but seem to understand one another. They wish for things they don't need but join forces in a venture that initially makes no sense. I was worried... even thought... did I make a mistake giving this book a chance? But I knew how much people adored them, so I pushed forward and by about 20% in, the book takes on a much more standard mystery and suspense tone.
The ending was very well written. The plot is thorough but leaves a lot to the imagination. Do we really ever find out what's written in the government documents? Do we know exactly who kidnapped each of the sleuths? Do we know whether every character was purely good or evil? Not really... there is a bit of vagueness going on, but it doesn't hurt the story. Readers will more than likely fall in love with the duo, get caught up in determining which is the true bad guy, and grow puzzled in trying to decide which information to trust and which information is just a red herring.
It's fun to read these capers. It's less about the language and more about the approach to solving a crime. So sit back and relax... let the author dazzle you with her story... and let go of the normal constructs you expect in a mystery novel. I'm going with 4 stars on this one, as I'd more than recommend it, but there were some things I felt could have been handled better. That said... I look forward to reading more in the Tommy & Tuppence series, but that will have to wait. Next week's book is from the Hercule Poirot collection. Join us if you can!
I love the story behind this book. England was still reeling from WWI. Mrs. Christie and her husband were a young couple with a child, living in London and struggling to make ends meet. Her first book (THE AFFAIR AT STYLES) had sold reasonably well for a mystery by an unknown author and had netted her a grand total of twenty-five pounds. Okay, money went further those days, but still. Her husband challenged her to write a second book, saying sensibly that she would probably make a bit more with each book. Busy with running a household, she didn't feel up to writing an intricately plotted mystery like STYLES and decided that a "thriller" would be easier and quicker.
Although the Christies were by no means on Easy Street, they were better off than some because she had a small income from her father's estate and Archie Christie had made sure he had a job in the financial district BEFORE he left the British Army. Many former officers had not been so fore-sighted and were unable to find work. Many upper class girls were similarly at loose ends. Most had served as Army nurses (as had Agatha Miller) and were now "demobbed." Some of the young men whom they would normally have married were war casualties, while others were unable to take a bride because they had no means of supporting her.
Hence the introduction of "The Young Adventurers" - childhood friends Thomas (Tommy) Beresford and Prudence (Tuppence) Cowley. Both are seeking employment and they decide to join forces and become freelance adventurers-for-hire. Naturally, they immediately fall head first into a bizarre mixture of international spies, missing state papers, kidnapped girls, exotic foreign women, American millionaires, and mysterious masterminds plotting to take over the world. Both Tommy and Tuppence are (at different times) kidnapped and given up for dead. Fortunately, Tommy isn't so much green as he is cabbage looking (as the British say) and he displays the characteristics of the well-bred Englishman - a good (if somewhat plodding) intelligence and calm courage in a tight spot.
If you're looking for probability, read the newspaper. You already know what's in there. What IS authentic here is the author's mindset and world view. Agatha Christie grew up in a well-to-do English family in late Victorian times and (at least at that time in her life) believed firmly in the British government, the Conservative Party, and the fitness of the upper classes to rule. Labor unions, Irish Unionists, and communist agitators were all lumped together as dangers to the natural order. Fortunately, they were no match for the combined efforts of Tommy and Tuppence. This is a fun read that takes us back to a simpler time. And Archie Christie was right, his wife DID make more money with her second book. Fifty pounds!
Rather than resign themselves to the limitations of their own imaginations, the two friends concoct an advertisement for the adventure and financial security they crave.
International intrigue finds Tommy and Tuppence in league with high-ranking allies pitted against a gang of criminals from the highest and lowest of places around the globe led by a mastermind of the first water. Add a gun-toting American millionaire and more than one mysterious and beautiful woman, and the two young adventure seekers get more than they bargained for, in danger and romance.
Secret Adversary was Agatha Christie"s second novel. Interestingly, Christie's last written novel (several were published posthumously) titled Postern of Fate also features Tommy and Tuppence.
While thoroughly enjoyable as a stand alone mystery/adventure novel or for Christie fans alike, her writing style is somewhat undeveloped and cliche in parts. Particularly for Christie fans this lack of polish will be most evident. Christie's genius in character development with a few choice pen strokes is wanting, especially in non-English characters. However, a few cardboard cutout types populating a masterfully written story in the Christie. tradition is hardly a reason to miss finding out whodunit to whom and why!