The Secret Adversary – Agatha Christie (1922)

Last year I took part in the Agatha Christie Challenge- twelve books in twelve months which put this most famous of British crime writers up to number 2 in my most read authors list (just behind Christopher Fowler).  I haven’t read anything by her up to this point in 2022 so I’ve put that right with an early title which is celebrating its centenary this year.

Two years after she introduced Hercule Poirot she began what became a five novel series featuring Tommy and Tuppence.  My only experience of these two to date had been a copy of “N or M?” which I had out from my secondary school library for months and months, just renewing it without reading it.  (I think this must have been because we were expected to have a book from the library whereas by this time I was reading more salacious fare- “Jaws”, “The Godfather” and James Herbert- none of which would have had a place on the school bookshelves).

Tommy and Tuppence are old chums who meet again towards the end of World War I, when Tommy has injuries and Tuppence is working in the hospital.   By the early 1920s they are both somewhat rootless and a chance meeting has them agreeing to set up “The Young Adventurers” to recapture some of the excitement of their pasts and to earn some money.  They are recruited by a shadowy government figure to discover what has happened to some shadowy documents which seem important to British security (although this is somewhat vague) which had disappeared following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915.

Thrilled by a salary and expense account which leads them to booking rooms at The Ritz, Tommy and Tuppence begin investigating.  I like these two, especially Tuppence who is a vibrant creation and the will-they-won’t- they aspect of their relationship feels more modern than I was expecting.  For some reason I always associate Christie with being rather backward-looking but this would have felt contemporary on publication.  The political aspects seem a tad ludicrous and why these two inexperienced adventurers are trusted with matters of national security feels questionable but characterisation is stronger than in many later novels.

I don’t know why I’ve never read her Tommy and Tuppence novels before.  It was seven years (by which time Poirot had really taken off) before the author gave them their second outing in “Partners In Crime.”

 “The Secret Adversary” was first published in 1922.  I read it in the “Agatha Christie 1920’s Omnibus” published by Harper Collins in 2006 and which also includes “The Man In The Brown Suit”, “The Secret Of Chimneys” and “The Seven Dials Mystery” (that’s the first Colonel Race and the first two Superintendent Battle novels).

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