Je n'aime pas dans les vieux films américains quand les conducteurs ne regardent pas la route. Et de ratage en ratage, on s'habitue à ne jamais dépasser le stade du brouillon. La vie n'est que l'interminable répétition d'une représentation qui n'aura jamais lieu.

Partners in Crime (1929) - Agatha Christie


In this post, the first five stories in Agatha Christie’s great short story collection, Partners in Crime!

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A Fairy in the Flat/A Pot of Tea

In the first two stories in Partners in Crime, Christie catches up with Tommy and Tuppence.  Last seen heading off to be married, the couple has in some ways not been as successful as they might have expected.  “Six years ago,” Tuppence muses, “I would have sworn that with sufficient money . . . and with you as a husband, all life would have been one grand sweet song.”  “Is it me or the money that palls upon you?” Tommy asks in response.  Soon enough, the pair is off on another adventure.  Mr. Carter of the Intelligence Bureau sets them up in a detective agency that was being used as a front for a spy ring.  The Beresfords are to run the detective agency normally, but also keep an eye out for any spylike correspondence that comes into the office.  Tuppence isn’t satisfied yet, however, and when a young man brings them a case involving the fact that the girl he’s in love with has disappeared, Tuppence has a surprise up her sleeve for Tommy.

It’s great to catch up to the Beresfords again and Christie instantly signals that she hasn’t lost the touch for their light humor.  Tommy and Tuppence remain popular, at least with me, because of that light touch and the genuine wit Christie infused them with.  None of Christie’s other detectives were quite so much fun.  The Beresfords also seem very real.  They aren’t geniuses, like Poirot, or philosophical students of human nature, like Miss Marple, or . . . well, whatever Harley Quinn is, they’re not that either.  They’re just a couple of fairly clever people who form a genuine partnership.  And with jokes too. 

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!!Well, it’s part of the fun of a mystery, isn’t it?  So I intend to just straight up give you an up or down, a yes or no answer to the main question: Did I figure the mystery out prior to the reveal?  And, of course, as part and parcel of that, did I actually have the opportunity to do so?  On this one, the mystery only comes in at the end, so much time does Christie spend setting up Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives and the premise of the story.  The solution is that the missing girl isn’t missing at all; Tuppence has asked her to pretend to be missing so that Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives will have its first case and, of course, be able to make a rousing success of it.  Did I solve it?  No.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT? Did Christie play fair?  She did.  The revelation that the missing girl works in a hat shop is a major clue, considering just how heavily Christie has leaned on Tuppence going hat shopping and the revelation by the young man that the “missing” girl had pointed out the Blunt detective agency to him specifically the day before she disappeared?  Dead giveaway, which, of course, I missed.  Excellent work, Christie.  Excellent work. 

The Affair of the Pink Pearl

A valuable pink pearl has disappeared from the house of the Kingston-Bruce’s.  Tommy and Tuppence are called in on the case and Tommy decides to imitate Dr. Thorndyke by lugging a camera around and being scientific about the whole thing.  As if that wasn’t complication enough, Colonel Kingston-Bruce has heard about the “twenty-four hour” guarantee that Tuppence created in the last story.  Of course, in that one, she already knew the solution; this time, the Beresfords are on a deadline without having any inside information.  “Either the pearl is still in the house or it is not still in the house,” Tommy pronounces when pressed for progress on the case.  In spite of himself, it’s Tommy who finds the solution, camera and all.

This is a perfectly structured miniature Christie, for all the Thorndyke references.  The list of suspects is lengthy and even in a story that only takes up two short chapters, Christie is able to drag plenty of red herrings across the trail.  It’s in this story that Christie debuts her gimmick in full, which is that each story in the book spoofs another mystery author.  While Tommy tries to ape Thorndyke in this story, the biggest laugh comes early in the story when he attempts to impress his client by channeling Sherlock Holmes, only to discover that neither his deductive reasoning nor his violin skills are quite up to the task. 

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!!Most assuredly not.  Christie does a fantastic bit of work here with two red herrings.  She drags them across the reader’s trail and leads the reader to believe that Tuppence faces the same dilemma she had in The Secret Adversary: two equally possible options.  But in this case, Christie blindsides the reader with a third option.  Even in miniature, she was just that crafty.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT?  Yes, I suppose; the ultimate hiding place of the pearl is hinted at briefly but it would require a substantial leap of intuitive reasoning since I, unlike Tommy, am not generally familiar with smuggling tricks.  But the clue is there and could be spotted.

The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger

Tommy & Tuppence are flabbergasted when they receive a coded letter from Russia.  When a mysterious stranger, with a clubfoot and a menacing manner, appears soon after, our heroes are certain that they’re in a spy adventure like the Brothers Okewood often experienced.  Luckily, a helpful Scotland Yard inspector shows up to support their play.  But when all is revealed, it’s familiarity with the Okewood mystery stories that allows our heroes to come out unscathed. 

This story is one of the few in the book to return to the book’s frame story about Russian spies.  Here the duo discover that the Russian spy ring that’s been using Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives as a front is still active and a threat to our heroes.  The Brothers Okewood unfortunately, or perhaps not so unfortunately, haven’t survived as popular figures to the present day, so the references in this one are not as accessible as the Thorndyke references in the last one, particularly since this story very specifically hinges on knowledge of the series.  Tommy mockingly tweaks the Russian spy at the end for not being familiar with “the classics;” this doesn’t play too well, since the modern reader isn’t familiar with this particular series either.  It’s a fairly weak entry in the book.

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!! Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  This doesn’t help the story either.  When the menacing stranger appears and strokes his huge black beard and towers over everyone and has a clubfoot and then another stranger, this one talking about being a detective and trying to be helpful, also appears, it’s no great leap to realize that, while Tommy & Tuppence have suspicions about the first stranger, it’s actually the second stranger, the false Inspector Dymchurch, who is the spy.  It’s an obvious double play and one that Christie may have used here satirically, to poke fun at the Okewood Brothers novels.  But either way, whether Christie was being satirical or serious, it’s totally obvious from the moment Dymchurch appears that he’s the villain and that the man with the clubfoot is, after all, just a little too obvious.  Finally, a win!

Finessing the King/The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper

Tuppence finds a mysterious classified ad in the newspaper and when she thinks she’s deciphered it, she leads Tommy to a fancy costume party to see if she was right.  Indeed, she was, but instead of a simple lover’s rendezvous, it’s a murder that Tommy and Tuppence are on hand to witness.  For once, it does seem an open and shut case; the victim herself implicates her lover in her dying words.  But, just like in the novels of Isabel Ostrander, it’s a completely innocent remark by Tommy that makes Tuppence see the light and the true identity of the murderer.

Once again, the detectives being imitated by the Beresfords have been lost to the mists of time.  Ex-policeman Tommy McCarty and fireman (yes, fireman) Denis Riordan are not figures the average person is familiar with.  The first chapter, Finessing the King, is a fantastic read, concluding with the Beresfords being on hand as a murder happens in the booth next to theirs at a costume party.  There’s energy and tension in this chapter, which sadly dissipate in the concluding chapter, The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper, when it becomes blatantly obvious who the real killer is and, not only that, but precisely how he managed to do what he did and get his victim to accuse someone else to boot.  There’s little tension here, but it’s surprising and somewhat refreshing to see Christie using Inspector Marriot of Scotland Yard in a positive way.  Unlike a lot of policemen in stories about amateurs, Marriot is intelligent and is actually the one who goads Tuppence into actually solving this one and, in the end, it’s his hunch that is proved right. 

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!!  Yes.  In point of fact, Christie is very, very blatant with her clues.  There’s a conversation early in the story about how one can tell the difference between today’s newspaper and yesterday’s and it’s pretty clear that this will be significant later.  And, of course, it is.  Ultimately, this is a very simple one and Christie bends over backwards to give you every clue you need.  Plus, like Marriot, the reader just gets a hunch on this one.  Go with your gut; you’ll know the killer when you see him and, with a moment’s thought, you’ll have the case completely laid out in your head.  Another simple one; another win for me. 

The Case of the Missing Lady

A famous explorer returns from an Arctic expedition to find that the girl he’s engaged to has vanished into thin air.  Tommy attempts to channel Sherlock Holmes again, thinking the case has more than a few similarities to The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.  When he breaks out the violin again, Tuppence begs him to replace the violin with a cocaine addiction, which would be less painful for everyone.  The detectives are soon hot on the trail of a mysterious, menacing doctor and a strange country estate where the lady in question may be a prisoner.  But this is more The Yellow Face than Lady Frances Carfax and, once all becomes clear, Tommy’s Sherlock informs Tuppence’s Watson that she need not record this case for public consumption after all.

This is one of the toppers in the book.  Christie manages, first of all, to really capture something of Conan Doyle’s atmosphere.  In the late pages of the story, when Tommy and Tuppence investigate the estate-cum-nursing home-cum-dungeon of the mysterious, black-bearded and threatening Doctor Horriston, things feel very much like the kind of adventurous skulking about Holmes and Watson might do and the treatment of Doctor Horriston is a pitch perfect spoof of the villainous figures in many fine Holmes adventures.  But Christie has a wickedly funny twist instead of the serious malevolence of Conan Doyle’s adventures.  All things considered, it’s the best purely comic story in the collection.

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!! Nope.  The solution is that the mysterious Dr. Horriston runs a secret weight loss clinic.  The lady has entered the clinic as a result of having gotten massively fat during the two years her fiancé was gone to the Arctic.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT? It’s tenuous, but there’s a throwaway line near the beginning establishing the explorer’s distaste for the obese.  Was one particularly quick on the uptake, one could make an intuitive leap when Dr. Horriston is introduced.  Regardless, this story feels the most modern of the book; couldn’t this scenario play out today?  A mysterious disappearance leading only to a fat camp or a plastic surgeon’s office or, most likely perhaps, rehab?  Vanity endures, it seems, from 1929 to 2012.

Agatha Christie

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