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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 (Part 2)!

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Blindman’s Buff

Tommy decides to imitate Thornley Colton, a famous blind detective.  He stumbles a bit, literally and figuratively, upon first donning the opaque eyeshade that simulates blindness for him.  When a chance encounter at lunch ends up revealing that the Russian spies he last tangled with in The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger are back and out for blood, Tommy’s put in a situation even a detective with two good eyes might have trouble seeing a way out of.

This is less a mystery story and more an adventure story.  There isn’t really a central puzzle, just a central gimmick built around Tommy’s blind routine, which would only be a very funny joke, if not for the fact that he finds himself up against some very nasty characters before the story is over.  Because it is so different from most of the stories thus far, it’s a refreshing break and is quite a bit better than The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger, the previous Russian spy story we’ve had.  Christie knows how to get some great humor out of Tommy’s attempts to function while blind and Tuppence’s frustration at the foolishness.  The climax, in which a still blindfolded Tommy is faced with a walk through a room with deadly traps on the floor is pretty great and the twist that Tommy has up his sleeve is even better.  This isn’t typical Christie by a stretch, but it’s pretty good.

DID I SOLVE IT?   SPOILER ALERT!! Well, there’s nothing to solve, unless you count the last minute twist that Tommy’s eyeshade is a fake and that, in fact, he’s only been pretending to be unable to see from the very beginning.  Did I see that reveal coming?  No.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT? Well, I suppose there’s a chance; once Tommy and Tuppence get to the restaurant, Tommy does become surprisingly good at deducing what’s going on around him.  A particularly sly reader might be able to tumble at that point to the fact that the blindfold is probably a fake. 

The Man in the Mist

Tommy and Tuppence, having just failed spectacularly in their latest case, are lounging about, Tommy still wearing a priest disguise.  Who should they chance to meet but Gilda Glen, a famously talented (and infamously stupid) actress?  When she asks the pair to stop by her house that evening, Tommy isn’t sure whether she’s looking for the services of a detective or a priest.  As it turns out, he’ll be called upon to do the duties of both, as in deliver the last rites to Miss Glen and figure out who killed her.  Adding to the atmosphere of tension and terror is a heavy mist that blankets the house; to find out who committed murder on this particular misty night, Tommy will have to keep from getting lost in the fog himself. 

This is one of the best serious mystery stories in the book.  Christie does a good job with her atmosphere, riffing, obviously, on Father Brown.  The story treats this murder very seriously and the climax, when Tommy finally puts it all together, is gripping and hints at an idea Christie would revisit some years later in a Poirot novel.  One thing Christie was very good at when she wanted to be was finding a way to perfectly encapsulate the darkness of a story with the closing sentence and she does that here. 

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!!  No, I don’t think I can count this one.  It’s pretty obvious that the main suspect, a hot-tempered young man who’s been jilted by Gilda Glen, and who is the only person seen entering the house during the period of time when the murder happened, is a red herring.  He’s clearly innocent.  But the identity of the true culprit eluded me.  Key to the story is that a policeman on his beat has been watching the door of the house where the murder happens; this is what allows Tommy and Tuppence to believe that O’Reilly is the only person to have entered the house in the proper time frame.  But, as Tommy points out, “we forget that policemen are men too,” and indeed, that stolid, likable, rather stupid policeman walking his beat is in fact the killer, an ex-husband of Glen’s who, as Tommy puts it, “saw red.”  It’s a great twist and one Christie would return to later.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT?  It’s wonderful to see the blinders you put on when reading a story like this; the great puzzle is that O’Reilly was the only man who had opportunity.  Of course, Christie makes it quite plain that the policeman on the scene had opportunity too, only who on earth would suspect him?  It’s the puzzle that isn’t one, the instant you become aware of your own blinders: only one man had opportunity . . . except actually, two men did.  A great blind spot detective story.

The Crackler

Tommy and Tuppence lament the lack of an “Edgar Wallace-esque” case in their files.  Luckily, Inspector Marriot turns up with just the thing.  A daring new gang of counterfeiters is getting their bills out into hot circulation.  Scotland Yard suspects the Laidlaws, a high society couple.  Thanks to connections, the Beresfords insert themselves into the Laidlaws’ set to try to spot the way the bills are being passed.  Tommy, meanwhile, coins a new phrase for a passer of counterfeit bills: a crackler, after the crackle of crisp new bills.  Tuppence thinks a rustler would be better, but unfortunately, that one’s already been taken by the Americans.

This one is pretty different.  If this story is any indication, I wouldn’t care for Edgar Wallace, so there’s one bullet dodged, thanks to Christie’s theory of parody.  The story is really too short for it to build any interest, since it doesn’t have a terrifically obvious hook to help it along.  The idea of Tuppence being pursued by a younger man is a fantastically amusing one, but the story is so rushed that we don’t even see it happening; it’s only brought up in conversation between Tommy and Tuppence, which is a missed opportunity for sure.  And then there’s the frustrating fact that the villain of the story is obvious from the moment of his introduction.

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!!  You bet I did.  The twist is that it isn’t actually the Laidlaws, but rather a member of their set, a boisterous, apparently buffoonish American named Hank Ryder, who hides his criminal cunning behind an idiotic front.  He serves mostly as a drunken source of exposition and, as with Inspector Dymchurch in The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger, it’s clear from his first scene that he’s actually the one our heroes are after.

The Sunningdale Mystery

In an effort to prove his mighty intellect, Tommy tries to prove to Tuppence that he can solve a case simply by poring over newspaper clippings in a café.  He brings along some string to play with, a la Baroness Orczy’s The Old Man in the Corner.  The case is a strange one, of a man murdered on a golfcourse, after being seen in contact earlier that day in the company of a mysterious woman no one recognized.  The police have it down to an embezzlement charge against the dead man having driven him to become involved with some desperate characters.  Working together, Tommy and Tuppence first dismantle the case as it appears to be and then discover the secret behind that mysterious conversation with a strange woman.

This is, for my money, the best serious mystery story in the book.  It’s got a clear narrative to begin with and as Tommy and Tuppence work together, we get to see Christie writing them as a real team, which is a marvel to see.  Their conversation sounds absolutely real and the ways in which an idea had by one will be taken to the next step by the other flows perfectly.  It’s easy to see that these two really are partners, not a detective and a sidekick.  Generally in these stories, it’s one or the other who solves the case, but in this one, the solution, once arrived at, can only be called a joint solution.  Tommy and Tuppence come absolutely alive in this story; it’s easy to see how they challenge each other and complement each other as well and it’s easy to see why they’re together and doing what they do.  Add to all this the fact that the solution is a right corker, a brilliant “hidden in plain sight” revelation and you have a full-on classic. 

DID I SOLVE IT?  SPOILER ALERT!! Nope, can’t pretend that I did.  The solution is far too intricate to attempt to explain her, but suffice it to say that it’s delicious.  The kind of solution we go to Christie for, if you know what I mean.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT?  Oh, she plays fair, so yes.  It’s another one of those delirious moments when you slap yourself in the forehead.  At one point, there’s a substitution, one man pretending to be another on the golf course and Christie flatly tells us that witnesses said that the fellow in question began playing like another man, meaning that his game went to pot.  We leap to conclusion that the victim was upset by his conversation with the mysterious woman in brown, instead of taking the language at face value: as Tommy says late in the story, “He was playing like another man, because it was another man.”  Oh, man, that’s good stuff.

The House of Lurking Death

A young woman visits Tommy and Tuppence because of an attempted poisoning.  The Beresfords make plans to visit her at her estate the next day, but when they rise the next day, it’s to the news that many people, including the young woman herself, have died during the night of “food poisoning.”  Never one to let a job go, and feeling a little responsible, the Beresfords investigate.  Were the deaths a judgment from God, as one of the housekeepers avers, or is it the hand of man that held the bottle marked poison?  This time it’s Tuppence who figures out the mystery, but will the solution be enough to deter another judgment that’s on the way?

This is a good one.  Christie goes after it with some gusto and the shocking revelation at about a third of the way through the story that there have been multiple deaths is a stunner.  The rest of the story isn’t up to that bravura opening, but it certainly tries.  Why, yes, there is a religious fanatic who is forever shouting things like, “I am the flail of the Lord.” 

DID I SOLVE IT? SPOILER ALERT!! Um, nah, not really.  COULD I HAVE SOLVED IT?  Tuppence quite clearly points out two pretty big clues when she does her sum up.  That means yes.

Agatha Christie

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