This book finds the delightful detective duo of Tommy & Tuppence, now a few years after their first appearance in The Secret Adversary; they’re married and, in their early thirties, getting a bit bored with life. The answer? Take over a detective agency of course. This book has an overarching plot involving a group of spies that have been using the detective agency as a cover for their spying endeavors, but this is really more a collection of short stories, with Tommy & Tuppence investigating various cases. This is one of Christie’s most overtly comedic books; the witty banter of the two main characters is always good for a laugh or two, but Christie has an extra layer of humor here. In order to gain insight into detectives, Tommy reads the classics of the genre and attempts to model himself after each of them. Each case then functions as a quasi-spoof of a different popular detective. There’s even a spoof of Christie’s own Hercule Poirot. A lot of those detectives have faded away over time, which is a testament to Christie’s enduring popularity; the majority of the detective writers that Christie considered peers are no longer read or even remembered. The choice of detective being spoofed in the story can change the tone of the stories quite a lot. The Man in the Mist, for instance, is a Father Brown pastiche and it’s the darkest, most serious story in the book. What this does is allow the book to range across a variety of tones and styles. The quality of the stories is rather variable, but the wit behind them makes you forgive the occasional contrived endings or silly solutions. And when the book works, it really works. The Case of the Missing Lady is a wonderful Sherlockian spoof; the aforementioned Man in the Mist is an eerie, somewhat grim mystery; The Sunningdale Mystery is a great, quite clever high-concept story in which Tommy & Tuppence attempt to solve a mystery at long distance by simply reading a newspaper story about a murder and uncovering the truth without ever leaving their table. The characters of Tommy & Tuppence really just continue to delight me. In this book, Christie paints one of the most attractive portraits of marriage in genre fiction. It isn’t that their relationship is sappy, but it’s more that they like each other as much as they love each other. It’s a picture of an enduring friendship you see mostly. It’s also refreshing that they’re both intelligent, unlike in a Holmes/Watson or a Poirot/Hastings pairing. When you start a story, you’re never sure which of the two is going to come up with the solution and, when Christie is at her best, as in the Sunningdale Mystery, it really does feel totally organic the way they talk each other to a solution, each of them having different insights at different times. For the time, it seems very progressive in its treatment of Tuppence in terms of having her take the lead at certain times; there’s even a scene where a character says that Tommy is “a husband too easily led by his wife,” to which Tommy responds with derision. I just think Tommy & Tuppence remain two of Christie’s very best characters and this is both the best of their books and one of my absolute Christie favorites. 4 stars.
tl;dr – loosely connected short story cycle features two of Christie’s best characters; good-natured, witty and charming, this one’s a real winner.