Wrapping up my little Agatha Christie mini-marathon with this book, the third in the Tommy & Tuppence series. This novel is quite different and finds our beloved main characters in an odd place. They’re both in their late forties with teenage children and they’ve found that they’re both too old to really help in the war effort . . . until events take a dangerous turn. The dying words of a British spy alert British Intelligence that two of Hitler’s most skilled espionage operatives have arrived in Britain with the goal of creating a Fifth Column. At least one of them has taken up residence in a small vacation town on the British coast, but which? Or could it be both? One is male and code-named N; the other is female and code-named M. As Tommy & Tuppence go under cover at a resort as vacationers and strangers to each other, they don’t even know which of them is there; they don’t even know if they’re looking for a man or a woman – is their resourceful enemy N or M?
There’s a lot of interest here, most notably the World War II aspect. This is one of Christie’s darker books of the forties, I think, and it’s because the threats of the Nazis, possible invasion of Britain and the secret Fifth Columnists undermining the war effort from inside Britain were all very real and there’s a dread looming over the discussions of these issues that one typically doesn’t get in a Christie novel. And, of course, the continued development of Tommy & Tuppence is interesting. They find themselves struggling with the obsolescence of middle age and the feeling that maybe they actually don’t have what it takes for the spy game anymore. There’s a wonderful scene where they reminisce about the events of The Secret Adversary and they muse on the fact that, after all their recent longing for adventure, that this particular case just isn’t as fun as the ones they had when they were younger. There’s a seriousness to this book that the World War II setting brings and it’s interesting to see that dark seriousness slowly start to overwhelm even the perpetually bright and witty Tommy & Tuppence. The book is problematic in a lot of ways, but also surprising in good ways. There’s a German refugee character that Christie uses to puncture the knee-jerk racism of some of the people in the town and a character that distrusts the extreme Nationalism brought about by war. But then Christie will turn around and say really problematic things about Germans herself and the direction she ends up taking the German refugee character is distasteful and awkward for modern readers. There is a kind of depressing bit where a character expresses the opinion that all Germans in Britain should be put in internment camps and Christie, through Tommy, expresses horror at the idea of such treatment of innocent people. This was 1941, you understand.
Anyway, it’s a likable book with an interesting tone and some interesting themes related to living in dangerous times, always an evergreen subject. The book is also short at right around two hundred pages in my edition and it’s a quick read. It’s not the best of this duo, but Christie gets at interesting things here and pulls off an entertaining genre story at the same time. 3 stars.
tl;dr – WWII set spy thriller has problematic bits, but it’s also surprisingly thoughtful and very focused on character development; a quick, fun & interesting read. 3 stars.