In her second novel, Agatha Christie introduced Tommy & Tuppence, a pair of detectives often overlooked in her bibliography. They might just be my favorite of her recurring characters however, for a lot of reasons. This first book still has the flaws of Christie’s early novels: occasionally clunky prose, a sometimes overly cutesy tone & kind of forced feeling to some of the plot developments. But it’s an interesting departure from Christie’s first book in that this isn’t really a whodunnit as much as it is a spy thriller, though there is a mystery in terms of just who the Secret Adversary of the title really is, a mysterious spy-master know by the alias Mr. Brown. Also, interestingly, this book starts with a real historical event, the sinking of the Lusitania; Christie rarely referenced current events in her fiction, but it’s that sinking that kickstarts the plot here, as a British agent, unable to escape the ship, passes a pouch of secret documents to a young American woman about to get into a lifeboat. Those documents serve as one of the better examples of a McGuffin for the bulk of the novel. Tommy & Tuppence are a couple of economically challenged youngsters (by which I mean college age) who place an ad in the newspaper offering their services as “adventurers” as a way to make some money. Of course, they soon find themselves mixed up secret agents, mysterious abandoned houses, menacing doctors, amnesiacs, spy masters & assassins. The story, as I’ve said, is pretty nonsense and the book is too long, but the central duo really come to life. Christie gets a lot of humor out of their amateur status, their witty repartee and the compelling friendship that exists between them. Tommy & Tuppence wouldn’t reappear all that often, appearing in only five books in Christie’s bibliography, but in a really fascinating decision, Christie allowed the pair to age in real time. In their next appearance, Partners in Crime, they’re in their thirties; in the following, N or M, they’re in their late forties, etc. Something about the relationship between them, I think, was compelling to Christie and she wanted to actually see that relationship grow and develop. They also pretty well span Christie’s life, appearing in this one, her second novel, and in the final novel she wrote, though it wasn’t the final one published, of course. Anyway, Tommy & Tuppence aren’t well served by the story here, but their youth is a breath of fresh air. They’re charming and entertaining in a particular way, unlike any of Christie’s other detectives, and after reading this book, you’ll doubtless be ready to follow them as they grow and develop over the next few decades. 3 stars.
tl;dr – silly story of spies is a bit labored, but the introduction of Tommy & Tuppence, two of Christie’s finest creations, gives the book some lively spark. 3 stars.