Published in 1922, The Secret Adversary is the first of Agatha Christie’s five books to feature Tommy and Tuppence and also the first I have read from that series. I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect, but although it hasn’t become a favourite Christie novel, I found it very entertaining – more thriller than detective novel and written with a lighthearted humour that gives it a similar feel to the later standalone Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
It begins with a short prologue set during the First World War in which we see a man aboard the sinking Lusitania secretly passing important documents to a young American woman, assuming that she is more likely to survive the disaster than he is. We then jump forward a few years; the war is now over and Tommy Beresford and Prudence Cowley (known as Tuppence), two young friends in their twenties, are looking for work. Desperate to make some money, they decide to advertise themselves as Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere.
To their surprise, they are offered an assignment almost immediately when a Mr Whittington hears them talking and approaches Tuppence. Reluctant to give her own name, Tuppence tells him she is Jane Finn, a name she remembered Tommy saying he’d overheard in the street earlier that day – but as soon as Mr Whittington hears that name, his manner changes. He sends her away and by the next day he has vanished without trace. Now Tommy and Tuppence are sure they have stumbled upon the adventure they’ve been hoping for and decide to track down the mysterious Jane Finn. They get more than they’d bargained for, however, when they find themselves involved in a case of international espionage.
The Secret Adversary is packed with non-stop action: there are secret societies, passwords and code names, locked rooms, stolen identities and at least one murder. As I’ve said, it’s much more of a thriller or spy novel than a mystery, but of course there are still some mystery elements – particularly surrounding the elusive Mr Brown, who appears to be the mastermind behind the entire plot. I think I suspected just about every character in the book of being Mr Brown at first, but after a while I decided that he had to be one of two people. I guessed correctly, but as usual Christie does a great job of trying to mislead the reader and make us doubt ourselves!
This is not a book to be taken too seriously – the plot relies heavily on coincidences, the dialogue is often very silly and some of the characters are stereotypes (particularly the American millionaire Julius P. Hersheimmer) – but sometimes I’m just in the mood for something that’s light and fun to read! I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Tommy and Tuppence’s adventures eventually, although I will probably continue to just dip into Christie’s books at random as that has been working for me so far. I’m aware that Tommy and Tuppence age throughout the series, however, so I’m pleased that I managed to start with the first book in which they appear.
Have you read this – or any of the other Tommy and Tuppence books?