The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

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?

26 thoughts on “The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

  1. Lisa says:

    I have read all the Tommy and Tuppence books, and I think they’re my favorite of Agatha Christie’s detectives. I do enjoy the setting of this one, just after the war ended, but I also really like the one set during the second World War (N or M).

    • Helen says:

      The Tommy and Tuppence books never sounded very appealing to me, but I’m so glad I’ve finally tried one. I’ll look forward to reading N or M. 🙂

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I watched the first episode of the BBC series based on this title but didn’t quite get enough into it enough to watch any more — maybe because I’m not a great fan of David Walliams (who played Tommy) or maybe because the volence didn’t quite gel with the humour.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t watch the BBC series, partly because I’m not a big David Walliams fan either and also because I decided I would rather try reading the books first. It was probably the right decision, I think.

  3. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

    I’ve not read any, though I’ve seen a few on TV – that didn’t encourage me to try the books, but this has!

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’ve read and loved all the Tommy and Tuppence books (and therefore refused to watch the BBC adaptation of it!) They *are* lightweight yes, but get a little more serious as the protagonists age – and they’re some of my favourite Christies! The earlier series was much better.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t watch the BBC adaptation as I wanted to read the books first. It sounds as though that might have been a good decision! I’ll look forward to seeing how Tommy and Tuppence age as the series goes on.

  5. FictionFan says:

    Well, you can probably tell by the fact that my cats are called Tommy and Tuppence that I’m a bit of a fan of this crime-busting duo! So I’m delighted you enjoyed this one, and hope you enjoy the rest. They’re interesting for being the only Christie detectives who age in real time and therefore we meet them at different stages in their lives. The quality is variable, but I love the chemistry between them and the humour – there’s always some humour in Christie, but I think it’s in this series that she really lets herself go a bit. Have fun!

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I’d guessed you were a fan! I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series and will try to read them in order so I can see them age. I love the relationship between the two of them and the humour. 🙂

  6. Lark says:

    I’ve never read any of her Tommy and Tuppence books, but they sound kind of fun. Maybe a little more madcap and adventurous and light than her others, but like you said, that’s not always a bad thing. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Madcap is the perfect way to describe this book! And no, it’s not a bad thing at all – sometimes you just want something light and fun, don’t you?

  7. Judy Krueger says:

    As you know I did not become a Christie fan after reading my first one last month. But I learned from a reading group member last night that And Then There Were None was not entirely representative of her mysteries. I do like to read mysteries for a break from other stuff and will continue to do so. I like reading your reviews of the Christie books you read.

    • Helen says:

      I would agree with your group member. Christie wrote quite a variety of books – conventional detective novels, thrillers, domestic mysteries, and fun ones like this. I haven’t read a lot of them, but like to pick one up now and then.

  8. Cleo @ Classical Carousel says:

    I loved the Tommy and Tuppence novels when I was younger but that was years ago. I wonder what I would think of them now? I have a few more years of classics to get through and then I think I’ll feel comfortable circling back to read some old favourites!

    • Helen says:

      I love re-reading old favourites but don’t do enough of it these days. I hope you still enjoy the Tommy and Tuppence novels if you do get round to reading them again!

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