The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence 1) by Agatha Christie

Reds under the bed…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

As the passengers on the Lusitania scramble for safety before she sinks, a man approaches Jane Finn. Pressing a package into her hands, he tells her that it’s of vital importance to the war effort that the contents are passed to the American authorities, and asks her to take it since women and children will be evacuated first, making her more likely to survive than him.

Some years later, the war is over and two young friends meeting by accident on a London street go to a tea room to talk over old times and new. Tommy Beresford has been demobbed from the army, while Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley is back in London now her services as a war nurse are no longer required. Neither has had much success in finding jobs, so half-joking, half-serious, they come up with an idea to form a joint venture – to advertise themselves as The Young Adventurers willing to take on any job offered…

But a man in the tea room has overheard them talk and, before they can place the ad, he approaches Tuppence with a job offer. Soon the two young people will find themselves embroiled in an adventure full of mysterious crooks, Bolshevik revolutionaries, missing girls, American millionaires, secret treaties and British Intelligence. And the brooding evil presence of the sinister Mr Brown, the criminal mastermind who is behind the plot – a man no-one seems to know by sight but whom all fear by reputation…

As regulars know, my cats are called Tommy and Tuppence, so that will give you some idea of how much I love this pair of detectives. Christie didn’t write many T&T books, but each has its own charm, especially since, unlike Poirot and Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence age in real time, so that we see them develop from youth to old age over roughly the same period as Christie herself did. The Secret Adversary is the first, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable romp.

James Warwick and the delightful Francesca Annis as Tommy and Tuppence in the ITV adaptation

Reading it now, nearly a century later, some aspects of it are unintentionally amusing, like dear Ms Christie’s obvious mistrust of Labour politicians, belief in the good old right-wing establishment, and a fear of those terrible socialists so great it would almost qualify her to apply for American citizenship! But this was during the Red terror following the Russian Revolution – the book was published in 1922 and there is much talk in it of a possible general strike which the socialists hope to orchestrate in order to start a British revolution. Four years later in the real world, the General Strike of 1926 didn’t quite do that, but it came close for a while, and was only broken by the middle classes volunteering to do the essential work of the strikers. My point is that the plot seems a bit silly now, but wouldn’t have back then – Christie was reflecting the legitimate fears of conservative Middle England.

Le Carré it’s not, however. Underneath all the spy stuff, there’s an excellent whodunit mystery, plotted as misleadingly as any of her later books. It’s decades since I last read this and the joy of having a terrible memory is that I couldn’t remember who the baddie was, and I loved how Christie led me around, suspecting first this person, then that one, then back again. Yes, at one point I suspected the right person, but purely by accident, and I’d moved on to the wrong person before the big reveal!

Agatha Christie

The major enjoyment of the book, though, comes from the delightful characterisation of the two main characters, and their budding romance – a romance the reader is well aware of long before the two participants catch on! Tommy is a typical British hero of the time, strong, rather stolid and unimaginative, but patriotic and decent, determined and resourceful. Tuppence is so much fun – headstrong and courageous, she works on intuition and instinct, and is one of the new breed of modern girls who are more likely to bat the bad guy over the head with a jug than swoon helplessly into the hero’s arms. She’s the driving force in The Young Adventurers while Tommy is the stabilising influence, and they’re a wonderful partnership. Lots of humour in their banter with one another keeps the tone light even when the plot darkens.

I listened to Hugh Fraser narrating the audiobook and, as always, he does a great job. He gets the chance to “do” an American millionaire and a Russian spy along with all the British characters, and has a lot of fun with the somewhat stereotyped characterisation Christie gives of them. All-in-all, pure pleasure either as a read or a listen – highly recommended! My cats recommend it too…

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link – sorry, can’t see the Hugh Fraser version on the US site, though there are other narrators available.

49 thoughts on “The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence 1) by Agatha Christie

  1. I enjoyed this one too – and funnily enough I was thinking about T & T this morning as I included Partners in Crime in my Top Ten Tuesday post today – saying how disappointed I was in the TV version a few years ago. It was nowhere near the same as Agatha Christie’s stories about them. I agree with BookerTalk about the later books not being as good – I’m thinking of Postern of Fate.

    • Was that the version with David Walliams? I found it unwatchable. I have a soft spot for the earlier version with Francesca Annis though – she was a bit too old for the role in the earlier books but the series got the sense of fun. Yes, Postern of Fate is a bit of a mess – Christie was really well past her best by then. But I like By the Pricking of My Thumbs – again it’s a bit messy, but it still manages to be very chilling…

    • Haha – yes, my Tommy and Tuppence are just like the originals too – Tommy is sensible but not too bright, while Tuppence is a bit of a spitfire… 😉

    • They never get the same attention as Poirot and Miss Marple, probably because there are so few of them. But the early ones especially are great fun… 😀

  2. Tommy and Tuppence are great characters, aren’t they, FictionFan? And you’re right that they grow over time. Watching that happen is an appealing part of reading these books. You make a well-taken point, too, about seeing this one in the light of the time when it was written. We may think some things don’t make much sense now, but back when the book was written, certain attitudes did make sense, and that includes attitudes towards Socialism. Interesting point! And, of course, there’s the mystery part. And Hugh Fraser narrating…

    • I love the T&T books – I only wish she’d written a few more of them. Haha – I had to laugh at her being so rude about Labour politicians and just assuming (rightly) that her readership would be entirely in agreement! I wonder if young people in Britain looking at the Labour Party now could even believe it was once seen as dangerously radical… 😀

  3. Someone at CrimeFest was saying that Tommy and Tuppence were Agatha Christie describing the ideal of marriage that she was aspiring to with her first husband. Of course, when it all went downhill, she abandoned the two and only returned to them when they (and she) were much older.

    • Interesting! Yes, I can see that – they are the perfect match. I’m so glad that she didn’t let her own experiences turn them into an unhappy couple though – I had difficulty enough just coping with them becoming old…

  4. A glowing review! Based on your cats’ names, I knew you loved Tommy and Tuppence! It’s been nearly a century since I read this one! (Well, maybe a quarter of a century. . . .)

    What MarinaSofia said is really interesting! And sad, thinking of Agatha Christie’s life.

    • Hahaha – for me, it might even be approaching half a century but for goodness sake don’t tell anyone!! 😉 Yes, it is a sad thought, but as I said to MarinaSofia I’m glad Christie didn’t let it turn T&T into an unhappy couple in later books – I struggled enough with them becoming old…

  5. I’m not certain whether I’ve read any of this series. I know about them in theory because you can’t be a reader of crime fiction and not know about them, but I read Christie in my teenage years when a friend of my mother lent them to me and I seem to remember that she didn’t like this particular set of books and therefore didn’t have them. I rather like the idea of meeting them on audiobook.

    • They don’t seem to have as many fans as the Poirot and Miss Marple books and the later ones had some plotting issues because they were written when Christie was really well past her best. But the early ones are delightful fun and Hugh Fraser’s narrations are always great… 😀

    • Haha – yes, when my Tuppence is naughty (like every couple of hours on average) she gets called Prudence in a disapproving tone, just as the real Tuppence’s rector father did to her. 😀 Hope you enjoy this one – I’m 99.999% sure you will!

  6. Preparing to take shelter, in case any thrown projectiles come my way after admitting this… but I don’t think I’ve ever read an Agatha Christie mystery!! 😱🙀 I did see Mousetrap in London about 15 years ago, if that counts. And I read The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, which led me to research Christie’s life.

    • What?!?!?!?!?!????? Oh, this will never do!! Right, here’s the plan. Start with Death on the Nile for M Poirot, then meet Miss Marple in Murder at the Vicarage, this one for Tommy and Tuppence, and then read And Then There Were None, which is a psychological thriller. Meantime I’ll be working on a list for your next batch… 😀

      • Yes ma’am! Per your command (okay, suggestion), Death on the Nile and this one are now on my Kindle. The other two have been added to my wish list. I assume it’s alright that the Poirot is #17 in that series. It’s not like I’m making any pretense I’ll manage to read ALL of her books! 😉

        • Hahaha! I’m feeling drunk on power!! 😉 No, they’re really not a series in that sense so it doesn’t matter which order you read them in. I just picked those ones because they’re favourites of mine and great examples for each of her ‘tecs. But once you’ve read them, you’ll want to read all the rest anyway… 😀

  7. Well if your cats recommend it than I MUST read it! I’ve never read a T&T mystery but I’m sure I would love them-the description of this sounds so good. And the subtle romance plot always adds a bit of fun when it’s not the main thing…

  8. I’ve been slightly put off T & T thanks to the David Walliams portrayal but I really must give this a whirl; it sounds so much fun! And that earlier adaptation has me intrigued already; I’m just loving the hats! 😀

    • I found the Walliams version so unwatchable I only made it through about ten minutes – ugh! Tuppence in the books is nothing like that Tuppence! The Francesca Annis version was much more true to the original, although because Tommy and Tuppence age so much over the series, it’s quite hard to do a series with the same actors. Francesca was too old for the early stories and too young for the late books…

    • Hahaha – I must admit I always laugh at American fear of socialism, as I trot down to my free doctor to pick up my free prescription for free medication… 😉 I think you’ll enjoy this one! 😀

      • FF, it sounds like a dream, honestly… I bet if Americans could live with that system for a month they’d all be clamoring for it here. I don’t know if we’ll ever change, though… at least not until some of the old guard start dying off, I’m afraid!

        • I doubt we’d ever have done it either, if we hadn’t done it in the aftermath of the war when everything was kinda up in the air and people were really inspired to make a better world. But we protect the National Health Service as our greatest treasure for all its faults, and hell mend any politician who tries to get rid of it… 😀

    • Haha – I’d love to have included one of them looking sweetly gorgeous, but tragically they’re not the kind of cats who cuddle together – in fact, they avoid each other as much as possible! The last photo I have of them both together is from about eight years ago!! And Tuppence in particular is awful – she gazes straight into the camera so ends up with glowing, alien eyes! I’ve given up trying to get nice pics of them…

    • Hurrah! My T&T get very depressed when everyone raves about their great rivals Poirot and Miss Marple and forgets about their namesakes! I do love especially the early T&T novels – much lighter and more fun than most of her other books… 😀

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