N or M? (Tommy and Tuppence 3) by Agatha Christie

Careless talk costs lives…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s 1940, and Tommy and Tuppence are desperate to help the war effort in any way they can. But they’re in their forties now, and Tommy is seen as too old for the armed services while Tuppence’s old skills from her days as a nurse in WW1 don’t seem to be in demand either. Tommy gets in touch with Mr Carter, now retired from the Secret Service, and asks if he can pull any strings. And then a Mr Grant shows up, ostensibly offering Tommy a dull but useful clerical role in Scotland. But when Tuppence leaves the room, Mr Grant tells Tommy this is a cover story – really the Secret Service want him to go undercover to a boarding house in the South of England from where they believe a top Nazi spy is operating. But they don’t know who – all they know is that it’s one of two people known only by their code initials, one male, one female – N or M. It’s vital the spy should be uncovered – the whole war depends on it! The operation is top secret and no one must know he’s going, not even Tuppence. So off Tommy goes, but when he gets there he’s in for a big surprise when he meets one of his fellow guests – Mrs Blenkinsop, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his eavesdropping wife…

I’m afraid when Ms Christie gets into espionage plots they become so convoluted and unlikely that I’m always left feeling if this was the best the Nazis could do the only wonder is they didn’t lose more quickly! But I don’t care – Tommy and Tuppence, especially Tuppence, are so much fun to spend time with that the plot can be as silly as it likes and I’ll still love the book! And there’s so much in it about the anxieties that would have been forefront in the minds of people on the Home Front that I expect it didn’t seem nearly so unbelievable when it was published in 1941 – Fifth Columnists, parachuting spies, those perfidious Irish, Nazi sympathisers, German refugees who might be spies… and all while Britain was standing alone against the mighty Nazi war machine, and victory was far from certain. As would have been the case for so many people too old to serve, Tommy and Tuppence’s two children – adults now – are in the forces, and both doing jobs requiring a lot of secrecy so that their parents don’t even know where they are much of the time. It’s partly to take their minds off this constant worry that makes them both so keen to be doing something – anything – to help.

Book 3 of 20

The boarding house is filled with a variety of characters who all look innocent enough, but equally could all be N or M. There’s the retired military man who seems to despair of democratic Britain and feels the Nazis are doing quite a good job of running Germany – but is he really a Nazi sympathiser or just a grumpy old man? Is the Irishwoman loyal to Britain despite her husband’s Irish nationalism during WW1? Is the young German really a refugee from a regime he hates, or is he an infiltrator? What about the hypochondriacal man and his put-upon wife – are they what they seem? Surely the mother evacuated from London with her young child must be just what she claims? That was what made the idea of the Fifth Column so frightening – once you accept the idea as possible, then anyone could be a Nazi spy. And so every careless word could lead to death or disaster for our troops. Christie captures this feeling of paranoia very well.

Despite all this serious stuff, there’s also enough humour in it to stop the tone from becoming too dark. The banter between Tommy and Tuppence is always entertaining, and here there’s an added element in that we see how their children treat them as if they were ancient and past it, while Tommy and Tuppence in reality are doing a far more important and secret job than either of them. Albert makes an appearance, and while it’s always fun to see him, sadly he follows in the tradition of Lord Wimsey’s Bunter or Campion’s Lugg – the comedy working class character who adores and idolises his master or mistress. Albert actually refers to Tommy as his master, for goodness sake! So I’m glad he plays a fairly minor role, and am devoutly thankful that neither Poirot nor Miss Marple saw the need for a working class sidekick.

Hugh Fraser

Hugh Fraser is as wonderful as always. Here he gets the chance to play loads of different characters, from grumpy old men to beautiful, moody young women, not to mention the toddler who speaks mostly in baby language and gurgles, and he handles them all brilliantly! So, despite my niggles with the plot, this is a hugely enjoyable listening experience, and Tommy and Tuppence are as much fun as ever!

Audible UK Link

38 thoughts on “N or M? (Tommy and Tuppence 3) by Agatha Christie

  1. Ah, there’s nothing like Hugh Fraser narrating a Christie story, FictionFan! And you know, you do make a point about Christie’s plots that feature international intrigue. They can get convoluted and – erm – not quite as realistic. But Tommy and Tuppence really are such great characters, and I’ve always loved their interactions with each other. And the plot of this one does have a few clever aspects to it.

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    • Yes, T&T are so much fun that I just switch off my credibility meter for the duration! And it was interesting in this one to get a kind of contemporaneous look at the paranoia of war. Hugh Fraser is wonderful – only he could make me tolerate childish gurgling… 😉

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  2. Hugh Fraser does a wonderful job. So glad you enjoyed his performance. I remember checking many of Agatha’s audiobooks out of the library back when I commuted to work. I had over an hour’s drive (one way) every day, so lots of time to listen!

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    • I used to listen to audiobooks when I commuted too – a great way to avoid developing road rage in a traffic jam! These Hugh Fraser narrations have given a whole new lease of life to the Christie books for me – he’s wonderful!

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  3. I tried one of this series of thrillers, I forget which, and couldn’t continue after a chapter or two; I can’t quite put my finger on why but perhaps I was put off by a broadcast episode with David Williams as Tommy, who’s not one of my favourite celeb actors…

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    • I hated the David Walliams TV version – he is completely wrong for Tommy! There’s a much older version – can’t remember the man now but the lovely Francesca Annis played Tuppence and got well into the role. But in general they’re not good for adaptations because T&T age so much over the course of the books, from bright young things to elderly grandparents. Much more fun to put all the adaptations and any desire for credibility aside, and just enjoy T&T as light comedy!

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  4. I read the book version of this one ages ago — thank you for reminding me why I enjoyed it! Tommy and Tuppence are always a delight, and I can see where the audio version would be a hit. Especially the baby gurgling, ha!

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    • Haha, only Hugh Fraser could make me tolerate a gurgling toddler for several hours! 😉 I love T&T – they really show Christie’s fun side, and for some reason the lack of credibility never bothers me in them. 😀

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  5. I have the first T & T on my CC list (and in my Kindle, so it’s not audio). You’ve made me a fan of Hugh Fraser, so I might have to look for this one in audio! I want to hear his toddler rendition! 😂

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    • Haha, his toddler is wonderful – only Hugh Fraser could make me tolerate baby gurgling for several hours! 😉 I listened to him doing The Secret Adversary a while ago, and again thought it was great fun. Somehow the Christie books work particularly well as audiobooks, I think.

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  6. I decided to read all the Tommy and Tuppence novels ever since I read that they were Christie’s favorite sleuths. I have only read the first one so far, but it’s too bad she had to do one of her silly espionage plots with them. I suppose it was topical. However, I think Tommy and Tuppence are delightful, so I’m looking forward to the next one, which is Partners in Crime (my reviews way behind my reading). I think it’s odd that she aged them so quickly, too. In the first book, they are bright young things, and by the third book Tommy is in his forties.

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    • I never find her espionage plots credible, but I often wonder what contemporary readers made of them – it seems to me she bases them on whatever people were feeling paranoid about at the time. I quite like that T&T age in real time – they match her own age at the time she was writing them pretty much, I think, and she uses them to comment on the different stages of life. Partners in Crime is quite fun, but on the whole I prefer the novels.

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  7. So interesting that in books for adults, the kids often incorrectly see their parents as inept and useless, while in books for kids, the kids often correctly see their parents as inept and useless. Authors know who their target audiences are, LOL.

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    • Hahaha, very true! I suspect it’s the process of being a parent that addles the brain, so it’s really the kids’ fault! Of course, I’m childless so my brain is still pristine… 😉

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    • Thanks! Yes, I think they stand up well to re-reading, and I must say the audiobooks have given them a whole new lease of life for me – Hugh Fraser is wonderful!

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    • Hugh Fraser is wonderful as the narrator. You probably know he’s the actor who played Hastings in the David Suchet Poirots, and he does an amazing impersonation of Suchet’s Poirot voice – it makes them feel comfortably familiar!

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  8. I really love this one – in fact I enjoy all the T&T novels, even Postern of Fate (which I’ve just finished, and was dreading somewhat based on its reputation). Seeing them age along with their author is so interesting, and I love their banter, even if the plots themselves are never terribly plausible.

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    • It’s years since I last read Postern of Fate but I seem to remember that although the plot was a bit of a confused mess, it really spooked me out, which is also true of By the Pricking of My Thumbs – Christie was great at incorporating spooky elements into her stories, and I always wish she’d done it more often. I’m kinda working through the T&T audiobooks in order so should be listening to it reasonably soon. 😀 🎧

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  9. I still haven’t read a Tommy and Tuppence novel yet, but I know how much you adore them so they are definitely on my TBR. That poster you included is chilling – not being able to trust anyone sounds truly horrendous, but I suppose those were the times right? That was the message, and better to be safe than sorry…

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    • Yes, the paranoia about spies and infiltrators must have been weird, and all the censoring of letters from the troops must have made keeping in touch hard too. Not to mention not even knowing where your son or daughter was stationed! Even if the T&T plots are a bit silly, they’re so much fun – I hope you enjoy them! 😀

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