By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Tommy and Tuppence) by Agatha Christie

“Was it your poor child?”

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When Tommy and Tuppence visit Tommy’s elderly Aunt Ada in the Sunny Ridge nursing home, Tuppence falls into conversation with a sweet but rather confused old lady called Mrs Lancaster. As Tuppence, in a thoughtful moment, gazes at the fireplace, she is startled when Mrs Lancaster asks, “Was it your poor child?” The way she asks sends a shiver down Tuppence’s spine (and mine). A few weeks later Aunt Ada dies and when they return to the home to collect her belongings, Tuppence determines to speak to Mrs Lancaster again. But they discover Mrs Lancaster has gone – collected by her relatives. Tuppence, with nothing but her instincts to go on, finds this puzzling and worrying, and decides to track Mrs Lancaster down. She meets with a brick wall, however, of lawyers and bankers none of whom seem to know exactly where Mrs Lancaster might be…

This is a late Christie, published in 1968, and as with many of the later books the plotting isn’t as tight as when she was at her peak. But although it all gets a bit rambly in the middle, it has a wonderfully spooky atmosphere. From Mrs Lancaster’s spine-shivering question, Tuppence finds herself entering a maze of old rumours and gossip, much of them about murdered or missing children. People are very willing to talk, but memories are vague and Tuppence finds it impossible to pin down hard facts or dates.

All she has to go on is a painting that Mrs Lancaster had given to Aunt Ada, of a house by a canal that Tuppence feels sure she has seen once before, perhaps from a car or a train. So while Tommy is off at a hush-hush conference with his old colleagues from his days in the Secret Service, Tuppence digs out train timetables and old diaries, and sets out to repeat any journeys she has made over the last few years in the hope of spotting the house again. But it seems that someone doesn’t want Mrs Lancaster to be found, and Tuppence soon finds herself in danger. Will Tommy find her in time?

Book 20 of 20

Tommy and Tuppence are the only detectives of Christie who age in real time, so in this book they are now in their sixties. Between this and the nursing home theme, there’s quite a bit of musing on ageing in the book, both on the physical limitations it brings and on the mental decline that faces some elderly people. Christie, herself ageing of course, does this rather well. Tommy and Tuppence still spar as much as they always have, but Tommy perhaps worries about his wife a little more now, feeling that Tuppence should recognise that she’s not a young adventurer any more and should take more care for her safety. But that wouldn’t be Tuppence’s style at all! Once she gets her teeth into a thing she doesn’t let go, no matter where it leads her.

Hugh Fraser

Hugh Fraser really is a fantastic narrator! He always brings out the humour in the books, but in this one he also creates the spooky atmosphere brilliantly, never over-acting but knowing exactly how to chill the reader. He copes with a range of elderly lady voices beautifully, bringing out all the fun of Aunt Ada’s rudeness and the pathos of Mrs Lancaster’s confusion. He differentiates the characters with a different voice for each and never slips, so that it’s always easy to tell who’s speaking even when several people are conversing together. And he does a great job with Tuppence’s character, making her just as enjoyable as she is on the page!

Despite the woolliness in the mid-section, the basic plot is strong and the unsettling atmosphere lasts all the way through to the chilling ending. A great way to finish the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge!

Audible UK Link

39 thoughts on “By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Tommy and Tuppence) by Agatha Christie

  1. I’ve always thought Tommy and Tuppence didn’t get the press they deserve, FictionFan. This one does have, as you say, a great eerie atmosphere, and it’s vintage Tommy and Tuppence, in terms of their relationship and the actual mystery, I think. It’s funny; I usually don’t care much for stories that ramble a bit too much, but with Christie, I often forgive that. Now you’ve made me want to go back to it! Or I could listen to Hugh Fraser tell me the story and that’s a winner, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • She was always great at creating spooky atmospheres – I wish she’d done it more often! I really enjoy Tuppence in this one, especially since we’re now of an age. In my youth, I “identified” with Young Adventure Tuppence more… 😉 I do feel some of the later stories ramble too much and wonder why she didn’t have a stronger editor to streamline them a bit. But mostly there’s still a good plot underneath the waffle, as there is here. Hugh Fraser is pure pleasure to listen to! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this one when I listened to it a year or two ago – I’m very fond of Tommy and Tuppence, and enjoy seeing them age across the books. (Even in Postern of Fate, I found some interesting observations about ageing buried among the pages). The plot is woolly, but I agree – the atmosphere is great, and Hugh Fraser does a fantastic job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was the first Tommy and Tuppence book that I read and I thought it was so good. ‘Something wicked’ was certainly afoot, and evil was about as Tuppence’s life was in danger. A dark and sinister tale.

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    • She does spooky atmosphere so well – just a few words is enough to tingle the spine! I haven’t read Postern of Fate in decades – I really struggle with some of the very late ones because I hate seeing her skills fade. But I’m going to listen to it soon, since I’ve re-read all the rest of the T&Ts now – I’m hoping Hugh Fraser will help me through the waffly bits! I seem to remember it being incredibly spooky too…

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  3. Congrats on completing your audiobook challenge! And what a wonderful way to end it, too! I haven’t read this one, but I’ve loved the Tommy and Tuppence books I have read, so when I can get my hands on a copy, I’ll be reading it. Thanks for another excellent review, FF.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m stunned that I finished on time – I didn’t think I stood a chance! I love the T&T books and this has always been my favourite of them despite the waffliness in the middle – it has such a wonderfully creepy atmosphere. Enjoy! 😀

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  4. Hugh Fraser is a wonderful reader, up there with Francis Matthews and James Saxon who have both sadly left us. They made a great Campion and Troy Alleyn respectively.

    Audiobook narrators don’t get the respect they deserve. There are no narration Baftas – what would you call them? What would the award look like – an etched glass tape cassette?

    And audiobooks don’t get much critical coverage, either.

    Publishers – don’t give the job to a well-known face! Give it to a character actor who can “do the police in different voices” (Dickens).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still relatively new to audiobooks so haven’t tried either Francis Matthews or James Saxon. I was never too keen on Campion, but I’ve been thinking of revisiting some of the Alleyn books on audio, so I’ll look out for the Saxon versions – thanks for the tip!

      Ha, I think Audible do something called the Audies(?), but they don’t seem to make much splash! I agree – narrators deserve more recognition. For me it’s not like simply listening to someone reading out loud – it’s a performance art, as much as theatre or TV acting, and harder since they have to play all the characters themselves! I tend to “re-read” on audio because the performance brings back all the original freshness to a well-known book. Character actors definitely do a better job than stars in my limited experience.

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

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  5. I’ve only read the first two Tommy and Tuppence books and want to continue reading them in order, so this one will have to wait until I’ve read N or M? first. Congratulations on completing the challenge! I won’t quite finish in time this year, but have come very close.

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    • I’ve read them all several times over the years but this is the first time I’ve read them in order and I’m really enjoying seeing them change over the years. I hope you enjoy the rest! Haha, thank you – no one is more stunned than me that I finished on time! Must have been turbo-charged by something this summer! 😉

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  6. Way to go on finishing the challenge!! (I knew you could do it!) This one sounds SO good and I really wish my library had it in audio. But…. I did discover they have a one volume set of all five Tommy and Tuppence mysteries. I already have the first one on my Kindle, but have tagged the collection so I can read the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, thank you – your confidence inspired me! 😉 Oh, what a shame they don’t have the audiobooks, but reading them is a lot of fun too. They’re so different in style to the Poirots and Miss Marples! I hope you enjoy them – I’ll be broken-hearted if you don’t. No pressure… 😉

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    • I’ve always loved T&T too and have been really enjoying revisiting them in order as audiobooks. It’s brought back all the original freshness and fun! This was always my favourite of them because of the wonderfully spooky atmosphere… 😀

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    • Thank you! Haha, no one is more surprised than me that I finished in time! 😀 I often wonder how long it takes them to narrate a book. Do they do it in long stretches or lots of little short sections? It’s a real talent!

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  7. My this does sound chilling! I just finished Destination Unknown by Christie about 30 minutes ago, so I’m definitely feeling part of the Christie fan club these days. Luckily she has so many I can look forward to enjoying! Good to know the plots get a bit looser as the years go on though…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh, I hope you enjoyed it! I find in general that her Poirot and early Miss Marple books are the best-plotted ones. Some of her standalones go a bit over the top, especially when she gets into spy thriller territory!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I am glad you enjoyed this, I wasn’t sure how it would be, since it was a later book. But I still haven’t read N or M? yet. Do they need to be read in order. (That is usually my preference.) A big problem with reading Christie for me is that most of the copies I own are wonderful old paperbacks but with tiny print, and I just can’t do that anymore. And as much as I would like to listen to Hugh Fraser, I haven’t gotten into audio yet.

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    • The plotting in her later books is definitely not as good as her earlier stuff – the basic plot is fine but there’s a lot of waffle in the middle. I love T&T though, especially Tuppence, and I think Christie shows her ageing very believably. I don’t think they really need to be read in order, but because of the ageing aspect I do think they work better that way. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent re-read of N or M? so I hope you enjoy it. It might be a good way to find out if audio books work for you!

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    • What???!!! My cat will not be happy when he discovers you’ve been ignoring his namesake! 😼 Christie was so good at getting a bit of creepiness into her stories, and Hugh Fraser is brilliant at delivering the creepy lines!

      Liked by 1 person

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