Agatha Christie begins The Secret Adversary with the dedication, “To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure.” In this novel, Christie takes her readers on an adventure, now of the past, through 1919 England, and it is truly delightful.
The mystery genre has become one of my favorites, but I’ve found that few people do it well. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie have set a high standard for writers. Most of my experience reading Christie have been through the tales of Hercule Poirot. While these tales are entertaining and often plot-twisting, and Poirot a worthy detective, his character often reads as pompous. Not so with The Secret Adversary’s Tommy and Tuppence.
The two young detectives, or rather, founders of The Young Adventurers, are refreshing characters, mixing in luck and personality to solve the crime. Tommy is well-described in the book as deliberate in his thinking and hard to read; some even mistake him for being slow. Tuppence, on the other hand, is quick-thinking and witty yet sometimes impulsive. The two personalities complement one another well. Christie created characters that have a lot of chemistry between them, and this plays out well as friends and partners.
The story begins in 1915 with the handing off of secret government documents to a young American woman upon the bombing of the Lusitania, as she is more likely to be rescued. Then we skip forward to 1919 where we meet up with Tommy and Tuppence, post-war, searching for steady employment, but instead seeking adventure. The Young Adventurers are formed, and are handed their first mission to recover this lost document, more dangerous and potentially deadly than they imagined.
The novel shifts back and forth between Tommy and Tuppence as one goes missing and the other continues the adventure, even after facing the possibility that their partner could be dead. They are aided by Julius P. Hersheimer, millionaire and self-proclaimed cousin of Jane Finn, the missing girl who received the secret documents, and Sir James Peel Edgerton, prominent London attorney. The back and forth story between the characters makes for an entertaining read, and Christie gives us a good glimpse of the clues. While none of these four know all, the reader can piece the final puzzle together, even as Tommy and Tuppence stick to the advice to “never tell all you know – not even the person you know best.”
The story is intertwined in the history of the time: the labor party, the Bolshevik movement, the fear of the Red state. The mission is perilous. There are Russians, Germans, intelligence agents, and spies. The release of the document could mean certain victory for the Labor Party, and a forever change in history. But the seriousness of the setting and the mission are well counterbalanced with the playfulness and energy of the novel’s main characters. Christie balances the tension of the novel well with comedic relief.
Tommy and Tuppence truly make this novel a delight. Agatha Christie is a master of her craft, and I’m so glad I stumbled upon these young adventurers. While Hercule Poirot will continue to be a part of my reading, I’m looking forward to reading more of the Tommy and Tuppence series.