I’ve been meaning to read more Agatha Christie (which may or may not have something to do with her appearance in Doctor Who…) and saw a review on Stella Matutina a few months ago for The Secret Adversary. I got the audiobook from the library–and absolutely loved it.
The Secret Adversary is a “Tommy and Tuppence” novel, about two friends who, hard-up for employment after World War I, form the Young Adventurers Ltd. Tuppence’s idea is to be criminals-for-hire, but instead they become enmeshed in an international spy thriller involving the Lusitania, a missing girl, vital documents, and the elusive criminal mastermind, “Mr. Brown.”
This was a delight of a book, which played to all my Anglophile tendencies. It’s so very, very British–or rather, a certain stereotype of Britishness. The dialogue is all full of “old thing, old bean, isn’t it all just ripping?” Much of the book takes place in London, so between ridiculous slang and wanderings through Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, I was having a wonderful time with that angle.
It’s great fun (or terribly jolly?) from other angles too. Tommy and Tuppence are splendid characters. Tuppence (a nickname) is clever, saucy and altogether too sure of herself, and prone to flights of inspiration of varying value. She’s in many ways the driving force of the book, and I have to love an extravagant yet effective heroine. Tommy is much steadier and slower to think things out, but more likely to be right once he comes to a conclusion. Both are very likable, and they provide a nice balance for each other besides.
The mystery becomes somewhat convoluted in spots (not to mention coincidental!), but the essential notion of the mysterious (secret) adversary and international disaster is sound. I never quite followed all the political ramifications of how it would spell disaster if these vital documents fell into the wrong hands…something about the Labor party and a general strike and I’m not sure what. But I just accepted that it would mean the fall of the British Empire and went from there without worrying about the details.
There are some nicely tense moments and unexpected twists. I was sure I saw one twist coming that turned out to be a red herring. Well-played, Dame Agatha. Even better, once the final reveal came, it did make sense–it wasn’t one of those annoying bait-and-switch jobs.
The story, of course, revolves around two friends of opposite gender, so at least one aspect of the story isn’t much of a twist… The romantic moments are brief and mostly backdrop, but still fun and rather sweet.
The CDs I listened to were the “Audio Editions Mystery Masters” series. The narrator’s British accent contributed a good deal to the fun of the Britishisms, and he did make me jump at least once at a tense moment. I thought he struggled a bit with some of the other accents though; the American accent especially sounded forced. Not everyone can be Katherine Kellgren, though, and overall I’d recommend the audio.
There was just one thing I didn’t understand. On at least two occasions, probably more, a character named Jane Finn is referred to as having a wildly outlandish and unusual name. Um. Really? Jane Finn is outlandish? As opposed to, say, Tuppence? Maybe there’s some reference re: “Jane Finn” that made sense in 1922 and doesn’t anymore, because on that one, Christie lost me.
But with everything else, I was right along with her and her delightful characters. I enjoyed Murder on the Orient Express but didn’t feel obliged to rush out for more Hercule Poirot. On this one, I’ve already been hunting my library’s catalog for more of Tommy and Tuppence.
Buy it here: The Secret Adversary