The Secret Adversary: “It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7th, 1915.”
Detectives: Tommy Beresford & Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley
Published: 1922 (Christie’s 2nd published book)
Length: 308 pages
Setting: London; Bournemouth; Holyhead, Wales; Kent
Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley are childhood chums who meet up after the war. Tuppence, the daughter of a clergyman, wishes to spread her independent wings and Tommy, demobilized after the war, is looking for a new direction in life. As neither is flush with money, they put their entrepreneurial brains together and decide to launch The Young Adventurers, Ltd. Overhearing them, a man named Whittington follows Tuppence and claims he’s interested in her services. Immediately wary, Tuppence gives her name as Jane Finn, the assumed name which she’d heard earlier from Tommy. The appellation causes Whittington to react nearly apoplectically and the following investigation sends them on a whirlwind of adventure from which they are unsure if they’ll return alive!
Who is the real Jane Finn and why has she disappeared? And why is every searching for her, from her American cousin Julius P. Hersheimmer, to criminal masterminds, and government agents? Tommy and Tuppence finds themselves in trouble and out of it, chasing false and legitimate trails through London and the English countryside, dodging bullets, finding missing documents and missing memories until they expose the most devious, complex and ruthless criminal mastermind of them all, the secret adversary!
Tommy and Tuppene’s charm immediately captures your imagination and your heart. They are neither imminently clever, nor dazzling connected nor unerringly lucky, but Christie imbues them with a common English steadfastness, determination and good sense that serves them well. Mr. Carter, their contact, describes their solid traits:
“Outwardly, he’s an ordinary clean-limbed, rather blockheaded young Englishman. Slow in his mental processes. On the other hand, it’s quite impossible to lead him astray through his imagination. He hasn’t got any — so he’s difficult to deceive. He worries things out slowly, and once he’s got hold of anything he doesn’t let go. The little lady’s quite different. More intuition and less common sense. They make a pretty pair working together. Pace and stamina.”
Christie’s razor-sharp plotting was a little looser in this book; often the Adventurers trust someone merely on feeling, which I suppose also illustrates their detective naiveté as they experience their first case. But the reckless pace of the story and the kaleidoscope of adventure leave you hanging onto the edge of your seat and you’re almost breathless at the end.
I loved Tommy and Tuppence when I first was introduced to them years ago and they were just as delightful the second time ’round!
For more Agatha Christie mysteries, see The Mysterious Affair at Styles.