Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie


The Great War is finally over, and as jobs are scarce, childhood pals Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley find themselves in similar financial predicaments. Strapped for cash, the duo decide to go into business for themselves ... as adventurers. No sooner have they so decided than an adventure comes knocking. Before long, our heroes are smack in the middle of an international intrigue that could destroy England itself. A draft treaty somehow found its way into the hands of a young American girl called Jane Finn, and now both the girl and document are missing. If either of them falls into the wrong hands, the result could be a full scale Communist revolution. Tommy and Tuppence are tasked with locating the missing girl and recovering the document. But at every turn, they find themselves thwarted by the mysterious--and unknown--Mr. Brown, who seems to know all and anticipate their every move. With the help of a highly respected attorney and an energetic American millionaire, the Young Adventurers, Ltd. tackle this, their very first adventure ...

Somehow, despite my longstanding appreciation for one Agatha Christie, this particular duo of detectives completely escaped my notice. I've read Poirot, I've read Miss Marple ... I've watched the BBC and big screen adaptations of both detectives. But Tommy and Tuppence are new ones on me, and I have to say, I enjoyed reading about their adventures.

The dynamic here is a blend of Nick and Nora Charles and Sherlock Holmes. Tuppence is impulsive, intuitive, and imaginative; Tommy is rational, dogged, and self-possessed. Together, they make quite a pair. There is even a hint of Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings in the air, as the youthfully inexperienced duo is recruited by a highly placed British official:
If you'll excuse my saying so, you're a curious young couple. I don't know--you might succeed where others have failed ... I believe in luck, you know--always have... [...] Fate seems to have chosen you out to be mixed up in this. [...] My experts, working in stereotyped ways, have failed. You will bring imagination and an open mind to the task.
That's a Dumbledore/Gandalf speech, if ever I've heard one. Pitting these youths against a criminal mastermind makes no sense at all, unless you are willing to take the chance that their ideas--rejected by more professional, highly qualified individuals as foolhardy and a waste of time--will catch the opposition unawares and may be just the thing to save the day after all.

And of course, save the day they do. Christie writes with her usual humor and flair, adding a creative spin to elements that were, even by this time, rather old hat. The mystery itself is quite entertaining--Tommy and Tuppence both find themselves in mortal danger at different times (and to showcase their various talents and personalities). Christie has won my heart all over again--too bad there are only four Tommy and Tuppence novels.

Alex Jennings narrates the audiobook, and apart from a glaringly overdone American accent (here an 'R', there an 'R', everywhere an 'R' 'R'), he does quite a good job.

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