Monday, October 22, 2012

Beach Read: The Secret Adversary

Being a mystery-lover since my Nancy Drew days, you’d think that would grant me automatic enrollment into the Agatha Christie Fan Club.  But I think the first A.C. I read had something to do with Egyptian tombs or something and didn’t interest me in the least so I forsake all of her books.  But as an adult, with a much more mature reading palate, I gave an old Miss Marple a try, and loved it.  That led me on to Hercule Poirot and now I might be considered to have achieved Super Fan status!  But it wasn’t until a rainy Sunday a few weeks back when hubby and I wondered into a Barnes and Noble before the movie started and I found my first Tommy and Tuppence book…on the clearance rack, no less!  A lucky day for me!  

Book Title: The Secret Adversary
Author:  Agatha Christie
Genre:  Detective Story
Setting:  Post World War I England
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  302
Publication date:  2008 version of the 1922 original, complete with footnotes explaining some of the archaic words and phrases
Publisher:  Mud Puddle, Inc.
Opening Line:  It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915.  The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed.  
Favorite Passage: 
”Money, money, money!  I think about money morning, noon and nigh!  I dare say, it’s mercenary of me, but there it is!”
          “Same here,” agreed Tommy with feeling.
          “I’ve thought over every imaginable way of getting it too,” continued Tuppence.  “There are only three!  To be left it, to marry it, or to make it. First is ruled out.  I haven’t got any rich elderly relatives.  Any relatives I have are in homes for decayed gentlewomen!  I always help old ladies over crossings, and pick up parcels for old gentlemen, in case they should turn out to be eccentric millionaires.  But not one of them has ever asked me my name—and quite a lot never said ‘Thank you.’”

Beach Read Rating: 5 out of 5 Beach Umbrellas

Review: The premise of this book is really quite fun.  Two young people in post World War I London decide that the only way to make a fortune is to become “adventurers”, which means they would hire themselves out to commit crimes for others.  Need some diamonds stolen?  Call The Adventurers.  Need someone blackmailed?  Call The Adventurers.  Tommy and Tuppence convince themselves that the moral guilt would be on the people who hire them, not themselves. So they take out an advertisement in the newspaper to announce their service.  This, in a very far-fetched series of coincidences, into the role of saving England from a Labour Party uprising which would result in total anarchy.  So it’s a bit of an over reach, but a great adventure story none the less, and a great history lesson in the process. 
          Many times throughout the book I stopped to wonder if perhaps these two characters weren’t somehow the catalyst for the Nancy Drew mysteries, which came out about eight years later.  I couldn’t find any connection, but I do believe the theory has merit. 
          As an aside, the characters of Tommy and Tuppence appeared in a total of five adventures over fifty years and are the only two of Ms. Christie’s characters to age on that time line.  Neither Miss Marple nor Hercule Poirot aged significantly over the fifty years of Ms. Christie’s writing career. 
          If you haven’t read a Tommy and Tuppence—or any Agatha Christie—novel lately, take my advice:  there’s no better beach read (or rainy Saturday read) to be found. 

Flap Copy:  The Secret Adversary is a spellbinding mystery set in an uneasy London filled with political intrigue just after World War I.  A chance meeting reunites two childhood friends, now jobless and broke: the solid, cautious Tommy Beresford and the impetuous Tuppence Cowley. To make ends meet, they decide to open an agency called “Young Adventurers, Ltd.” With their motto: 

“Willing to do anything, go anywhere…No unreasonable offer refused.”

Soon the two young detectives are up to their necks in spies, murder and mayhem, not to mention a master criminal who seems to be everywhere and know everything.  They must combat double and triple crosses while trying to save England from imminent destruction at the hands of outside agitators.  The only possibility of victory lies in finding a long missing survivor of the sinking of the Lusitania who holds the key to the location of top secret papers.  In the wrong hands, these papers mean certain destruction.
In her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie created one of mystery’s most famous detectives, Hercule Poirot.  In this, her second novel, she introduces Tommy and Tuppence, a pair of young detectives who would serve as the template for countless detective couples who followed; smart, sassy, fearless and quick witted (think of The Thing Man, Moonlighting, Hart to Hart.)

The Secret Adversary offers a fun roller coaster of thrills headed by an extraordinary detective team and truly dastardly (and sometimes surprising) villains. The story features razor-sharp characterizations and plenty of humor.  This is Agatha Christie—the queen of crime—at her devilish best. 

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