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The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

The Secret Adversary (1922)

by Agatha Christie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Tommy and Tuppence (1)

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2,321682,720 (3.59)121
Recently added byCotyM, Dithers, INorris, PhilSyphe, sturlington, bardon2121, James_Litherland, private library, joseagomeztomas, Larou
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English (63)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (68)
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Not so much of a “Whodunit?” this, but more of a “Who is he?” The “he” being an elusive criminal mastermind known by name as Mr Brown but known in person by almost none. I guessed who he was early on in the story!

This is also a “Where is she?” as another main plot is the search for a young lady who possesses some important papers. Mr Brown needs these papers, while “The Young Adventures” aim to thwart him.

The two main characters are likeable and gel well together. I like Tuppence’s dialogue. She and Tommy are a pair of 22-year-olds yet much of the time they come across as young teenagers. In fact the book on the whole strikes me as a children’s book for adults, if such a thing is possible.

The first three-quarters of the book appealed to me more than the last quarter. Somehow he seemed to lose some of the upbeat pace and become anti-climactic. Still, it was a good read nonetheless. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Oct 4, 2015 |
"Agatha Christie’s second published novel is a bit odd if you come to it having never read anything but Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot stories. There’s a very good reason for that, however: it is a youthful book. For those who have only ever seen Christie in photographs from the end of her life, nearly fifty years later, it requires some imagination to realise that she was a young woman when she wrote The Secret Adversary, and that as a result, it is a youthful, panache-filled, “thriller” of a book.

The characters themselves should be giveaways to the fact that this is a different sort of Christie. Tommy Beresford and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley are in their early twenties, both trying to find their feet in the years immediately after the Great War (1914-18, for those with a lamentably poor grasp of history). Childhood friends, Tommy and Tuppence elect to try to find a bit of adventure by incorporating themselves as the “Young Adventurers” (about which the less said probably the better). When they inadvertently stumble into a kidnap plot with sinister implications for national security, it falls to the ex-soldier and the ex-nurse to attempt to unravel the mystery of a missing American girl who may still hold papers so damning that they could re-start the war in Europe.

As this is a youthful book, we should forgive some of the youthful over-reach and melodrama. Clearly, Christie’s imagined plot was fueled by the chaos of the War, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the sinister world that seemed to have emerged from the Armistice. Onto this landscape Christie installs the sinister figure of Mr Brown, a villain who is so unobtrusive that he often meets his victims and is unnoticed by them, yet who is secretly the criminal mastermind behind a gang of ruthless toughs seeking the papers given to Jane Finn by the British courier Danvers in the last moments of the Lusitania.

There are some minor problems with the story, but nothing that should make it unintelligible to an intelligent reader. Manyof these have to do with the Julius Hirscheimer and his pseudo-American patois, which is sometimes merely questionable, sometimes outright bad (as far as I can tell). A few references are dated as well, as in Tuppence looking up Sir James Edgerton Peel in the ‘red book’ (it took some looking to find that this was a reference book, obviously bound in red covers, which provided information about members of the royal family and the judiciary). It is a bit difficult to believe, as well, that nearly five years after the 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania, anyone still has a hope of finding the missing Jane Finn, or that she could have survived so long in captivity. Some of the villans also appear and disappear like chimera, and I imagine we are left to assume that the rest of the gang scatter when their leader dies. But the role of the conclave of foreign agents (again, for the time, they are Russian and German and Sinn Feiner Irish - don’t forget, there was an uprising in Ireland in 1916), seems to vanish once Tommy is caught spying on them. Clearly, Christie just wanted to get on with the story.

Despite the flaws, The Secret Adversary is an entertaining stroll through the world of nearly 100 years ago. Fans of Christie should find enough here to intrigue them, and casual readers will do well to just go along for the ride. It’s not Christie’s best story, no, but The Secret Adversary is the best sort of juvenilia, in that it is not horribly embarrassing. Four stars.

While I’m on the subject, I want to take one moment to address the 2015 remakes for television of the T&T stories, undertaken apparently by David Walliams (of “Little Britain”, a show which I have always found unwatchably unfunny). It was Walliams who apparently took the decision to extensively rewrite Christie to make these wooden, pasteboard caricatures of characters and story. Unfortunately, whatever his positive characteristics as a comedian, Walliams is hopelessly out of his depth in this chaotically bad drama. Jessica Raine as Tuppence is inoffensive, but hardly convincing. The show looks nice, yes, but then, most things look nice in HD with a bit of a budget. What these people still haven’t learned is that it is what was actually *written* in the story that made them beloved, not the framework of the story. By changing so much about the tale (moving the setting by thirty years, making Tommy and Tuppence a mid-thirties old married couple with a son, turning Tommy into a hapless and failing entrepreneur (again catastrophically woodenly acted by Walliams), for some reason making Tommy an aspiring beekeeper (seriously?), rewriting the Julius Hirscheimer and Jane Finn characters, and setting the entire thing in the Cold War, they have essentially made up their own story. If that is the case, I’m not sure why they needed to keep the character names or attach Christie’s name to it.

The rewrite is exactly the sort of thing that made Christie herself refuse to allow television adaptations during her lifetime, an embargo maintained by her estate and broken only by the original production of The Seven Dials Mystery in the early 1980s. And it was that production which led to the original - and far superior - televised version of The Secret Adversary, and the much-maligned Partners in Crime that followed (qv; my review of Partners in Crime is elsewhere). Although not well-received at the time, these productions will, I think, stand up as being far more faithful to Christie, not to mention better acted and produced (even if limited by the production values of the time). Give me James Warwick and Francesca Annis any day over Walliams and company. If you like these characters, do yourself the favour of tracking down the 1980s versions (available on DVD and via some streaming services, at the time of writing). It's worth your time." ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Sep 18, 2015 |
I found this Nadia May narration much enhanced my enjoyment of this first Tommy and Tuppence book. Also, my admiration for Christie's writing is greater with this reread as she managed to keep me guessing even though I thought I remembered the solution. Her red herrings were so plausible I kept second-guessing myself thinking I had mis-remembered it! ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 1, 2015 |

Another good page turner.
Nice to read about the beginning of Tommy and Tuppence. ( )
  GeoffSC | May 31, 2015 |
Tommy and Tuppence aren't my favourite Agatha Christie characters. This story is readable enough, but not Christie's best work in my view. ( )
  cazfrancis | Apr 22, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Christie, Agathaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siikarla, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To all those who lead
monotonous lives
in the hope that they may experience
at second hand
the delights and dangers of
First words
It was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. (Prologue)
"Tommy, old thing!" (Chapter I)
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description

She has been missing for five years. And neither her body nor the secret documents she was carrying have ever been found.
Now post-war England's economic recovery depends on finding her and getting the papers back. but he two young Brits working undercover for the ministry know only that her name was Jane Finn and the only photo of her is in the hands of her rich American cousin. they don't know yet about a mysterious and ruthless man called "Mr. Brown" or the beautiful, but sinister, older woman who knows all about Jane Finn ... and therefore must die.


From his hiding place behind the door Tommy could hear the Russian's fingers drumming on the table.
"Then what more do you want?"
"The document itself," said the German bluntly.
"Ah! It is not in your possession? But you know where it is?"
"One person - perhaps. And we are not sure of that even."
"Who is this person?"
"A girl."
Tommy held his breath.
"A girl?" the Russian's voice rose contemptuously. "And you have not made her speak? In Russia we have ways of making a girl talk."
"This case is different," said the German sullenly.
"How - different?" He paused for a moment, then went on" "Where is the girl now?"
"She is - "
But Tommy heard no more. A crashing blow descended on his head, and all was darkness ...
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553122479, Paperback)

Where is Jane Finn? The mere mention of her name produced a very strange reaction all over London. So strange, in fact, that Tommy and Tuppence deceided to find this mysterious missing lady. And once those two determine sleuths made up their minds, nothing could stop them -- not international espionage, kidnapping...or even murder.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:30 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Hiring themselves out as "young adventurers" proves to be a smart move for Tommy and Tuppence. All Tuppence has to do in their first job is take an all-expense paid trip to Paris and pose as an American named Jane Finn. But with the assignment comes a bribe to keep quiet, a threat to her life, and the disappearance of her new employer. Now Tuppence's newest job is playing detective.… (more)

» see all 19 descriptions

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Average: (3.59)
1 5
1.5 3
2 30
2.5 15
3 148
3.5 46
4 163
4.5 14
5 66


5 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400102693, 1400109213

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