Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: The Secret Adversary

A Tommy and Tuppence Adventure, by Agatha Christie.  c. 1922   224 pages.

I have long been familiar, of course, with Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, but this pair of "Young Adventurers" was new to me.  If it weren't that there was really no such category in 1922, I think this would be a Young Adult novel, what with the youth of the protagonists (not much past 20) and the mixture of light-heartedness and hair-raising close calls.

About a year after the end of WWI (The War as it is to them), the pair of old friends meet up on the street.  Each has been "demobbed" (demobilized, i.e. let go from the Army/VAD) and, despite being more or less of the upper class, they are stone cold broke and getting nowhere looking for work.  Upshot: they decide to team up and run an ad as the "Young Adventurers" and take on whatever comes their way, for a steep fee, of course.

What comes their way is a complex case that mixes them up with whatever passed at that time for the British Secret Service, a Bolshevist plot (the 1920s were are great time for Bolshevist plots in English literature), a search for a girl of about Tuppence's age who is in grave peril, and above all the desperate race to find and recover some papers that could destroy the Empire if they fell into the wrong (i.e. Bolshevik) hands.

Naturally, they blunder, take up with the wrong folks, and get themselves into no end of life-threatening situations.  Equally naturally, they get out of those situations through a bit of luck and a lot of pluck and occasionally even some clear thinking.  In the end, as we expect, the Empire is saved, and everyone is united with the right partner.

Unlike the Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot mysteries, this book spends little time in "exercising the little grey cells," and a great deal more time in racing from adventure to adventure (another reason it feels more YA than Ms. Christie's other works).  I was pretty certain who the culprit was soon after his/her introduction, but the plot twisted enough to make me doubt my conclusions more than once, so it didn't feel too obvious.

The book fits well with the conventions of its time: black and white moral situations, wonderful stereotypes of American characters, and lots of British phlegm in response to near-death situations.  The writing is clear and coherent, editing as you would expect is top-notch.  In sum, the book is very pleasant brain candy.  If you like this sort of thing (Peter Wimsey and P.G. Wodehouse meet the Hardy Boys) you'll love it.

Oh, dang.  That star thing.  Well, not 5 stars because the villain was too easy to spot.  We'll give it 4, and go find the next in the series.

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