At Blossom’s Book House in Bangalore last year, I was a little wary of picking up this book because up until then, of all the Agatha Christie novels, I had mostly just read the Poirot and the Miss Marple stories. Little did I know that I would enjoy this book just as much as the others, given that it read like the taut story-line of a Hitchcock thriller.
But before we begin, a short history lesson. The year is 1915, right in the middle of the First World War. The USA hasn’t joined the War yet, but tremors have been felt and there is a general state of anxiety and intrigue. In the midst of this, the RMS Lusitania is sailing from America towards England, when it is torpedoed by a German submarine. The ship sinks, killing 1198 civilians on board. The sinking of the Lusitania causes outrage not only in England but also in America, as she was also carrying 198 Americans who do not survive the attack.
Right, back to the novel. The prologue starts on board the Lusitania, minutes after it has been torpedoed. A quiet, confidential looking American man, acknowledging that women and children are being asked to get on to lifeboats first and that he himself might not make it to shore, approaches a young girl. He asks her to safeguard a document which he assures her would be very harmful to American and British interests if it were to fall into the wrong hands. He does warn her to be very careful as he might have been followed. The girl nervously looks around her as the man disappears into the crowd.
Fast forward to a few years later: the war has ended and we meet two happy-go-lucky friends, Tommy and Tuppence, on the streets of London. They’ve been friends since childhood and had reconnected a few years earlier. Since then, they have hit upon hard times. Over a cup of tea, the duo decide to form “The Young Adventurer’s Ltd.” as a means to look for employment from people who might want Tommy & Tuppence to undertake dangerous activities on their behalf. This is when a man approaches and engages them to try and find the girl from the Lusitania, who we learn has gone missing since.
The pair use their wits to try and track down the girl, all the while trying to stay ahead and clear of an organisation which is also trying to find the girl and the document. The organisation is headed by the mythical Mr. Brown whom no one has seen, but whose sinister presence is felt everywhere. Do Tommy and Tuppence find the girl and the documents? Or is Mr. Brown, who looms like a shadow over his organisation, able to use his cunning to get the papers and thereby attempt to destabilise various European governments?
For someone who was sceptical when starting this book, I was thoroughly enjoying myself towards the end of this old school spy suspense. Sure, the dialogue of the characters is a little dated (the book was first published in 1922, almost a century ago now), but that adds its own charm. Also, the early style of writing also confirmed my notion that this was one of the first few detective novels that Agatha Christie had written.
My favourite character in the book is the girl Tuppence. She is spunky, sharp and trying to break the shackles of the good Victorian behaviour prescribed for the girls of her time. She doesn’t let Tommy treat her as if she is the gentler sex and has a retort ready for all his verbal jabs.
Although I could guess the identity of the villain mid way through the novel, the whodunit nature of the book kept the suspense building right till the last chapter. If you like thrillers which evoke the sense of the black-and-white Hitchcock spy films, definitely give this a read.
- “(Father) has that delightful early Victorian view that short skirts and smoking are immoral.” I would be amused to see what Tuppence’s father thought of the world today.
- “Every revolution has had its honest men. They are soon disposed off afterwards.”
- I’m guessing Agatha Christie wanted to make it really clear that she felt Americans are full of vim and vigour; more than once she uses the word ‘hustle’ in reference to an American gentleman, and a few pages later, this happens: “Julius,” said Tuppence firmly, “stop walking up and down. It makes me giddy. Sit down in that arm-chair, and tell me the whole story with as few fancy turns of speech as possible.”
Title: The Secret Adversary
Author: Agatha Christie
First Published: 1922
Number of Pages: 220
Price: Paperback – Rs. 265 / Kindle – Rs. 49 (Amazon.in)
My rating: 9 out of 10
(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)