Book Review – “The Secret Adversary” by Agatha Christie

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.

Snippets:

  • “(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.”

 

Read more about “The Secret Adversary” on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

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.)

Advertisements

Best books that I read in 2017

A friend asked me yesterday which were the 10 best books that I’d ever read.

I do not know if there is a task known to man that is more difficult than this.

I definitely cannot make a list of top 10 books that I’ve read, not only because I’ve read so many wonderful books over the years but also because I know there are certain books out there that come highly recommended by friends and people whose opinion I respect that I haven’t read yet. Any of these books could be life changing and hence, I think it is way too early for me to recommend the 10 best books that I’ve *EVER* read.

However, in the spirit of not disappointing the audience, here’s a list of 10 books (in no particular order) that I read last year that I really liked.

Cheers!

The Top Ten Authors I’ve Read Most Books Of

Taking a leaf out of Book Oblivion’s post, I too thought it would be fun to check which author I have read the most books from.

Like I mentioned in the comments section of Book Oblivion’s post, I had a feeling Wodehouse and Agatha Christie would easily top my list.

The results corroborated my gut feeling, but were also somewhat of a blast from the past.

Most Authors Read

Here is my take on the authors who feature in my top-10 list:

1. P. G. Wodehouse – This was a no-brainer. I love Wodehouse. The language, the poetry-like-flow of words, the outlandish plots, the humour: all of this makes the perfect pick-me-up book, and the only surprise here is that I’ve read only 23 of his books.

2. Sidney Sheldon – This one was a pleasant surprise. I still vividly remember picking up my first Sidney Sheldon novel, ‘The Naked Face’, from my school library, which incidentally, was also Sheldon’s first novel. This was my introduction to the world of bestsellers and contemporary fiction. Till then, I’d only been reading a lot of Noddy, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Three Musketeers and of course, Enid Blyton’s books. After ‘The Naked Face’, my reading habit completely changed.

3. Agatha Christie – What can I say about the Dame that hasn’t already been said before? I love the plots and I love the quirks. Be it Poirot, Miss Marple or any of the short stories that Christie wrote early in her career; I gobbled all of them with glee. I still feel ‘And Then There Were None’ is the BEST crime novel I will ever read, though I still have ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ on my to-read list. Nope, don’t try it. I already know who the killer is.

4. Jeffrey Archer – After I was through with my Sidney Sheldon phase, I started looking elsewhere for similar thrills in contemporary fiction. I found my answer in Jeffrey Archer, especially when I read ‘Kane & Abel’. I recently read the book again and was delighted to find that I still enjoyed it as much as I had when I was in high school.

5. John Grisham – Right alongside the Archer books, I was reading one courtroom thriller after another by John Grisham. I think the one that really got me hooked to his writing was ‘The Firm’ (I haven’t seen the film starring Tom Cruise), but I loved almost all of his novels. One which really stands out in my memory is ‘The Chamber’, which some of my friends didn’t like, but I absolutely loved. Incidentally, the first book that I read by Grisham was ‘A Time To Kill’, also his first novel.

6. J. K. Rowling – Seven books. Seven gems. Although I loved the initial Harry Potter books more because they were such light reading and weren’t filled with too much drama and menace and philosophical ideas about love and life and death, I still marvel at how brilliantly she brought so many plots together over the last couple of books. Absolutely stunning!

7. Ashok Banker – I remember stumbling across the novel ‘Prince of Ayodhya’, the first in Ashok Banker’s Ramayana series, at the library in my MBA college. I was thunderstruck by the twist that Banker had given a tale that I’d long thought as fuddy-duddy, echoes from the time that I saw the Ramanand Sagar TV series as a child. Tip: Definitely read the preface to the books, which has a brilliant argument why every Ramayana tale that you will ever hear is unique.

8. Alistair MacLean – By the time I discovered Goodreads, I couldn’t recall all the books by MacLean that I’d read. If I did, he (and Frederick Forsyth) would definitely feature much higher on this list. These were the perfect thrillers concerning war and espionage that I could’ve read while growing up as a boy. Please, please read ‘The Guns Of Navarone’ to find out what I’m saying.

9 & 10. Jeph Loeb & Ed Brubaker – The reason I’m considering these two together is because the wizardry of the author and the artist have combined to give some of the finest Batman graphic novels that I’ve read. Read Batman: Hush, The Dark Victory, The Long Halloween and The Man Who Laughs.

11. Haruki Murakami – Ever since I read ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, I’ve been in love with Murakami’s works. Agreed, he has sometimes gone overboard (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman), but I would still any day settle down to read any of his eccentric works.

12. Ian Fleming – I read ‘Goldfinger’ as a schoolboy and then explored the world of James Bond a bit as I grew up. But I still have a box-set of James Bond novels that I’m determined to read some day and relish the stories of this dashing spy.

13. Michael Crichton – Right about the time I was reading those courtroom thrillers by John Grisham, I’d also started reading some sci-fi by Michael Crichton. I loved ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Lost World’ and was chilled to the bone by ‘Congo’.

14. Oscar Wilde – The last, and by no means the least, on this list is Oscar Wilde. I have only recently started reading his books and love his works. I have a feeling I’ll be reading a lot, lot more of his stories in the near future. Love his irreverence.

———————————–

If you are on Goodreads, and want to check your list of most read authors, just go to your Read page and scroll down to the ‘most read authors’ link on the left column.

So, what are the authors that you’ve read the most books by?