The Secret Adversary

Agatha’s second novel keeps the reader in constant suspense

Considering Agatha Christie’s detective, Hercule Poirot, became so popular and that her first published crime novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was such a success, it is surprising her second novel didn’t feature the Belgian refugee again.

My 1981 paperback copy of
 The Secret Adversary
But Agatha must have decided she wanted to try something different with her next book, The Secret Adversary. Published in January 1922, it introduces the Young Adventurers, Tommy and Tuppence.

I read The Secret Adversary many years ago and it hadn’t made much of an impression on me, but having decided to read all of Agatha’s crime novels in chronological order, I gave it a second chance.

The book starts with a prologue set in 1915 as the Lusitania is sinking after being struck by two torpedoes. A man entrusts a young American woman with an important package as she gets into a lifeboat, saying she should receive instructions about what to do with it when she is safely ashore, but if he goes down with the ship, she must take it straight to the American Embassy.

Then the action fast forwards to London, a few years later, as old friends Tommy and Tuppence encounter each other at the exit from a tube station near Piccadilly Circus.

The First World War is over and they are both back from the front, hard up and seeking work.

Tuppence suggests they join forces to become adventurers for hire, willing to do anything and go anywhere to earn money.

It is all light hearted fun as they make plans, enjoying tea, buns and buttered toast in Lyons, calling each other ‘old thing’ and ‘old bean’.

I was expecting the rest of the book to be fairly lightweight and to seem dated in comparison with contemporary thrillers and adventure novels.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Tommy and Tuppence are quickly hired to do a job that leads both of them into dangerous situations. It is written from both of their points of view, so that the reader is told everything.

There are carefully laid clues, twists and turns, and plenty of suspense. It is well written and difficult to put down, with Agatha keeping the reader guessing right to the end.

Reviews were generally positive about The Secret Adversary when it first came out, priced at seven shillings and sixpence.

On 26 January 1922 the Times Literary Supplement described The Secret Adversary as ‘a whirl of thrilling adventures’ and praised the fact that the identity of the arch-criminal, the elusive ‘Mr Brown’ is cleverly concealed to the very end.

Other reviewers agreed it was a success and called it ‘amazingly clever’ because Agatha managed to keep the identity of the master criminal a secret until the last few pages.

It was a clear departure for Agatha. Instead of writing a ‘whodunit’ she wrote a novel that keeps the reader in constant suspense, wondering if the good guys will triumph.

The Secret Adversary was made into a film in Germany in 1929 and was adapted for television in 1983 and again in 2014.

Nearly 100 years after it was published, Agatha’s second crime novel is still well worth reading.

Over the years, The Secret Adversary has been reprinted many times, with many different front covers.

There are plenty of new and second hand copies available on Amazon.



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