20 March 2011

The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie

As one more step in my reading goal, and the beginning of another reading challenge - read about that challenge at the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge here - I have finished The Secret Adversary. I have read many of Agatha's books, but this was my first one that included the sleuths Tuppence and Tommy.

Like every other book of Agatha's that I've read I was absorbed. Yet with this particular one, it took a bit. The story as a whole was good, but was thinner than some of her other work. I know now that it was only her second publication, and it makes sense. I wanted more of Tuppence and Tommy; I was well into the story before I really cared for them. It may be that if it was any other detective story, I might not have continued after the first chapter or so. However, because I've grown to trust Agatha, I knew she would make me happy in the end. And she did.

Tuppence and Tommy are the best of friends, have been since they were children, and go into business together as amateur detectives. A series of events lands them a job with a mysterious Mr. Carter, who needs certain papers that a Jane Finn is thought to possess. Many times they are thrown off the right track, and both come close to death, but in the end Tommy sniffs out the culprit of it all, the anarchist Mr. Brown.

The two main characters grow close, despite their uptight Englishness - which Agatha seems to be poking fun at throughout the book - and we are left wanting more of them both. I liked best a portion of the book where Tommy finds himself caught in the nasty rendezvous of the well organized anarchists. While hidden away, Tommy sees and hears many of the members arrive and report to a meeting. They gather around a table, at the head of which sits a bearded German. Each crook gives a number instead of their name, each one coming from a different level of society, and some from different countries. Eventually Tommy is caught, we have to wait many chapters to find out if he's alive, but the descriptions of the evildoers are classic.

What makes me like that part so much, though, is that it reminded me of a book by G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who was Thursday. It also made me curious to know which book was written first (it was Chesterton's by 14 years). Chesterton's story involves a very similar meeting of anarchists, with a very compelling evil boss. Though instead of the unknown Mr. Brown, his story puts "Sunday" in plain view. The anarchists in both stories are given the very characteristics we want them to have: grotesque grins, piercing eyes, and devious laughs. Indeed, we are driven to want their demise just as our protagonists do.

And of course anarchy loses. In Chesterton's story it is due to the plainness of Sunday - he's not all he's cracked up to be - and in Agatha's, Mr. Brown's blind pride defeats him. You must read both.

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