The second book toward my goal of reading all of Agatha Christie’s works in publication order is The Secret Adversary (1922). The Secret Adversary is set immediately after World War I, and it’s the first time we see Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley–Christie’s intrepid detective duo. 

Christie wrote four full-novels and a collection of short stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence; and for my money, the Tommy and Tuppence stories are the most winsome and lighthearted of her works. Christie’s other Tommy and Tuppence books are N or M? (1941), By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968), and Postern of Fate (1973).

Unlike Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence age in real time. They’re not static characters. We see them as twenty-somethings in The Secret Adversary, and by the time they reappear in Postern of Fate, they’re in their late seventies. As they age, we see the problems associated with married life and the difficulties of growing old. Tommy and Tuppence are portrayed as real people, with faults and weaknesses.

Tuppence is particularly poignant, and, in some respects, a tragic figure that reflects 20th century female conformity. In The Secret Adversaryshe’s a young independent woman. She’s intelligent, headstrong, and enthusiastic. The very ideal of the modern woman. Yet, as we will see in Postern of Fate, Tuppence “evolves” into a very different person.    

The Secret Adversary is a good mystery, but certainly not one of Christie’s better works. The plot is contrived and the dialogue dated. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the book. In fact, The Secret Adversary would have easily been forgotten if not for Christie’s later fame. There are, however, some wonderful quotes in the book:

“Youth is a failing only too easily outgrown.”

“Marriage is called all sorts of things, a haven, and a refuge, and a crowning glory, and a state of bondage, and lots more.” (She certainly got that right!)

 “Never tell all you know—not even to the person you know best.”

Rating: C+