This is Agatha Christie's foray into a historical fiction murder mystery. It takes places around 2000 BCE, and it got off to a rough start. Renisenb comes off as too simple for words at the start and there seems to be a fair dose of authorial judgement going on when believing in the many Egyptian gods comes up, but eventually good old Aggie gets into her groove and the family drama and doubts become interesting. I was totally off-base with my guess for the murderer, however.
Cross Posted on my classic crime blog, Peril at Whitehaven Mansion
Published in 1922, The Secret Adversary was Christie’s second novel, coming directly on the heels of The Mysterious Affair At Styles, her first Poirot outing which was published in 1920. For the first decade or so of Christie’s career she dabbled heavily in the thriller/espionage genre, publishing The Man in the Brown Suit, The Secret of Chimneys, The Seven Dials Mystery and The Big Four, all of which deal with international crime gangs and conspiracies with varying levels of competence and success. After the 1929 publication of The Big Four (which is nominally a Poirot, the plot of which, however, deals less with garden variety murder than with a strange, Austin Powers-esque international crime conspiracy), her publisher must have convinced her to abandon her not wholly convincing thriller career in favor of writing whodunnits, because she doesn’t write another international spy thriller until the second Tommy and Tuppence novel was published in 1941.
I am of mixed emotions about this because I find her early thrillers (with the exception of The Big Four, which was absolutely terrible) to be weirdly charming in their innocence about the incompetence of the political criminal/international criminal mastermind. The Secret Adversary definitely falls into the category of charming and innocent. The basic plot is whisper thin (literally – it’s based on Tommy overhearing two people whispering about a woman named Jane Finn) and is generally about the possession of some government documents by a young woman (with amnesia. Yes, really) and an international crime syndicate who want to get a hold of those documents in order to foment revolution in England. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, that’s because it doesn’t actually make any sense. Tommy and Tuppence are two broke Bright Young Things who decide that the best way for them to come into possession of a few pounds is to place an ad in the newspaper, to try to hire themselves out as adventurers.
It’s preposterous and in the real world (or in modern fiction, which goes for verisimilitude) they’d have been dead within about 25 pages, and the rest of the book would’ve been spent with the professionals attempting to figure out why these two charming young people ended up murdered by terrorists. That’s not how this one goes, though. It feels like such an innocent world in The Secret Adversary (and in The Secret of Chimneys as well). I can only wonder if this was simply a reaction to the trauma that WWI inflicted on the British people, and surmise that, perhaps, what they really needed was to believe that a pair of children, with very little money, a great deal of sparkling wit and a fetching hat could, in fact, save the world. Because there is nothing even remotely convincing or realistic about this plot, but somehow, it’s impossible to care because it is all so delightful.
This was my first time reading The Secret Adversary, and I doubt that it will become one of my favorites although I thoroughly enjoyed it. I went into it convinced that Tommy and Tuppence were lifted wholesale from Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles – imagine my surprise when I actually looked it up and learned that T & T predated N & N by a dozen years. I should’ve known better, though – The Queen sets trends, she doesn’t follow them.
Ah Christie, you cunning minx you. I knew my earlier guess had low odds for being right, but I never saw that coming. I probably should have given the book a higher rating, but it started off slow and frankly, I don't feel confident yet that Christie didn't pull a rabbit out of her hat here. I need to let the story sit with me for awhile, and I may adjust the rating 1/2 star later.
I say it started off slow, but that's not really the case; it's much more about what happens when an original idea becomes over-used. Witnessing a murder taking place in a passing train was likely original - or at least fresh - when Christie used it, but 60 years later it feels trite. I'm also impatient with the idea of dismissing people because of their age.
Once Lucy Eyelesbarrow arrived on the scene though, things started to pick up. From that point I was pretty well glued to the pages, getting lost in the setting and the characters. And apparently allowing myself to become completely seduced by Christie's red herring. For the record, I think my ending would have been much more twisted.
This book works for the Kill Your Darlings game card: Crime Scene: Orient Express. (Train on the cover of my edition.)
This is considered the fourth book in the Colonel Race, Agatha Christie mysteries. I of course am reading these books out of order. I already read "Cards on the Table" (5 stars) and "Death on the Nile (ditto 5 stars) so apparently my streak continues with Race and I gave "Sparkling Cyanide" 5 stars as well.
This book had a great cast of characters with plenty of people who had a motive. I loved the why and the how in this story and I definitely did not catch on until the very end when all is revealed.
"Sparkling Cyanide" has the family/friends/others who have known Rosemary Barton getting together a year later on the anniversary of her death. Rosemary many believed committed suicide, but her husband George has been receiving notes saying that Rosemary was murdered. He decides to bring everyone back together in order to flush the murderer out.
We have the sister (Iris), the loyal secretary (Ruth) , the former lover (Anthony), the other former lover (Stephen), the lover's steadfast wife (Alexandra) and the widower (George). Then we follow up with these people on the day of the party, follow up on the aftermath of the party with Colonel Race becoming involved with this whodunit as well.
I honestly suspected each and everyone of the above at one point (except for Race) since they all had wonderful motives for wanting to get Rosemary out of the way.
The writing was very good and I loved that Christie paid attention to all of the potential suspects in individual sections. There is that subtle/not so subtle racism at play in Christie works (slur word against Italians and the less said about the Negro music, the better). Easy enough to ignore though due to the story-line.
The setting of the world of the rich and not so rich was interesting to see play out. I would love to see what happened with some of the characters (too bad) just because there was enough there to definitely want to see some of them in other Christie works. We know Race shows up again in the Hercule Poirot stories, but technically, this one is the last book that he shows up in since the other stories take place before the events shown in this book.
I did love the ending since of course when Christie spells out who did what and why it all makes sense. I did go back and re-read a few parts with that in mind. Very clever.