Robertson’s Reads: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Whilst my introduction to the Queen of Crime’s famous detective duo started with By The Pricking of My Thumbs, after reading The Secret Adversary, I’ve got to say it was just as thrilling (and helped with some of the backstory of how Tommy and Tuppence paired up in the first place).
The Secret Adversary starts onboard the RMS Lusitania on May 7 of 1915. When the ship starts sinking, a mysterious man man approaches and gives papers to an unassuming American woman named Jane Finn for safe-keeping believing she is more likely to survive the ship’s submersion. He tells the girl that if they both survive the sinking, he’ll take out an ad in the The Times; if there is no ad, she must personally take the papers to the American ambassador.
Fast-forward four years to 1919 and we’re introduced to soldier Tommy Beresford, who’s catching up with war volunteer Prudence Cowley (we know her better as “Tuppence”). Both unemployed and looking for excitement, the non-couple found “The Young Adventruers, Ltd” and put themselves out for hire. “No unreasonable offer refused” is their advertisement, and very soon they find themselves caught up in a mystery. After establishing “The Young Adverturers, Ltd”, Tuppence is followed by a man named Whittington who says he has a “proposition” for her. Although hesitant, she shows up at the man’s office the following day, to hear the proposition. Whittington offers her a job, to go to Paris and pretend to be an American woman. Now even more suspicious, when Whittington asks, Tuppence states that her name is “Jane Finn” (which she heard Tommy mention the day previous). He gets upset thinking Tuppence is playing with him, accuses her of blackmail, and the asks if “Rita” has been talking. Tuppence, obviously confused, is saved by Whittington’s assistant Mr. Brown, who shares that Whittington has an important message waiting. Whittington gives Tuppence some money and asks her to come back the next day.
The next day, Tuppence brings Tommy along back to Whittington’s office, only to find it closed up, and the company gone. Very curious, Tommy and Tuppence place another ad in the Times that asks “Wanted, any information respecting Jane Finn. Apply Y.A.” They receive two replies to the ad, one from American millionaire Julius P. Hersheimmer (he claims that Jane Finn is his cousin that he’s trying to find her), and the second from Mr. A. Carter (who Tommy knows as a member of the British secret service).
When they meet Mr. Carter, he fills the duo in on the story about Jane Finn, and reveals that after the ship sank, Jane Finn was never listed as being rescued. He also reveals the contents of the papers she was carrying as highly classified and containing information that could be used by revolutionists against Britain. While no one knows where the papers are, or who Jane Finn really is, one thing is apparent to all: “Mr. Brown” is the criminal in charge, and his accomplice is Whittington.
Mr. Carter recruits the Young Adventurers to look for Jane Finn. They discover a survivor the Lusitania named Marguerite Vandemeyer (called “Rita” by Whittington). Tuppence poses as her parlourmaid to go undercover and gain more insight into the case, while Tommy locates Whittington with the help of Julius Hersheimmer. Together, Tommy and Julius trail Whittington and a man named Boris. Tommy follows Borris right into a secret meeting in a mysterious house, where he learns of the revolutionists, and their plans (once they get their hands on the secret papers). Tommy is captured and held prisoner in the house.
Meanwhile, Tuppence is still working as Rita’s parlourmaid, and is introduced to houseguests Boris (whom Tommy was following) and M.P. Sir James Peel Edgerton. Edgerton and Tuppence establish a mutual trust when he suggests that Tuppence is not safe working for Rita.
Julius ends up following Whittington to a private hospital in Bournemouth, and while investigating by looking through a second-story window, he falls out of a tree. He awakens under the care of a Dr. Hall, who tells him that Whittington has already left, so Julius also takes leave and goes back to London, where he meets up with Tuppence. Both are suspicious that they haven’t heard from Tommy, so they go to Tuppence’s M.P. friend Sir James and tell him the whole story. He suggests that they should go to Rita’s home later in the night and confront her to find Tommy. Tuppence heads over first and confronts Rita, and in the middle of their confrontation, Julius and Sir James enter the scene. Rita collapses, so they give her some brandy once she wakes. She complains of heart trouble, then nods off. Sir James suggests they call his friend Dr. Hall (who earlier had treated Julius). The next morning, before they can get Rita to Dr. Hall, Rita is found dead, apparently from an overdose of chloral. After talking to Dr. Hall, it is revealed that Rita had originally come to him with her niece in 1915, asking him to treat her as she had amnesia. Her niece’s name was Jane Finn, and she is no longer under Dr. Hall’s care. Julius reveals to Tuppence that he does not trust Sir James. Tuppence later receives a telegram from “Tommy” and rushes off to meet him.
Tommy meanwhile, still being held in the house by his captors, continuously makes references to “Mr. Brown”. Eventually his escape is aided by a young French maid named Annette. Tommy goes back to the hotel, where he and Julius find the fake telegram from Tommy to Tuppence. They go to the address on the telegram, but fail to find Tuppence. Eventually, they do find Jane Finn, who has since recovered her memory. She reveals the hiding place of the secret papers, but when the reach the hiding place, they only find a message from Mr. Brown. Tommy then goes directly to Mr. Carter, and tells him what he knows. They are under pressure even more now to find the secret papers, as a Russian official named Kramenin is visiting England and plans to find and use the papers to start a revolt. Mr. Carter also reveals that Tuppence is suspected to be drowned.
Tommy goes back to the hotel, where he and Julius have a fight over Tuppence. Julius leaves, and Tommy searches Julius’s drawer, where he discovers a photo of the French maid Annette. Tommy concludes that the Jane Finn they met earlier was just a decoy, and that Annette is the true Jane Finn. While at the hotel, Tommy also receives a fake telegram from Tuppence (he knows it’s fake because her name is spelled incorrectly). Tommy deciphers the identity of Mr. Brown, and sets out to make things right.
Julius ends finding and holding Mr. Kramenin hostage, and Kramenin (who earlier kidnapped Tuppence), lets her and Annette go. Tuppence and Annette (Jane) head to Sir James’s home in London, and Tommy and Julius follow by car. Jane reveals her story, and also the location of the secret papers. Tuppence divulges that she suspects Julius of being Mr. Brown, and Sir James agrees, and tells the girls how the real Julius was killed in America. Sir James leads them as they go to retrieve the secret papers, where Sir James reveals his true identity to be that of Mr. Brown. He is going to kill them, wound himself, and blame Mr. Brown. Tommy and Julius (who were hiding at the location already), jump Sir James, who then takes poison from his ring and dies.
Later, Julius hosts a party honouring Jane. Tommy and Tuppence are both in attendance, as is Tuppence’s dad, the archdeacon, and Tommy’s rich uncle, who declares Tommy his heir. There are two marriage proposals: Julius to Jane, and Tommy also proposes marriage to Tuppence and she accepts.
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