Partners in Crime (Agatha Christie)

My review

This early Christie collection is easily the best book in which Tommy and Tuppence appear, because, instead of sinister spies (Bolshevist, Fascist or amorphous entities who operate for some reason unknown to both author and reader) and hairbreadth escapes, it is detection. Or, rather, detectives. Christie’s aim in writing the book was to poke fun at the detectives of other authors: some still celebrated today, such as Dr. Thorndyke in “The Affair of the Pink Pearl,” Sherlock Holmes in “The Case of the Missing Lady,” Father Brown in “The Man in the Mist,” the Old Man in the Corner in “The Sunningdale Mystery,” Hanaud in “The House of Lurking Death,” Inspector French in “The Unbreakable Alibi,” Roger Sheringham in “The Clergyman’s Daughter,” Mr. Fortune in “The Ambassador’s Boots,” and … Hercule Poirot himself, in “The Man Who Was No. 16,” which principally parodies The Big Four (itself a parody of the thriller). Other authors, such as Valentine Williams, Isabel Ostrander and Clinton H .Stagg (an imitator of Ernest Bramah?), have long since been forgotten, so that these parodies lose their edge. Some of the tales are principally farce: “The Case of the Missing Lady” turns Lady Frances Carfax on her head with a dose of “The Yellow Face”; and “The Unbreakable Alibi” is a parody of Crofts as dull as that author at his all-too-frequent worst, with a cheat solution. Other parodies bear little resemblance to the original: “The Clergyman’s Daughter” is intended as an homage to The Silk Stocking Murders, but the rest of the story bears little resemblance to anything by A.B. Cox under any name. Several of these satires, however, are very clever: “Finessing the King” is a more logical variant on “The Affair at the Victory Ball”; “The Man in the Mist” is a delicious parody of Chesterton’s “The Invisible Man” and “The Man in the Passage”. The two best tales in the collection are the Orczy satire, “The Sunningdale Mystery,” which shows Christie’s versatility at constructing clues and plots, and “The House of Lurking Death,” an effective parody of the melodramatic Mason.

Blurb (UK)

This delightfully witty book will come as a pleasant surprise to all admirers of these ingenious detective thrillers for which Agatha Christie is famous.  It tells the story of the amazing adventures of two amateur detectives—Tommy, a remarkable young man of thirty-two, and his equally remarkable wife, Tuppence—who follow the methods of famous detective heroes, such as Sherlock Holmes, Inspector French, Roger Sheringham, Bulldog Drummond, Father Brown and even Monsieur Poirot himself.  Problem after problem comes before them for solution, and the account of their endeavours to live up to their slogan, “Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives!  Any case solved in twenty-four hours!” makes delicious reading.

Blurb (US)

At the suggestion of Scotland Yard, an ex-secret service man and his wife are quietly installed as managers of a private detective agency, the former owner of which has been secretly imprisoned for reasons best known to the Yard itself.  The new operatives are ordered to be on the alert for a letter bearing a certain code sign, and, at the same time, are warned against the machinations of a powerful adversary who will be recognized by his reference to the number 16.

While awaiting the unknown visitor, the two detectives undertake several cases which are brought to their attention, and to add a touch of gaiety to their work they impersonate some of the famous fictional sleuths: Father Brown, Dr. Thorndyke, Sherlock Holmes, etc.  When they least expect him, however, Number 16 takes them unawares, with results that will hold the reader in true excitement until the final decisive moment of surprise which Agatha Christie knows so well how to prepare.

Contemporary reviews

New Statesman (21st September 1929): Agatha Christie’s high achievements in the realm of detective fiction are well known.  It is a rapidly growing realm, for almost anybody can write a detective story; the demand is practically unlimited; and every tyro may achieve a considerable success.  The distinction of Agatha Christie’s tales is that all of them are good and all are successful.  Her latest volume, Partners in Crime, is in a new style.  There are two detectives who work together in a private agency, and incidentally are married to each other; and there is a fresh mystery in every chapter.  This form, so successful in some of Conan Doyle’s early work, seems in the case of Agatha Christie rather to curtail her special faculty for constructing really elaborate and ingenious plots, but with that qualification this volume is on a level with her best work.

Times Literary Supplement (17th October 1929): Tommy Beresford and “Tuppence” Cowley, those eminent young detectives whom we first met in The Secret Adversary, have carried their professional partnership so far as six years of marriage.  Mr. Carter of the Intelligence Service brightens their temporary boredom by offering them the running of a derelict private enquiry agency previously in the charge of a Bolshevist emissary.  Aided by Albert, their fifteen-year old butler, page-boy and office lad, they solve a baker’s dozen of mysteries and come three times through the hands of their political enemies.  Mrs. Christie has given an amusing twist to the episodes by suggesting that the two partners in “Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives” assume on each occasion the method, the manner of speech, and the outlook favoured by some well-known detective of fiction.  Holmes, Thorndyke, Father Brown and even Poirot are amiably parodied, and once or twice the solution as well as the dialogue is deliberately facetious.  The author is incorrect in the explanation she gives of the printer’s marks on newspapers, the distinction of dates which she makes being really one of editions.

Books (NY Herald Tribune) (18th August 1929, 150w): Partners in Crime is the kind of thing this department especially likes—a number of plots loosely strung together and gently spoofed the while, and preferably written either by Dorothy L. Sayers or Agatha Christie.  Required reading.

Springfield Republican (25th August 1929, 240w): It is soon apparent that in this book Miss Christie is having quiet fun with all the famous authors of mystery stories, including herself.  Each story contains its quota of laughs as well as thrills, or rather more than can ordinarily be expected from a well turned out mystery story.

Boston Transcript (4th September 1929, 400w): Though this is not as thrilling as Agatha Christie’s novels usually are, it is written in such a humorous and amusing style, its situations are at time so tragic and mysterious and the mystery which includes the lesser ones is so well developed that it is decidedly worth reading and would be a good book to take away when one is having a vacation, for at least one complete tale can be read at a sitting and it will keep one interested and amused if the way is long, or the day is dreary.

Outlook (11th September 1929, 80w): By no means as good a detective story as we have a right to expect from Mrs. Christie, although it is amusing, and contains much good burlesque of modern sleuth yarns.

NY Times (22nd September 1929, 270w): The entire book and the separate stories may be taken as hilarious burlesque or parodies of current detective fiction, or they may be taken as serious attempts on the part of the author to write stories in the manner of some of the masters of the art.  Taken seriously, they are distinctly worth while.