The Secret Adversary (Agatha Christie)

  • By Agatha Christie
  • First published: UK: Bodley Head, 1922; USA: Dodd, Mead, 1922

My review

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dedicated “to all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure,” Christie’s second novel, a thriller rather than a detective story, succeeds in its aim. Although it is very much of its period, with a thick-witted but courageous young man and his plucky sweetheart defeating Mr. Brown, the treacherous master criminal behind Bolshevism, and his sinister gang of foreigners and Sinn Feiners, it is thoroughly entertaining throughout, even if not to be taken particularly seriously.

Blurb (later 1920s Bodley Head reprint)

Tommy and Prudence – known to her friends as Tuppence – meet again by chance shortly after the Armistice.  They are both young and unattached and in desperate need of money, so they decide to call themselves the Young Adventurers Ltd., put an enterprising-sounding notice in the Times, and await results.  But, before the notice is inserted, they find themselves involved in an adventure in which not only several lives, but the future of the country proves to be at stake.

Where is Jane Finn, and has she still got the paper that was saved from the Lusitania?  Is Julius Hersheimmer the innocent American millionaire that he seems to be?  And above all, who is the elusive and sinister Mr. Brown?  These are some of the problems that the Young Adventurers have to tackle, and the solving of them provides plenty of excitement, a delightful love-story, and a dénouement as startling as any that Agatha Christie’s unerring technique has ever devised.

Blurb (US)

An exciting mystery story of a new sort.  “Tuppence,” otherwise Miss Prudence Cowley, and Tommy Beresford, demobilised young officer, solve the difficulty of unemployment by advertising themselves as “two young adventurers for hire.”  The replies they receive plunge them into a whirl of thrilling adventures, in which a mysterious girl to whom an international treaty has been entrusted, blood-thirsty Bolshevists, a basilisk-eyed enchantress of the most approved type, an American millionaire, and a leading lawyer all take a hand.  “Tuppence” and Tommy are refreshingly original as criminal investigators, and the identity of the arch-criminal, the elusive “Mr. Brown,” is cleverly concealed to the very end.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (26th January 1922, 100w): Tuppence and Tommy, although much given to ‘old bean’ and ‘old thing’, are refreshingly original as criminal investigators, and the identity of the arch-criminal, the elusive ‘Mr. Brown’, is cleverly concealed to the very end.

Sat R (28th January 1922, 250w): It is an excellent story of its kind, showing what new use may be made of familiar material.

Spectator (18th February 1922, 70w): Miss Christie has not quite succeeded in maintaining the level of her first novel.  Though the mystery in this story is extremely involved, the experienced reader will have no difficulty in detecting who is the real criminal long before any of the characters have the slightest inkling of the truth.

NY Times (11th June 1922, 400w): The Secret Adversary is a tale of political intrigue and mystery built on the plan that has been so perfected by E. Phillips Oppenheim.  The usual great conspiracy is in progress and the usual mysterious super-criminal (this time known as Mr. Brown) is the motivating force behind all the villainous manifestations of the plotters.  Added to these themes are the usual missing papers of great value.  Two penniless young people, Tommy—just demobbed, and Tuppence, the daughter of a clergyman, are swept into the midst of this international conspiracy, and it is mainly through their efforts and those of a young American that the plot is solved and the super-criminal brought to justice…

Many of the situations are a bit moth-eaten from frequent usage by other writers, but at that Miss Christie manages to invest them with a new sense of individuality that renders them rather absorbing.

Outlook (26th July 1922, 10w): An exciting and well-built mystery tale.

Springfield Republican (30th July 1922, 200w): A decidedly breezy and interesting book.

Lit R (12th August 1922, 250w): This is as jaunty in tone as a book for college girls.  Good humour, optimism, youthful dare deviltry guide the action.

NY Tribune (Isabel Paterson, 13th August 1922, 250w): The solution of this story is very skilfully postponed; seldom are the inevitable false clues made so plausible and so misleading.  And the climax is pleasingly impossible.  The whole thing has the absorbing quality of a puzzle-box.

Daily Chronicle: It’s an excellent yarn and the reader will find it as impossible as we did to put it aside until the mystery has been fathomed.

Saturday Review: We promise our readers an exciting story of adventure, full of hairbreadth escapes, and many disappointments if they try to guess the riddle before the author is ready to give them the clue.—An excellent story.

Times: A whirl of thrilling adventures…refreshingly original.  The identity of the arch-criminal is cleverly concealed to the very end.

Daily News: I heartily recommend this very ingenious and exciting yarn…eminently readable.

Eastern Morning News: Miss Christie gives her readers plenty of adventure.  It is all very ingeniously contrived and exciting, and the secret of the adversary’s identity is skilfully hidden.

East Anglian Daily Times: The atmosphere of the book is admirable and the story will be read with avidity by all.  Undoubtedly the book is a success.

Irish Independent: A book of thrilling adventure.  Sensational adventures which make thrilling and gripping reading.  Miss Christie has certainly succeeded in writing a story not only entertaining, but ingenious and amazingly clever.