Dustjacket illustration of the UK First Edition (Book was first published in the US)

Partners in Crime is a short story collection written by Agatha Christie and first published by Dodd, Mead and Company in the US in 1929 and in the UK by William Collins & Sons on September 16 of the same year. The US edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).

All of the stories in the collection had previously been published in magazines (see First publication of stories below) and feature her detectives Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, first introduced in The Secret Adversary (1922).

Plot introduction

The Beresfords' old friend, Mr Carter (who works for an unnamed government intelligence agency) arrives bearing a proposition for the adventurous duo. They are to take over 'The International Detective Agency', a recently cleaned out spy stronghold, and pose as the owners so as to intercept any enemy messages coming through. But until such a message arrives, Tommy and Tuppence are to do with the detective agency as they please - an opportunity that delights the young couple. They employ the hapless but well-meaning Albert, a young man also introduced in The Secret Adversary, as their assistant at the agency.

Eager and willing, the two set out to tackle several cases. In each case mimicking the style of a famous fictional detective of the period, including Sherlock Holmes and Christie's own Hercule Poirot. That's when her brother gets murdered...

At the end of the book, Tuppence reveals that she is pregnant, and as a result will play a diminished role in the spy business.

The stories and their detective parodies

  • A Fairy in the Flat / A Pot of Tea - Introduces the setup of Tommy & Tuppence at The International Detective Agency. Reminiscent of Malcolm Sage, detective (1921) by Herbert George Jenkins.
  • The Affair of the Pink Pearl - This first case is in the vein of the detective Dr. Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman.
  • The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger - An espionage story, following in the footsteps of Valentine Williams and the detective brothers Francis and Desmond Okewood. One of the Williams' books in particular - The Man with the Clubfoot (1918) is named by Tuppence in the story.
  • Finessing the King / The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper - This two part story is a spoof of the nowadays almost forgotten Isabel Ostrander, with parallels to the story The Clue in the Air (1917) and the detectives Tommy McCarty (an ex-policeman) and Denis Riordan (a fireman).
  • The Case of the Missing Lady - This story references Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1911).
  • Blindman's Buff - Matches Clinton H. Stagg's stories about the blind detective Thornley Colton.
  • The Man in the Mist - In the style of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories.
  • The Crackler - A spoof on Edgar Wallace's style of plotting.
  • The Sunningdale Mystery - The tale is in the style of Baroness Orczy's The Old Man in the Corner (1909) with Tuppence playing the role of journalist Polly Burton and Tommy tying knots in a piece of string in the same way as Orczy's character, Bill Owen.
  • The House of Lurking Death - Recreates the style of A. E. W. Mason and his French detective Inspector Hanaud.
  • The Unbreakable Alibi - Modelled after Freeman Wills Crofts, known for his detective stories centred around alibis and the Scotland Yard detective Inspector Joseph French.
  • The Clergyman's Daughter / The Red House - A two part story, this is a parody on detective Roger Sherringham by Anthony Berkeley, with plot elements reminding of The Violet Farm by H. C. Bailey (although the latter was not published until 1928).
  • The Ambassador's Boots - Following the style of H. C. Bailey with Dr. Reginald Fortune and Superintendent Bell as the parodied detectives.
  • The Man Who Was No. 16 - This story parodies Christie's own The Big Four, featuring Hercule Poirot.

Chapters

Literary significance and reception

The review of the book in the Times Literary Supplement's issue of October 17, 1929 seemed to recognise the tongue-in-cheek nature of the work when it stated, "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 review pedantically ended by saying that, "the author is incorrect in the explanation she gives of the printer's marks on newspapers, the distinction of dates which she makes really being one of editions".

The review in The New York Times Book Review of September 22, 1929 began: "To describe adequately such a book as this is no easy matter. It is a group of short detective stories within a detective novel, for there is a rather sketchy, but nonetheless absorbing plot which holds the separate tales together. 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 either way they are distinctly worth while." The review concluded, "The result is the merriest collection of detective stories it has been our good fortune to encounter."

The Scotsman of September 16, 1929 said, "Detective fiction, like mathematics, tends to develop a language of its own which to the uninitiated can be a little troublesome. It is not so much a matter of 'blue-nosed automatics' and other jargon of the craft of detective fiction; the trouble is that many of the writers seem to have little command of English and cannot make their characters speak naturally. Agatha Christie is a notable exception. In this volume of stories she has conceived the ingenious idea of setting her two amateur detectives...to work out their problems after the fashion of various heroes of detective fiction. This enables her to parody the methods of various writers...in a way that is most enjoyable, for her literary skill is equal to the task. At the same time the stories are genuinely detective stories. They are well wrought and ingenious. The writer has the saving grace of humour and she does not let her detectives win too easily. By having two detectives who are usually alternately successful she has always a foil, less obtuse than 'my dear Watson'".

The Daily Express issue of October 10, 1929 gave the book a review of a couple of lines which concluded that the stories were "not quite up to her level, although they are entertaining enough".

Robert Barnard: "Tommy and Tuppence in a series of short stories which parody detective writers and their methods. Many of these are long forgotten, but the parodies are not sharp enough for this to matter very much. The House of Lurking Death anticipates the solution of Dorothy L. Sayers's Strong Poison."

References or Allusions

References to other works

  • The reference regarding the Gentleman dressed in Newspaper character as being from the Lewis Carroll Alice books is mistaken in that the character who appears in chapter three of Through the Looking-Glass is described as being dressed in white paper only. However John Tenniel's illustration (right) in the book of the character reminded many contemporary readers of Benjamin Disraeli and there has been speculation if this was a comment upon his constant presence in newspaper columns. William Empson in his 1935 book Some Versions of Pastoral referred to "Disraeli dressed in Newspapers".
  • In The House of Lurking Death, Hannah quotes a series of religious and personal threats. Direct quotes from the Bible and their sources are:
• From Psalm 18: " I will follow upon mine enemies and overtake them, neither will I turn again till I have destroyed them"
• From the Gospel of John, 3:8 " The wind bloweth where it listeth"
• From Psalm 1: " The ungodly shall perish"
• From Psalm 37: " But the wicked shall perish"

"The fire of the Lord shall consume them" is not a direct quote but resembles numerous lines throughout the Bible.

  • Tommy's final line to Tuppence at the end of The House of Lurking Death ("'It is a great advantage to be intelligent and not to look it") is a quote from A. E. W. Mason's story At the Villa Rose (In the Christie story, Tommy assumes the roles of Mason's detective, M. Hanaud).
  • In The Ambassador's Boots, Tommy refers to a mention by Sherlock Holmes of a case not yet documented by Watson which hinged on the depth which the parsley had sunk into butter on a hot day. This alludes to the story The Adventure of the Six Napoleons by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in 1904. At the time that The Ambassador's Boots was written and first published, Conan Doyle was still writing Sherlock Holmes stories (the last was published in 1927) and therefore Tommy's wish that "Watson will disinter it from his notebook" was a real possibility at that time.
  • The reference to Bee-keeping and Vegetable Marrow-growing in The Man Who Was No. 16 are humorous allusions to the retirement plans of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

References to actual history, geography and current science

  • In A Fairy in the Flat, Tommy and Tuppence look at a blemish on a photograph, the shape of which resembles a fairy and Tuppence suggests writing to Conan Doyle about it. This is a reference to the Cottingley Fairies. This was a media cause célèbre of the early 1920s and surrounded five photographs taken by two girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, in Cottingley, West Yorkshire which supposedly showed fairies at the bottom of their garden. Conan Doyle believed the photographs were real and wrote a famous article about the incident which appeared in the November 1920 issue of the Strand Magazine.
  • In The Case of the Missing Lady, Tommy refers to a concert at the Queen's Hall that he and Tuppence should attend. This hall, built in 1893 was destroyed in an air raid in World War II. It is most famous for being the first home of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts.
  • In Blindman's Buff and The Man Who Was No. 16, the Blitz Hotel is a play on words on London's Ritz Hotel. Christie uses the same location (and the same name for it) in the 1925 novel The Secret of Chimneys.
  • In The House of Lurking Death, Lois Hargreaves admits to a habit of doodling a design of three intertwined fish. This design was used on the set of the collected works of Christie begun by William Collins in 1967 (but never completed) and this was approved by Christie in the spring of 1966 in discussions with the publishers. Although stated by some that the doodle was also a habit shared by Christie, it was apparently spotted by her in the bazaars of Baalbek when she visited there in the 1930s. The same design was used in the title sequence of the television series' Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime (see below) and Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1980).

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The Case of the Missing Lady (1950)

This single story from Partners in Crime was presented as the twelfth episode in the twenty-six episode anthology series Nash Airflyte Theatre on Thursday, December 7, 1950 (possibly under the title of The Disappearance Of Mrs. Gordan). The 30-minute live transmission on CBS was at 10.30pm from New York City. There are differing accounts of who starred in the adaptation. Peter Haining states that the stars were Barbara Bel Geddes as Tuppence and Lee Bowman as Tommy but other sources state that the stars were Ronald Reagan and Cloris Leachman "Nash Airflyte Theatre" The Case of the Missing Lady (1950). The adaptation was written and directed by Marc Daniels.

1953 radio adaptation

Partners in Crime was adapted as a 13-part radio serial broadcast on the BBC's London, Midland and Scottish Home Service from Monday, April 13 to Monday, July 13, 1953. The half-hour episodes starred Richard Attenborough as Tommy and Sheila Sim as Tuppence, taking advantage of the actor's then-current starring roles in The Mousetrap. Oscar Quitak appeared in all episodes as Albert. Aside from a 1948 adaptation of Ten Little Ni**ers, this was the first adaptation of a Christie book for radio in the UK.

1983 television adaptation

A television adaptation in ten episodes was made by London Weekend Television with James Warwick as Tommy and Francesca Annis as Tuppence and Reece Dinsdale as Albert. It was first broadcast in the UK between October 16, 1983 and January 14, 1984.

Main article: Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime

Publication history

Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition.

  • 1929, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1929, Hardcover, 277 pp
  • 1929, William Collins and Sons (London), September 16, 1929, Hardcover, 256 pp
  • c.1929, Lawrence E. Spivak (New York), Abridged edition, 126 pp
  • 1943, Dodd Mead and Company, (As part of the Triple Threat along with Poirot Investigates and The Mysterious Mr. Quin), Hardcover
  • 1958, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 189 pp
  • 1962, Pan Books, Paperback (Great Pan G526), 203 pp
  • 1963, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, 224 pp
  • 1986, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-1540-X
  • 2010, HarperCollins; Facsimile edition, Hardcover: 256 pages, ISBN 978-0-00-735463-4

Chapters from the book appeared in Agatha Christie's Crime Reader, published by Cleveland Publishing in 1944 along with other selections from Poirot Investigates and The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

First publication of stories

All of the stories in Partners in Crime first appeared in magazines between 1923 and 1928, principally The Sketch magazine. For publication in book form, Christie rearranged the story order and changed the framing device of several of the chapters to make the flow of the book easier. The original order and publication details of the stories are as follows:

  • The First Wish: First published in issue 226 of The Grand Magazine in December 1923. This formed the basis for chapters 20 and 21 of the book - The Clergyman's Daughter / The Red House. The story was illustrated by Arthur Ferrier.
  • Publicity: First published in issue 1652 of The Sketch on September 24, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 1 and 2 of the book - A Fairy in the Flat / A Pot of Tea. This was the first in a sequence of twelve consecutive stories Christie wrote for The Sketch which appeared under the subtitle of Tommy and Tuppence.
  • The Affair of the Pink Pearl: First published in issue 1653 of The Sketch on October 1, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 3 and 4 of the book which uses the same chapter title.
  • Finessing the King: First published in issue 1654 of The Sketch on October 8, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 7 and 8 of the book - Finessing the King / The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper.
  • The Case of the Missing Lady: First published in issue 1655 of The Sketch on October 15, 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 9 of the book which uses the same chapter title.
  • The Case of the Sinister Stranger: First published in issue 1656 of The Sketch on October 22, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 5 and 6 of the book which use the slightly amended title of The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger.
  • The Sunninghall Mystery: First published in issue 1657 of The Sketch on October 29, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 15 and 16 of the book which use the slightly amended title of The Sunningdale Mystery.
  • The House of Lurking Death: First published in issue 1658 of The Sketch on November 5, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 17 and 18 of the book which use the same chapter title.
  • The Matter of the Ambassador's Boots: First published in issue 1659 of The Sketch on November 12, 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 22 of the book which uses the shortened title of The Ambassador's Boots.
  • The Affair of the Forged Notes: First published in issue 1660 of The Sketch on November 19, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 13 and 14 of the book using the different title of The Crackler.
  • Blindman's Buff: First published in issue 1661 of The Sketch on November 26, 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 10 of the book which uses the same chapter title.
  • The Man in the Mist: First published in issue 1662 of The Sketch on December 3, 1924. This formed the basis for chapters 11 and 12 of the book which uses the same chapter title.
  • The Man who was Number Sixteen: First published in issue 1663 of The Sketch on December 10, 1924. This formed the basis for chapter 23 of the book which uses the same chapter title and was also the final story Christie ever wrote for The Sketch.

After a gap of four years a final story, The Unbreakable Alibi, appeared in Holly Leaves, the annual Christmas special of the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in December, 1928. This formed the basis for chapter 19 of the book.

Book dedication

As with most of Christie's short story collections, this book carried no dedication.

Dustjacket blurb

The blurb of the first UK edition (which is carried on both the back of the dustjacket and opposite the title page) reads:
"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 Sherringham, 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."

The blurb was incorrect in that "Sapper's" Bulldog Drummond stories were not parodied although the character and the situations that he encountered were briefly mentioned in The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger.

International titles

  • German: Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box)
    Der Besuch der Fee/Eine Tasse Tee (The Visit of the Fairy/A Pot of Tea)
    Die rosa Perle (The Pink Pearl)
    Der geheimnisvolle Unbekannte (The mysterious Stranger)
    Der Herr in Zeitungspapier (The Gentleman in Newspaper)
    Die verschwundene Dame (The disappeared Lady)
    Blinde Kuh (Blindman's Buff)
    Der Mann im Nebel (The Man in the Mist)
    Der Raschler (The Rustler)
    Das Rätsel von Sunningdale (The Mystery of Sunningdale)
    Das Haus des Todes (The House of Death)
    Ein unerschütterliches Alibi (The Unbreakable Alibi)
    Die Pfarrerstochter (The Clergyman's Daughter)
    Die Stiefel des Botschafters (The Boots of the Ambassador)
    Der Mann, der Nummer 16 war (The Man Who Was No. 16)
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