The Secret Adversary is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head in January 1922 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in that same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $1.75. The book is Christie's second novel and introduces the characters of Tommy and Tuppence who feature in three other Christie books and one collection of short stories written throughout her writing career.
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Reunited in 1919 London, demobilised soldier Tommy Beresford and nurse Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley, out of work and money, form the "The Young Adventurers, Ltd." planning to hiring themselves out as "adventurers … [w]illing to do anything, go anywhere … [n]o unreasonable offer refused." They are overheard by a Mr. Whittington who offers Tuppence a comfortable position, but he is shocked when she randomly gives her name as "Jane Finn", a name Tommy in turn had overheard him use and mentioned during the same conversation. Whittington believes Tuppence is blackmailing him and sends her away with some money. Convinced that they can get further money out of Whittington if they play their cards right, Tommy and Tuppence prepare to shadow him, only to discover that he has closed his office and disappeared without a trace. To find out why, they place an advertisement, asking for information regarding Jane Finn.
One response is from a Mr. "Carter," whom Tommy recognises as a leading figure in a British intelligence agency and who provides the background to Jane Finn, all of which was earlier revealed to the reader in the book's prologue. Jane Finn was a passenger on the RMS Lusitania when it sank four years earlier in 1915. An American man, knowing he would not be on the lifeboats entrusted her with getting a secret, draft treaty to the American embassy in London, should she survive the sinking and be rescued. Since that time, neither Jane Finn nor the draft treaty have been found. At the same time, publication of the treaty's contents would compromise the current British government, potentially leading to a bolshevik coup. Tommy and Tuppence agree to work for Carter on an unofficial basis, with the aim of recovering the treaty and foiling the bolshevists and their puppet-master, an elusive though hands-on figure known as Mr. Brown who is said to have an exceptional capacity for blending in the background. Carter agrees to cover all their expenses as well as pay them a large sum in the hope that amateurs may succeed where intelligence services failed.
The second response is from Julius Hersheimmer, an American man claiming to be the first cousin of Jane Finn and the sole heir of his father's multi-million dollar estate. He is intent on finding her, and has already contacted various European police agencies — including Scotland Yard — for assistance. His only photograph of Jane Finn was earlier given to a detective. However, when a second Scotland Yard detective — Inspector Japp — arrives requesting a photo, Julius and the Young Adventurers realise that the earlier detective — Inspector Brown" — was, in fact, the elusive Mr. Brown. At this point, Tommy and Tuppence take Julius into their confidence, and the three agree to join forces: Tommy and Tuppence join Julius and take up residence at his hotel, the Ritz, with the Young Adventurers' tab being picked up by Carter.
The only clue they can go on at this time is a name, "Rita", uttered by Whittington during his "Jane Finn" meeting with Tuppence in his now abandoned office. Tommy and Tuppence decide to search for a Rita among the surviving passengers of the RMS Lusitania, and locate a woman named Marguerite Vandemeyer, who uses "Rita" as a diminutive. Their luck persists as Whittington and a second person (later identified as Boris Ivanovitch, Count Stepanov) leave Rita's flat while they are around. Tommy is able to contact Julius before Boris and Whittington separate: While Tommy follows Boris through London to a house in Soho, Julius trails Whittington on the train to Bournemouth, and Tuppence takes her chance to find domestic employment at Rita's.
Boris leads Tommy right into a meeting of bolshevist conspirators, where he is caught. Pretending he has knowledge regarding Jane Finn, he is able to delay his execution.
Meanwhile, after Tommy's departure, Tuppence secures the secret cooperation of Albert, the lift boy at Mrs. Vandemeyer's residence. On a tip from Albert, Tuppence obtains a situation in Rita's employ. Once ensconced there, she eavesdrops on a conversation between Rita and Boris that serves to confirm for Tuppence that she is on Mr Brown the trail. The next visitor is Sir James Peel Edgerton, K.C., who frequently escorts Rita about town and against whom Boris has warned Rita, insisting she cease spending time in his company or face the consequences from Mr. Brown. When Sir James takes his leave, he makes an ambiguous, vague remark to Tuppence regarding the suitability of her current place of employment.
On her afternoon off, Tuppence meets Julius upon his return from Bournemouth. Julius had followed Whittington to a private nursing home, where Whittington met with a nurse. Before Julius could act, both Whittington and the nurse left, the latter with a female patient. Tommy however has disappeared and a desperate, Tuppence writes to Carter for assistance, but he can offer none.
After a couple of uneventful days, Tuppence persuades Julius to seek advice from James Edgerton, based on his previous remark towards her. They share their concern regarding Tommy's disappearance with Sir James, who suggests using his acquaintance with Mrs. Vandemeyer to obtain information. The plan is for Sir James to visit Mrs. Vandemeyer later in the evening. Tuppence, however, upon returning early to the flat, interrupts her mistress's preparations to go into hiding, and manages to overwhelm her. In the ensuing conversation, Tuppence is able to obtain the promise of information regarding Jane Finn, Tommy and the mysterious Mr. Brown in exchange for a substantial amount of money out of Julius' long purse. Upon the arrival of Julius and Sir James, however, Mrs. Vandemeyer faints, is revived by some brandy and dies soon after due to poisoning.
After this dead end, the three decide to contact the head of the private clinic, Dr. Hall, the only person who might shed light on Mr. Whittington's whereabouts. It turns out that Jane Finn had been admitted to his nursing home under the name Janet Vandemeyer, and she was in his care because she suffered a complete loss of memory after the sinking of the Lusitania. On the evening of Whittington's visit, Jane Finn was brought back to London, to an unknown place. With no trail left to follow, Sir James announces his intent to go on a planned holiday, with some hint that he may try to work behind the scenes, and a veiled hint to Tuppence not to trust Julius.
Julius, becoming convinced of the futility of their search, is ready to give up, and proposes that Tuppence marry him. She, however, leaves him a note declining the offer, and rushes out, after receiving a telegram signed by Tommy.
In the meantime, Tommy remained imprisoned in the conspirators' house, where he was served food by a young woman named Annette. After a few days of waiting, Tommy's bluff is called, and he is tied up to be brought away and killed. During this time one of the conspirators refers to the Ritz as Tommy's previous place of residence, indicating that they now know more about him. He is saved when Annette arranges his escape but refuses to come along.
Upon returning to the Ritz, Tommy and Julius recognise the telegram to Tuppence as a means of getting her out of the way. They retrieve the telegram, but fail to find any trace of her at the address given.
However, in the meantime Sir James has discovered Jane Finn, who has recovered her memory after an accident. Tommy, Julius and James get directions to the place where she hid the treaty. When they arrive, the package contains only a message from Mr. Brown. Realising that the conspirators are now in possession of the treaty, Tommy rushes to London to alert Mr. Carter. There, Tommy learns another bad news: pieces of Tuppence's clothing have been found on the seashore.
At his lowest, Tommy returns to the Ritz, with the intent of getting even with Mr. Brown over Tuppence's fate. He and Julius find themselves in a personal row, which Julius resolves by leaving the hotel. Tommy then decides to decline an offer by Sir James, at one of his farms in Argentina, and while searching for paper in Julius' drawer comes across a photograph of Annette. This chance find offers a new clue to the case, and Tommy concludes that the Jane Finn they found was planted by their enemies, in order to convince them that the game was over. Thus, he believes that they are closer to the solution than they previously believed, and notifies Mr. Carter that he believes the pieces of Tuppence's clothing were fakes. He thinks that the conspirators will free the real Jane Finn, under the assumption that she will lead them to the hidden treaty.
Tommy then requests from Mr. Carter an original copy of the telegram sent to Tuppence, and finds out that the telegram was altered after Tuppence had read it, to throw him onto the wrong track. Thus, with the lift boy Albert, he proceeds to Tuppence's place of imprisonment, but leaves a false message for Julius, indicating that he left for Argentina.
Julius, still intent on finding his cousin, decides to use force, and kidnaps Mr. Kramenin, a known Bolshevik sympathiser and suspected conspirator. Kramenin, at gunpoint, agrees to lead Julius to the place of Jane's and Tuppence's confinement. At the house, Kramenin bluffs his way to get both women released, whereupon all of them rush of in Julius' car. The bluff is called then, and they are followed. During the ensuing flight it becomes clear that Jane Finn and Annette are the same person, and that Jane had all the time pretended to suffer from amnesia. As well, it turns out that Tommy had been around and managed to jump onto the car. In a surprise development, he snatches Julius' weapon, and sends Tuppence and Jane via train to Sir James in London, while he remains behind with the unwilling Julius.
During the return to London, both women are wary of being followed, but with the use of deception, are able to reach Sir James' residence. Here, Jane confides her story: after having received the package, she became suspicious of Mrs. Vandemeyer. Concealing her fear, she replaced the treaty in the parcel with a blank sheet, carrying the treaty hidden inside a magazine. Then, during the train ride to London, she got mugged and woke up in an unknown location. Upon overhearing that their captors were not sure about the meaning of the empty sheet in the packet, and their intent of torturing her to gain information, Jane decided to pretend amnesia and started to converse in French only. During the night, she hid the treaty in the back of some pictures in her room. On the odd chance that she might recover her memory, she was kept from that moment under Mrs. Vandemeyer's care. Then, after a number of years, she was brought back to London, to serve on Tommy during his imprisonment.
Upon this information, Sir James suggests they immediately retrieve the treaty. He is convinced that Tuppence and Jane have been traced, and that the desperate Mr. Brown will follow them further to obtain the treaty. He plans to capture him, and expects that the conspirators without their leader are bound to fail. Furthermore, Tuppence confides in Sir James her suspicion that Julius is Mr. Brown, that he killed the real Julius and also Mrs. Vandemeyer. Sir James confirms her suspicions, and suggests they rush to get the treaty, lest Julius overpower Tommy and outwit them again.
SPOILER ALERT! DON'T READ AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!
In the house, the treaty is finally recovered. However Sir James identifies himself to the two women as the head of the conspirators, and announces that he plans to kill them, wound himself, and blame it all on the elusive Mr. Brown. At this pivotal moment, Julius and Tommy, who were hidden in the room and had guessed the location of the treaty and Mr. Brown's identity, overwhelm Sir James. The latter manages to commit suicide.
A party given by Julius serves as a final meeting of all parties involved, and a general recapitulation of events, hints and conclusions. The novel concludes with Julius and Jane as well as Tommy and Tuppence joining in matrimony.
- Thomas Beresford
- Prudence L Cowley
- Julius P Hersheimmer
- Mr Carter
- Jane Finn
- Marguerite Vandemeyer, her maid Annie
- Edward Whittington
- Kramenin: Russian Bolshevik, serving in London, and one of the conspirators, called number one. Julius selects him to lead him to the girls.
- Boris Ivanovitch, Count Stepanov.
- Sir James Peel Edgerton
- Mr Brown: Elusive leader of the conspirators, who appears as a man named Brown often, but in a minor role, so others do not recall his appearance. He is key to all decisions of the conspirators, subtle with information, brutal or fatal with his enemies, the master criminal mind of the age.
- Inspector Japp
- Madame Colombier
- Nurses at Tuppence's hospital: Sisters Greenbank, Bond and Whitehaven
- Various survivors of the Lusitania
- Various members and associates of Kramenin's gang
- Peter B. Rysdale
- Dr Hall
- Nurse Edith
- Amos Finn
- Mrs Sweeney
- Dr Roylance
- Hiram Hersheimmer
- Dr Adams
- Ivan Grieber
- Sir William Beresford
- Archdeacon Cowley
Literary significance and reception
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Upon publication of the first book edition it was reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement in its edition of January 26, 1922 which described it as "a whirl of thrilling adventures". It stated that the characters of Tommy and Tuppence as "refreshingly original" and praised the fact that the "identity of the arch-criminal, the elusive "Mr Brown", is cleverly concealed to the very end".
The New York Times Book Review of June 11, 1922 was also impressed, stating, "It is safe to assert that unless the reader peers into the last chapter or so of the tale, he will not know who this secret adversary is until the author chooses to reveal him." The review gave something of a backhanded compliment when it said that Christie "gives a sense of plausibility to the most preposterous situations and developments." Nevertheless they conceded that, "Miss Christie has a clever prattling style that shifts easily into amusing dialogue and so aids the pleasure of the reader as he tears along with Tommy and Tuppence on the trail of the mysterious Mr. Brown. 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."
Robert Barnard: "The first and best (no extravagant compliment this) of the Tommy and Tuppence stories. It tells how the dauntless pair foils a plot to foment labour unrest and red revolution in Britain, masterminded by the man behind the Bolshevists. Good reactionary fun, if you're in that mood".
Some additional blurbs regarding the book, and used by The Bodley Head for advertising subsequent print runs, are as follows:
- "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." — Daily Chronicle
- "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." — Saturday Review.
- "I heartily recommend this very ingenious and exciting yarn … eminently readable." — Daily News
- "Mrs. 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." — Eastern Morning News.
- "The atmosphere of the book is admirable and the story will be read with avidity by all. Undoubtedly the book is a success." — East Anglian Daily Times.
- "A book of thrilling adventure. Sensational adventures which make thrilling and gripping reading. Mrs. Christie has certainly succeeded in writing a story not only entertaining, but ingenious and amazingly clever." — Irish Independent.
The one critic who was not so keen on the book was Christie's publisher, John Lane, who had wanted her to write another detective novel along the lines of The Mysterious Affair at Styles .
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Die Abenteurer GmbH (1929)
The Secret Adversary was the second Christie work to be turned into a film. Made in Germany by the Orplid Film company and released in that country on February 15, 1929, it was entitled Die Abenteurer G.m.b.H., was a silent movie and ran for 76 minutes. It was released in the UK and US as Adventures Inc. Character names from the book were changed for the film. Previously thought to be lost, it was given a rare showing at the National Film Theatre on July 15, 2001 (See )
The Secret Adversary (1983)
The book was also adapted by London Weekend Television as a 115-minute drama and transmitted on Sunday, October 9, 1983. It acted as an introduction to a ten-part adaptation of Partners in Crime made with the same stars which began transmission one week later under the title Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime.
BBC's Partners in Crime
In 2015 BBC produced a six-part series entitled Partners in Crime featuring the exploits of Tommy and Tuppence with David Walliams and Jessica Raine in the lead roles. The first three episodes of this series was written by Zinnie Harris and was an adaptation of The Secret Adversary.
Graphic novel adaptation
The Secret Adversary was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on May 20, 2008 adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by Frank Leclercq (ISBN 0-00-727461-0). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2003 under the title of Mister Brown.
- 1922, John Lane (The Bodley Head), January 1922, Hardback, 320 pp
- 1922, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1922, Hardback, 330 pp
- 1927, John Lane (The Bodley Head), February 1927, Hardback (Cheap edition - two shillings)
- 1946, Avon Books (New York), Avon number 100, Paperback, 264 pp
- 1955, Pan Books, Paperback (Pan number 357)
- 1957, Pan Books, Paperback (Great Pan GP82)
- 1967, Bantam Books (New York), Paperback
- 1976, Panther Books (London), Paperback, ISBN 0-586-04424-8
- 1991, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 256pp ISBN 0-00-617478-7
- 1991, Ulverscroft Large Print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-2441-7
- 2001, Signet (Penguin Group), Paperback
- 2007, Facsimile of 1922 UK first edition (HarperCollins), November 5, 2007, Hardcover, 320 pp ISBN 0-00-726515-8
Like its predecessor, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Secret Adversary was first published as an unillustrated serialisation in The Times weekly edition (aka The Weekly Times) as a complete and unabridged text in seventeen instalments from August 12 (Issue 2328) to December 2, 1921 (Issue 2343). Christie was paid £50 for the serialization rights (£1,545 in 2003 currency).
Adversary sold better than its predecessor, Styles.
The dedication of the book reads:
"To all those who lead monotonous lives in the hope that they experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure".
This rather whimsical statement was one of only two times that Christie addressed a dedication to her readers, the other occasion being the penultimate Tommy and Tuppence book, By the Pricking of My Thumbs in 1968.
The dustjacket front flap of the first edition carried no specially written blurb. Instead it repeated the text which appeared on the jacket of The Mysterious Affair at Styles (the back jacket flap carrying review quotes of the earlier novel).
- Czech: Tajemný protivník (The Secret Adversary)
- French: Mr Brown (Mr Brown)
- German: Ein gefährlicher Gegner (A dangerous adversary), first edition in 1932: Die Abenteuer-G.m.b.H. (The Adventure PLC)
- Italian: Avversario Segreto (Secret Adversary)