The Secret Adversary

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The Secret Adversary
Secret Adversary First Edition Cover 1922.jpg
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
Author Agatha Christie
Cover artist Ernest Akers
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime novel
Publisher The Bodley Head
Publication date
January 1922
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 320 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN NA
Preceded by The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Followed by The Murder on the Links

The Secret Adversary is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie first published in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head in January 1922[1] and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in that same year.[2][3] The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6)[1] and the US edition at $1.75.[3] It is her second published novel. The book introduces the characters of Tommy and Tuppence who feature in three other Christie novels and one collection of short stories; the five Tommy and Tuppence books span Agatha Christie's writing career.

Plot summary[edit]

In the Prologue, a man aboard the RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915 quietly gives important papers to a young American woman, as she is more likely to survive the sinking ship.

In 1919 London, demobilised soldier Tommy Beresford meets war volunteer Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley, both out of work and money. They form the "The Young Adventurers, Ltd", planning to hire themselves out with "[n]o unreasonable offer refused."[4][5] They are overheard by a Mr Whittington who follows Tuppence to offer her a position. He is shocked when she gives her name as "Jane Finn". Whittington sends her away with some money, then disappears without a trace. They advertise for information regarding Jane Finn.

The advertisement yields two immediate replies. They first meet with Mr Carter, whom Tommy recognises as a leader in British intelligence from his war service. Mr Carter tells the story of Jane Finn, an American heading for Paris on the RMS Lusitania when it sank in 1915. She received a secret treaty to deliver to the American embassy in London. She survived, but the government has found neither Jane Finn nor the draft treaty since. Publication of the treaty now would compromise the British government. Tommy and Tuppence agree to work for Carter. He warns them this is a dangerous mission, because of the elusive and merciless figure known as Mr Brown. Next they meet with Julius Hersheimmer, an American man who is the first cousin of Jane Finn and a multimillionaire, staying at the Ritz Hotel. He is intent on finding her. He has already contacted Scotland Yard; an Inspector named Brown took his only photo of Jane, before a real inspector contacted him. Tommy and Tuppence join forces with Julius.

Whittington mentioned the name Rita to Tuppence. Tommy and Tuppence find her among the surviving passengers of the Lusitania, Mrs Marguerite Vandemeyer. Whittington and Boris Ivanovitch leave Rita's flat before Tommy and Tuppence have left the building. Tommy follows them, phoning Julius to aid him. Tommy follows Boris through London to a house in Soho, while Julius trails Whittington on the train to Bournemouth. Boris leads Tommy into a meeting of Bolshevist conspirators, where he is caught. Claiming he has knowledge regarding the missing treaty, he delays his execution.

Tuppence secures the co-operation of Albert, the lift boy at Mrs Vandemeyer's residence, and obtains a job as Rita's maid. A conversation between Rita and Boris confirms that Tuppence is on the trail of Mr Brown. The next visitor is Sir James Peel Edgerton, K.C.. On her afternoon off, Tuppence meets Julius at the Ritz. 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. Tommy has not returned. Tuppence keeps Mr Carter informed. Tuppence persuades Julius to seek advice from Sir James. They share their concern regarding Tommy's disappearance. Tuppence returns early to the flat, where she interrupts her mistress's preparations to flee. After a tussle, Tuppence gains control of the gun, and Rita, who admits she knows who Mr Brown is. Upon the arrival of Julius and Sir James, Mrs Vandemeyer screams, collapses, and dies that night from poisoning. Before her death, she murmurs "Mr Brown" in Tuppence's ear, to no avail.

The three contact the head of the private clinic, Dr Hall, to find Mr. Whittington. Jane Finn had been admitted to Hall's nursing home under the name Janet Vandemeyer, because she suffered a complete loss of memory after the sinking of the Lusitania. But she left his nursing home. Sir James sows distrust among the young adventurers. Julius does not trust Sir James as Tuppence does. Tuppence rushes out upon receiving a telegram signed by Tommy.

Tommy is imprisoned in the conspirators' house in Soho, where the young French woman Annette serves his meals. The conspirators tie Tommy up to be taken away and killed. Annette arranges his escape, but she refuses to leave the house. Tommy returns to the Ritz, where he and Julius recognise the telegram to Tuppence as a ruse. They retrieve the telegram, but fail to find her at the address given. Sir James discovers Jane Finn, who has recovered her memory after an accident. She tells them where she hid the treaty. At the hiding place, they find no treaty, but a message from Mr Brown. Tommy goes to London to alert Mr Carter. There, Tommy learns more bad news: it is feared she is drowned. 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. While searching for writing paper in Julius's drawer, Tommy finds a photograph of Annette. This chance find is a new clue. Tommy concludes that the Jane Finn they met was planted by their enemies, to stop their investigation. He receives a telegram falsely signed by Tuppence (with her name misspelled). He figures out who sent it; the identity of Mr Brown; and now proceeds on a plan to prove the truth of his solution. Tommy gets an original copy of the telegram sent to Tuppence, and sees that the destination was altered on the copy he read. With Albert, he proceeds to the correct destination house. He leaves a false note for Julius, indicating that he left for Argentina.

Julius kidnaps Mr Kramenin, one of the conspirators. Under duress, Kramenin gets Tuppence and Annette released, whereupon all of them drive off in Julius's car. Tommy is at the same house, where he jumps on the back of the car. In the ensuing flight to London, it becomes clear that Annette is Jane Finn. In a surprise move, Tommy snatches Julius's weapon, and sends Tuppence and Jane by train to Sir James in London, while he and Julius proceed in the car. The women reach Sir James's residence. Here, Jane tells her story: after receiving the packet on the ship, she became suspicious of Mrs Vandemeyer. She placed blank sheets in the original packet, carrying the treaty sealed inside magazine pages. During the trip away from Ireland, she was mugged and taken to the house in Soho. Perceiving the intent of her captors, Jane decided to pretend amnesia and conversed only in French. During the night, she hid the treaty in the back of a picture in her room. She maintained her new role all these years, despite the threats and tension. Tuppence states her suspicion that Julius is Mr Brown, which alarms Jane. Sir James agrees, adding that someone has killed the real Julius in America, and that man killed Mrs. Vandemeyer. They rush to get the treaty in Soho, lest Julius outwits them again.

They recover the treaty at the house. Sir James identifies himself to the two women as the true Mr Brown, and announces that he plans to kill them, wound himself, and then blame it on the elusive Mr Brown. Julius and Tommy, who are hiding in the room, overwhelm Sir James / Mr Brown, who commits suicide from poison in a ring he wore. Tommy understood that Mr. Carter would not believe Sir James was guilty unless he witnessed it himself, the two having long been friends.

Julius gives a party in honor of Jane. All those concerned in the case meet, including Tuppence's father, the archdeacon and Tommy's rich uncle, who makes him his heir. The novel ends with two proposals of marriage accepted: Julius and Jane, and Tommy and Tuppence.

Characters[edit]

  • Thomas Bereford: Tommy, young redheaded Englishman who fought in the Great War, wounded twice, considered slow but steady and clear-headed in his thinking, at his best in a "tight" situation. In his early twenties.
  • Prudence L Cowley: Tuppence, young woman with black bobbed hair, one of several children of a conservative archdeacon, served in the VAD during the Great War. She is modern and stylish, quick and intuitive in her thinking, acts rapidly on her ideas. In her early twenties.
  • Julius P Hersheimer: Millionaire from America, seeking his first cousin to Jane Finn, a girl he never met in America due to a family quarrel. He is quick-thinking, quick-acting, and being from America, he carries a gun and knows how to use it. In his early thirties.
  • Mr Carter: Englishman skilled in the intelligence service and connected with the highest political powers, known only by this alias name. He seeks the treaty and the girl who might have carried it off the ship.
  • Jane Finn: American woman, 18 years old when she left the U.S., with good skills in speaking French, who aimed to work in a war hospital during the Great War. She sailed on the Lusitania, and she survived, carrying a document from a man named Danvers on board.
  • Marguerite Vandemeyer: Rita, a beautiful woman in society, past her first youth, who followed Danvers on the Lusitania. She is affiliated with the conspirators and sees Sir Joseph socially. Her character is steely and powerful.
  • Albert: Lift boy at the building in which Rita Vandemeyer lives, becomes helper to Tuppence, then to Tommy.
  • Mr Whittington: Member of the conspirators who first encounters Tommy and Tuppence as they plan their joint venture over lunch in a restaurant. He spoke Jane Finn's name in the streets as Tommy passed him, then is angry and frightened when Tuppence tosses the same name back to him, innocently, later on. He is certain someone else did this.
  • Boris Ivanovitch, Count Stepanov: Member of the conspiracy, who keeps in touch with Whittington and Rita.
  • Mr Kramenin: Russian Bolshevik, serving in London, and one of the conspirators, called number one. Julius selects him to lead him to the girls.
  • Dr. Hall: Runs the nursing home in Bournemouth where he took in the amnesia patient as a niece of Rita Vandemeyer, under the name Janet, for several years.
  • Sir James Peel Edgerton: Prominent London attorney, often defense attorney for the accused, known to sniff a criminal. He is socially prominent, politically prominent though he is MP from a small borough. Mr Carter respects his intelligence, going back years. He sees Rita socially. He is known for his persuasive ways.
  • 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 with his enemies, the master criminal mind of the age.

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Upon publication of the first book edition it was reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement in its edition of 26 January, 1922, which described it as "a whirl of thrilling adventures". It stated that the characters of Tommy and Tuppence were "refreshingly original" and praised the fact that the "identity of the arch-criminal, the elusive "Mr Brown", is cleverly concealed to the very end".[6]

The critic for The New York Times Book Review (11 June 1922) was also impressed: "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 it 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."[7]

Robert Barnard described the novel as "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".[8]

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[9]
  • "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.[9]
  • "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.[9]
  • "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.[9]

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.[10]

Adaptations[edit]

Die Abenteurer GmbH (1929)[edit]

The Secret Adversary was the second Christie work to be turned into a film. Made in Germany by the Orplid Film company, it was released in that country on 15 February 1929 as Die Abenteurer GmbH, a silent movie which ran for 76 minutes. It was released in the UK and US under the title 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 15 July 2001 (see National Film Theatre: A Tribute to the Work of Agatha Christie)

Adaptor: Jane Bess
Director: Fred Sauer
Photography: Adolf Otto Weitzenberg
Art Direction: Leopold Blonder and Franz Schroedter

Cast:
Eve Gray as Lucienne Fereoni
Carlo Aldini as Pierre Lafitte
Elfriede Borodin as Jeanette Finné
Hilda Bayley as Rita van den Meer
Eberhard Leithoff as George Finné
Jack Mylong-Münz as Boris
Shayle Gardner as Julius Vardier
Hans Mierendorff as Hans Mierendorff
Valy Arnheim as Wittington

The Secret Adversary (1983)[edit]

The book was also adapted by London Weekend Television as a 115-minute drama, and transmitted on Sunday, 9 October 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.

Adaptor: Pat Sandys
Director: Tony Wharmby

Cast:
Francesca Annis as Prudence Cowley
James Warwick as Thomas Beresford
Reece Dinsdale as Albert
Arthur Cox as Detective Inspector Marriott
Gavan O'Herlihy as Julius P. Hersheimmer
Alec McCowen as Sir James Peele Edgerton
Honor Blackman as Rita Vandemeyer
Peter Barkworth as Carter
Toria Fuller as Jane Finn
John Fraser as Kramenin
George Baker as Whittington
Donald Houston as Boris
Joseph Brady as Dr Hall
Wolf Kahler as The German
Peter Lovstrom as Henry
Matthew Scurfield as Conrad
Gabrielle Blunt as Annie

Graphic novel adaptation[edit]

The Secret Adversary was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 20 May, 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.

Television adaptation[edit]

In February 2014, the BBC announced it had commissioned Partners in Crime (UK TV series), with three episodes as an adaptation of The Secret Adversary, written by Zinnie Harris.

Publication history[edit]

  • 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), 5 November 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 12 August (Issue 2328) to 2 December 1921 (Issue 2343).[11] Christie was paid £50 for the serialisation rights (£1,545 in 2003 currency).[10][12]

Book dedication[edit]

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.

Dustjacket blurb[edit]

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). In later editions, blurbs first published in the back of Poirot Investigates were used.[9]

International titles[edit]

  • Czech: Tajemný protivník (The Secret Adversary)
  • Dutch: De geheime tegenstander (The Secret Adversary)
  • Estonian: Aktsiaselts "Seiklejad"(Public Limited Company "Adventurers"), Salavastane (The Secret Adversary)
  • Finnish: Salainen vastustaja (The Secret Adversary)
  • German: Ein gefährlicher Gegner (A dangerous adversary), first edition in 1932: Die Abenteuer-G.m.b.H. (The Adventure Ltd.)
  • Norwegian: Den hemmelige fiende (The Secret Adversary)
  • Portugal: O Adversário Secreto (The Secret Adversary)
  • Spanish: El Misterioso Señor Brown (The Mysterious Mr. Brown)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The English Catalogue of Books. XI A-L January 1921 – December 1925. Millwood, New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation. 1979. p. 310. 
  2. ^ John Cooper and B.A. Pyke (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (Second ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 86. ISBN 0-85967-991-8. 
  3. ^ a b "American Tribute to Agatha Christie: The Classic Years 1920s". May 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Christie, Agatha (2001). The Secret Adversary. Signet. 
  5. ^ Christie, Agatha (1922). "The Secret Adversary". Excerpt. ManyBooks.net. Retrieved 11 January 2014. 
  6. ^ The Times Literary Supplement, 26 January 1922 (p. 61)
  7. ^ The New York Times Book Review, 11 June 1922 (p. 15)
  8. ^ Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 200. ISBN 0-00-637474-3. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Christie, Agatha (1924). Poirot Investigates. John Lane Company (The Bodley Head). pp. Advertising supplements following p. 298 of novel. 
  10. ^ a b Thompson, Laura (2008). Agatha Christie: An English Mystery. Headline Review. p. 128. 
  11. ^ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD77
  12. ^ O'Donoghue, Jim and Louise Goulding. “Consumer Price Inflation since 1750”, Economic Trends. No. 604, March 2004. pp. 38–46; retrieved 25 June 2009.[dead link]

External links[edit]

The Secret Adversary is one of only two of Christie's books that are in the public domain in the US (the other being The Mysterious Affair at Styles). The copyright on the book will not expire in many other Western countries until 2047.