|Cover artist||Ernest Akers|
|Publisher||The Bodley Head|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||320 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Mysterious Affair at Styles|
|Followed by||The Murder on the Links|
|Text||The Secret Adversary at Wikisource|
The Secret Adversary is the second published detective fiction novel by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in January 1922 in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head 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 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. The Great War is over, and jobs are scarce. Childhood friends Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley meet and agree to start their own business as The Young Adventurers. They are hired for a job that leads them both to many dangerous situations, meeting allies as well, including an American millionaire in search of his cousin.
Reviews were generally positive on this adventure, which manages to keep the identity of the arch-criminal secret to the very end.
In the Prologue, a man quietly gives important papers to a young American woman, as she is more likely to survive the sinking of RMS Lusitania in May 1915.
In 1919 London, demobilised soldier Tommy Beresford meets war volunteer Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley. They are both out of work and money. They form "The Young Adventurers, Ltd". Mr Whittington follows Tuppence to offer her work. She uses the alias "Jane Finn", which shocks Whittington. He gives her £50 and then disappears. Curious, they advertise for information regarding Jane Finn.
The advertisement yields two replies. The first is from Mr Carter, whom Tommy recognises as a British intelligence leader from his war service; he tells them of Jane Finn aboard the Lusitania when it sank. She received a secret treaty to deliver to the American embassy in London. She survived but no trace has since been found of her or the treaty, the publication of which now would compromise the British government. They agree to work for him, despite his warnings of the dangerous Mr Brown. The second reply is from Julius Hersheimmer, an American multimillionaire and first cousin of Jane Finn, staying at the Ritz Hotel. Intent on finding her, he has already contacted Scotland Yard; Inspector Brown took his only photo of Jane, before a real inspector contacted him. They join forces with Julius, too.
Whittington mentions the name Rita to Tuppence. Tommy and Tuppence find her among the survivors of Lusitania, Mrs Marguerite Vandemeyer. Whittington and Boris Ivanovitch leave Rita's flat as they reach the building. Tommy and Julius follow them; Tommy follows Boris to a house in Soho, while Julius trails Whittington to Bournemouth. Tommy eavesdrops on a meeting of Bolshevist conspirators, where he is caught. He delays his execution by claiming knowledge of the missing treaty. Tuppence secures the co-operation of Albert, the lift boy at Mrs Vandemeyer's residence, to obtain a job as her maid and hears Rita mention 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 clinic and seen him meet with a nurse; they both left before Julius could act. Tommy has not returned. Tuppence tells Mr Carter. Tuppence persuades Julius to seek advice from Sir James. Tuppence returns to Rita's flat early, interrupting Rita's preparations to flee. After a tussle, Tuppence forces Rita to admit she knows who Mr Brown is. Julius and Sir James arrive, Mrs Vandemeyer screams, collapses, and murmurs "Mr Brown" to Tuppence just before dying. Julius finds something in Rita's safe.
Seeking Mr Whittington, the three contact Dr Hall at the clinic. Neither Whittington nor Jane is there. Tuppence rushes out upon receiving a telegram signed by Tommy.
At the house in Soho, a young French woman, Annette, serves meals to Tommy. He is tied up to be killed elsewhere. Annette arranges his escape, but refuses to leave herself. Tommy returns to the Ritz; he and Julius recognise the telegram to Tuppence as a ruse, 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, but they find instead a message from Mr Brown. In London, Tommy alerts Mr Carter and learns that Tuppence has drowned. Returning to the Ritz, he and Julius argue; Julius leaves the hotel. While searching for writing paper in Julius's drawer, Tommy finds a photograph of Annette. Tommy concludes that the Jane Finn they met was a plant to stop their investigation. He gets an original copy of the telegram sent to Tuppence, and sees that her destination was altered on the copy he read. Tommy and Albert proceed to the correct destination.
Tommy discovers the house where Tuppence and Annette are being held. Tuppence throws a note from her window. Albert throws back a reply naming the inn where they are staying; later Tommy receives a message from "Twopence" and realises who Mr Brown is.
Julius kidnaps Mr Kramenin, one of the conspirators, forcing him to get Tuppence and Annette released, whereupon all of them drive off in Julius's car, with Tommy riding on the back. It becomes clear that Annette is Jane Finn. Tommy snatches Julius's weapon, and sends Tuppence and Jane by train to Sir James in London. At Sir James's residence, Jane tells her story: after receiving the packet, she became suspicious of Mrs Vandemeyer. Jane placed blank sheets in the original packet, sealing the treaty inside magazine pages. Travelling from Ireland, she was mugged and taken to the house in Soho. Perceiving the intent of her captors, Jane faked amnesia, conversing only in French. She hid the treaty in a picture frame in her room. She maintained her role in the intervening years. Tuppence suspects that Julius is Mr Brown. Sir James agrees, adding that the real Julius was killed in America and that his imposter killed Mrs Vandemeyer. They rush to Soho, recovering the treaty at the house. Sir James identifies himself as the true Mr Brown, and announces his plan 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. He commits suicide using poison concealed in his ring, the compelling evidence to persuade Mr Carter of his old friend's guilt.
Julius gives a party in honour of Jane. All those concerned in the case meet, including Tuppence's father and Tommy's rich uncle, who makes him his heir. The novel ends with Julius and Jane, and Tommy and Tuppence engaged to marry.
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".
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.
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."
Some additional blurbs regarding the book, and used by The Bodley Head for advertising subsequent print runs, are as follows:
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.
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 G.m.b.H., 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)
The novel was adapted twice for television, in 1983 and in 2014 (aired July–August 2015 in the UK).
The book was 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.
In February 2014, the BBC announced it had commissioned the TV series Partners in Crime, with three episodes as an adaptation of The Secret Adversary, written by Zinnie Harris. It aired in July/August 2015, marking the 125th anniversary of Dame Agatha Christie's birth. The first episode aired in July 2015; it is not set in the post-Great War period, so Tommy and Tuppence are not the young things of that era, are married and have a son sent off to school. It is instead set in 1952, with references made to the Cold War against Stalin.
Tuppence is played by Jessica Raine, Tommy by David Walliams and Jane Finn is played by Camilla Marie Beeput. Rita Vandemeyer is played by Alice Krige. Mr Carter is played by James Fleet. Julius Hersheimer, Jane's uncle in this version, is played by Clarke Peters. Albert becomes Albert Pemberton (Matthew Steer), someone Tommy met during the Second World War, who knows chemistry and is interested in the adventures of Tommy and Tuppence.
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.
Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary was presented for the stage for the first time in 2015 as a Watermill Theatre production, adapted from the Christie novel by Sarah Punshon and Johann Hari for a company of seven actors. A play in two acts, it was described in the publicity as being “shot through with fast-paced action, comedy, live music and a dash of romance”. The live music was performed by the cast. Tuppence was played by Emerald O’Hanrahan, and Tommy by Garmon Rhys. It opened and ran at The Watermill Theatre, West Berkshire Playhouse from Thursday the 12th of February to Saturday the 21st of March, and then toured until Saturday the 9th of May, ending its run at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.
On 16 February 2016, Great Lakes Theater debuted a 70-minute stage adaptation as part of their educational programming. Adapted by David Hansen, this production is performed by a cast of five (3 men, 2 women) with most performers playing more than one role.
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). Christie was paid £50 for the serialisation rights (£1,545 in 2003 currency).
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). In later editions, blurbs first published in the back of Poirot Investigates were used.