Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Partners in Crime: Agatha Christie


Many Agatha Christie fans are not fond of the Tommy and Tuppence books. Even Robert Barnard had unkind words for Tommy and Tuppence in his appreciation of Agatha Christie, A Talent to Deceive, calling them "everyone's least favorite Christie sleuths." Yet, I remember liking the Tommy and Tuppence series when I was younger. At this point I have read two of the five books in the series and I am divided about the outcome.

I really enjoyed The Secret Adversary, which is an espionage thriller. It was published in 1922 and it was Christie's second novel. The story is not as serious as today's espionage books; the issues are more black and white. I enjoyed it as a lighthearted entertainment and I even liked the love story.

I did not find Partners in Crime nearly as enjoyable. This is a series of linked short stories. I have only recently re-discovered the attraction of short stories but these did not win me over.

The premise is that Tommy and Tuppence have now been married six years, and are still happy but a little bored with life. Apparently they have sufficient funds to support themselves without either having a job. Happily for them, just as they discuss their boredom, they are offered the opportunity to take over a detective agency. They jump at the chance.

There are fifteen stories. Unfortunately I found the stories in general much too silly and frothy. Each story (except for the introductory stories that set up the premise) is a parody of other fictional detectives of the time.  I did not enjoy that aspect of it either. There were several of the detectives parodied that I had no familiarity with and even when I did, that did not work for me.

There are are few of the stories that I found interesting and entertaining.

In “Finessing The King,” Tommy and Tuppence dress up for a costume party and accidentally encounter murder.  Because I have no familiarity with the author and detectives that are spoofed in the story, I am including Mike Grost's description from Mystery*File:
Isabel Ostrander was a popular American detective writer of the Post World War I era. She was read by John Dickson Carr as a teenager, according to Douglas G. Greene’s biography, was praised by Dorothy L. Sayers in The Omnibus of Crime and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and was one of the famous detective writers chosen for parody by Agatha Christie here.  Despite this one time fame, her works are almost completely forgotten and unobtainable today.  This story spoofs Ostrander’s series detective, ex-cop Tommy McCarty, and his best friend, fireman Dennis Riordan.  Tommy dresses up like a fireman at a costume party, a favorite Christie setting, while Tuppence masquerades as McCarty.  As does McCarty in Ostrander’s The Clue in the Air, Tommy and Tuppence hear the murder committed, and are the first to find the body.  In both stories the victim is a young society woman.  They also hear the victim’s dying message, just as in Ostrander’s novel. 
“The Case of the Missing Lady”  is a spoof of Sherlock Holmes. It has a clever twist.

"The Man in the Mist" is a takeoff on G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown. Another clever ending.

I enjoyed "The Crackler" even though I felt the mystery plot was weak. There is a character in that story, Mr. Ryder, who is from Alabama and becomes Tommy's "friend and confidant." That story takes on Edgar Wallace's style. Tommy and Tuppence mix with a group of people suspected to be passing counterfeit bills.

It is important to point out that there are many, many positive reviews of this set of stories. Please don't take my word for it. If you haven't tried Partners in Crime already, you should give it a try.

There are two television adaptations of this series. I have the first one from 1983, Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, starring Francesca Annis and James Warwick. That set includes a feature length version of The Secret Adversary, which I have watched and enjoyed. I expect to enjoy the adaptations more than I liked the stories.

Resources:

  • Check out the entire article by Michael Grost at Mystery*File.
  • Curt at The Passing Tramp is very fond of this book, and provides a lot of background information.
  • Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise provides some interesting thoughts on the characters of Tommy and Tuppence in these stories.

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Publisher:   William Morrow, 2012 (orig. pub. 1929)
Length:      271 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Tommy and Tuppence #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

19 comments:

  1. Tracy, I'm one of those who isn't quite fond of the Tommy and Tuppence novels. I thought THE SECRET ADVERSARY was okay. I'm not sure if political espionage was Christie's forte. But I get the impression she liked the subject.

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    1. I do have the next book in the series, Prashant, so I will try that one when I can. Soon I hope. That one is written a little later in her career, which might make a difference.

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  2. You know, it's funny that you mention Tommy and Tuppence not being so much beloved as Miss Marple or Poirot. I haven't loved them either. I do know that Partners in Crime was the very first Christie book I tried way, way back - long years ago. I almost didn't read another. So glad I did as I think the second one I read was Sleeping Murder. And even though Miss Marple doesn't play a huge part in it, I loved it and never looked back. I'm not sure I've even read all the T&T books. Probably not. I'm OK with that. :-)

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    1. Partners in Crime would definitely not be the best introduction to Christie's writing, Kay. Even if the reader likes it, I found it very different from the other books I have read in the last few years.

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  3. Sorry this one didn't work out better for me, but at least you haven't added another Christie to my list!

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    1. For me???? Ha ha ......for you, I meant...

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    2. I don't think it works out well for either of us, Col. At first I was going to skip it entirely, just because it was short stories. I am not sorry I read it, for the experience, but it won't be one I will reread. I like my green copy at the top of the post though, so I will keep that one.

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  4. Tracy - I know exactly what you mean about 'frothy' when it comes to these stories. They're certainly not as credible as some of the other Beresford adventures. Some people don't mind that at all, and adore Tommy and Tuppence no matter what. Like you, though, I prefer their more substantial stories.

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    1. I am sure having more experience with the various detectives that were spoofed would have improved the experience, Margot. I am still glad I read it, but it took me a long time to get through it.

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  5. Fair point Tracy - the stories are slight but fun mainly as pastiches of famous authors rater than deetctive stories. The TV show is a bit slow (they did have trouble spinning out the tales to a full hour) but the casts are great, especially Annis and Warwick who make a great double act.

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    1. Sergio, I am looking forward to trying the TV shows with Annis and Warwick. It may take me a while, but I will get through all of them.

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  6. First thing, Patti seems to have got the link wrong on her FFB post.

    Second, how likely three of us would do Christie today?

    Now about the book: I have read it and thought it so-so. I did like the T&T stories done on Mystery! years back, mostly because of the cast and settings, not the mystery so much.

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    1. Richard, thanks for letting me know about the link. It is unusual to have so many Christie's featured.

      I am glad I read the stories, but they were not that entertaining for me. I think I will enjoy the setting of the TV shows, just based on the pictures I see here and there on the internet.

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  7. As you say, these stories suffer for the fact that several of the detectives spoofed are completely forgotten today. I think it's quite a week book, it doesn't do much for me. But it has its place in history, and in Christie's history.

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    1. Moira, I agree, I almost passed on reading this book, but I am glad I decided to read it. I will eventually read more of her stories. I do have a book with a couple of her Christmas stories and I probably have others in my TBR piles.

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  8. THE SECRET ADVERSARY was the first Christie that I read so I have a soft spot for Tommy n Tuppence. I don't remember this book much but N OR M is a winner.

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    1. I do hope to read N or M soon, neer. I hope to read a lot more Christie in the 2nd half of the year.

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  9. I haven't read any of the Tommy and Tuppence books but I did enjoy the Francesca Annis series when it was on TV, for the wonderful costumes as much as anything else.

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    1. Katrina, I am glad to hear that so many people enjoyed the TV series. I wasn't sure if I would like it.

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