When I finally delved into Agatha Christie’s work last summer (thanks to Book Club Girl’s read-along), I mostly stuck with Miss Marple. I later read Murder on the Orient Express and branched out to the truly chilling And Then There Were None, but I completely missed Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence series until last month, when I “eavesdropped” on Heidi and Jenni tweeting about books. Heidi named Tuppence as one of her all-time favorite fictional women, and I was intrigued. During my tour of D.C.’s indie bookstores, I picked up The Secret Adversary, the first Tommy and Tuppence adventure. Since then, I’ve bought and read all five of them.
The series begins when childhood friends Tommy Beresford and Prudence “Tuppence” Cowley run into one another in post-World War I London. Jobless, bored and seeking excitement, they decide to join forces as the Young Adventurers, and quickly become embroiled in a mystery involving a missing girl, some important documents and an international crime ring. Despite serious danger to life and limb, they save the day, solve the case, and (spoiler alert) realize their true feelings for one another. As you can guess, they get married and live happily ever after – though their version of “happily ever after” involves far more mysteries and espionage than most people’s.
Tommy and Tuppence, like another crime-fighting duo I love, complement one another perfectly. Tuppence is quick, brilliant, strong-willed and rather heedless. She tracks mysteries down “like a terrier on the trail,” as Tommy says: once she gets an idea, she won’t rest until she has chased it as far as it will go. Her instincts are good, but she does rather a lot of dashing off alone and occasionally needs to be rescued. Tommy is slower, more deliberate, but his instincts are just as reliable and he loves and respects Tuppence, despite growing exasperated with her. Their witty repartee is such fun, and underneath it is a deep tenderness which is never schmaltzy but utterly heartwarming.
Unlike Poirot and Miss Marple, who never age (and who are always portrayed by a Nick-Carraway-like narrator standing just offstage), Tommy and Tuppence solve mysteries throughout their lives. The chronology is a little shaky, but it’s fun to encounter them first as bright young things, then as twenty-somethings (Partners in Crime), middle-aged parents of nearly grown children (N or M?), and older folks (By the Pricking of My Thumbs and Postern of Fate). The later books refer quite a bit to “the N or M case,” and Tuppence occasionally reminisces about their days as the Young Adventurers, which makes the series and the characters seem more realistic to me.
That being said, Christie had her tongue firmly in cheek when she wrote Partners in Crime, the second book in the series, in which Tommy and Tuppence take over a detective agency (using pseudonyms, of course) and proceed to solve mysteries in the style of every famous detective they can think of, from Sherlock Holmes to – who else? – Hercule Poirot. Christie uses the classic devices of detective fiction to poke fun at the genre, and her detectives nearly always manage to solve the case in the end.
N or M?, the third book, has a strong historical element: World War II has broken out, and our fearless detectives are called upon to root out two enemy spies (known as N and M) at a seaside hotel. Actually, Tommy is assigned to the case solo, but Tuppence listens at the door, creates a disguise for herself and gets there before him. They use some ingenious sleuthing and code-writing methods to work together and solve the case. And Albert, their butler-cum-general-handyman who also appears in every book, comes into the story at just the right time.
The last two books are also enjoyable, though I liked these first three the best. It’s always such fun to read about a happy, lively marriage (when it’s done well), and the way these two solve mysteries together is so clever and engaging. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Tommy and Tuppence – I only wish there were more stories about them.
Have you encountered Tommy and Tuppence? Any other favorite crime-fighting duos?