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"The Secret Adversary" by Agatha Christie

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The Secret AdversaryOn Friday, May 7, 1915, during the heat of World War I, a German U Boat torpedoed the British Cunard Line cruise ship, Lusitania. In 18 minutes, the enormous vessel would sink, 8 miles (13 km) from the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland. 1,198 men, women and children would lose their lives. Approximately 800 would survive.

Shortly before she was to take her seat in a lifeboat, a young, patriotic American girl was approached by a mysterious man who asked her to take custody of some important papers he suggested might help the Allies to win the war. He asked her to keep these papers because of the standard ship's "women and children first" protocol. If he survived, he would post a note in the personals section of the newspaper. If she did not receive a message, she was to take the papers to the American Embassy. The young lady accepted the packet, not knowing the effect upon her personal life these papers would have.

Three years later, two earnest young friends, Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley, and Tommy Beresford, share a meager meal in a London tea shop casually discussing their mutual penury, having lost their jobs as soldiers returned either to their pre-war positions, or in Tommy's case, unemployment. This time they planned to form their own business, and decided to create a bold new detective agency, the "Young Adventurers." As their conversation intertwines with the conversations of other diners, they pick up a quick first commission (a missing person case) and immediately find themselves involved in a plot that includes Bolshevik conspiracies, a charming unfathomable amnesiac, a wealthy American industrialist, a German-English dragon lady, curious ambassadors and government officials, and a multitude of unseemly darksiders. Unwittingly, the Young Adventurers' light-hearted romp morphs into a dangerous case of international intrigue.

First published in 1922, The Secret Adversary is Agatha Christie's second novel, and it introduces the aforementioned Tuppence and Tommy, who will return in several other Christie books. What these Young Adventurers lack in experience they make up in resourcefulness. They learn quickly, and by the story's end their powers of deduction rival Sherlock Holmes.

Agatha Christie carefully weaves her story with clues that appear to be casually dropped, and which the reader may not take to heart. Her skill at tying up these loose ends will make the reader want to reread the story just to be able to appreciate those clues in the context of the story's outcome. Ms. Christie's skill at foreshadowing marks her as a master storyteller whose stories endure nearly a century after they were written. This reader will eagerly dig up other Christie stories as penance for underestimating her as an author the first time around.


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