The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary

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 first edition, hardback
Preceded by The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Followed by The Murder on the Links

The Secret Adversary is the second published detective fiction novel by Agatha Christie, first published in January 1922 in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head[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]

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. 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.

Plot summary

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 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 of Jane Finn aboard 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 of the elusive and merciless figure known as Mr Brown. Next they meet with Julius Hersheimmer, an American multimillionaire who is the first cousin of Jane Finn, 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 mentions 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. Tuppence 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 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. 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.

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. 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 it is feared Tuppence is drowned. Tommy returns to the Ritz. He and Julius argue, 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 her 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. 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 is suspicious 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 Soho. They recover the treaty at the house. Sir James identifies himself to the two women 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 / 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.


Literary significance and reception

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]



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

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 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.

Adaptor: Pat Sandys
Director: Tony Wharmby

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

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.[11] 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.[12] It is instead set in 1952, after World War II, with references made to the Cold War against Stalin.[13]

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, and Julius Hersheimer, uncle to Jane, is played by Clarke Peters. A character is introduced, Albert Pemberton (Matthew Steer), as a someone Tommy met during the Second World War, who knows chemistry and is interested in the adventures of Tommy and Tuppence.

Graphic novel adaptation

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.[14]

Publication history

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).[15] Christie was paid £50 for the serialisation rights (£1,545 in 2003 currency).[10][16]

Book dedication

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

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]


  1. 1 2 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. 1 2 "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. 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. 1 2 3 4 5 Christie, Agatha (1924). Poirot Investigates. John Lane Company (The Bodley Head). pp. Advertising supplements following p. 298 of novel.
  10. 1 2 Thompson, Laura (2008). Agatha Christie: An English Mystery. Headline Review. p. 128.
  11. "Partners In Crime - major new BBC One drama for Agatha Christie's 125th celebration year". BBC. 18 September 2014. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  12. O'Donovan, Gerard (27 July 2015). "Jessica Raine and David Walliams in Partners in Crime: 'watchable'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  13. Partners in Crime (2015) at the Internet Movie Database
  14. "The @GreatLakesTheater Takes Agatha Christie on the Road". Cool Cleveland. 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  15. Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD77
  16. O'Donoghue, Jim and Louise Goulding. “Consumer Price Inflation since 1750”, Economic Trends. No. 604, March 2004. pp. 38–46; retrieved 25 June 2009. Archived 16 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
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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.

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