The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence, #1)
The plot may be unrealistic, the mystery transparent, and the characters stereotyped, but I love this book. To me, it succeeds perfectly, if unintentionally, at capturing the mood of the post-WWI period, including its ugly underside: poverty, uncertainty, newfound cynicism, xenophobia, and fear of social upheaval. Tommy and Tuppence, two bright young things recently demobbed from WWI activities, meet by chance and sit down to discuss their lives over a cup of tea. Neither have fared well in the post-war world, but that hasn't dimmed Tuppence's sangfroid. Prodded by Tuppence, the two decide to start list themselves as "Young Adventurers, Ltd:" and put a notice in the Times:
Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused.
And thus their fantastic, enjoyable adventure into the (totally unrealistically portrayed) world of espionage begins.
I think Tommy and Tuppence make an adorable detective duo: Tommy is the steady, solid, unimaginative one while Tuppence adds spice and verve. I positively adore Tuppence. When you consider some of the other portrayals of women of the time period, the enthusiastic, outspoken Tuppence is fresh and fun. However, I think what I really love about the book is how well the narrator's voice captures the atmosphere of the times, and how this mood strongly influences the plot of the story.
After fighting "The War to End All Wars", people have come back home to find that all's still not right with the world. They begin to realize that their sacrifices haven't routed out all evils and that the world will never return to the way it was before the War. During the War, the strict class system and gender roles were shaken, and now there is tension between those who see the new world as an opportunity to gain equality and reactionaries who cling to the past. Yet the king-and-country idealism is not yet dead, and the propaganda that drove a nation to war not yet fully disproved. It seems to me that the idealism is breaking up, but many people, including Agatha Christie herself, are still in vociferous denial. The book portrays an uprising of the lower classes as the ultimate evil, engineered by Bad Men (aka non-English) who have evil designs upon the noble upright British but most tellingly, the mastermind is English, because of course the leader of any successful group must apparently be English in the belief systems of this time. It's the old 'they're good fighters when led by white officer' stereotype.--a classic reactionary perspective and phobia. Agatha Christie has an interesting voice here. She was herself of middle to lower class and was the earner of her family, but she still seeks a return to the status quo of a rigid class system and gender roles, and this nostalgia is tangible in the story. The Secret Adversary is a light-hearted and entertaining romp on one level, and on another, a fascinating glimpse of the mood and fears of the postwar era. Altogether, it's a very interesting book, to be contrasted with contemporary works such as Whose Body?(more jaded) and Rilla of Ingleside(depressingly idealistic).