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Christie’s Sleuths: Tommy and Tuppence

Brook and Sarah discuss another of Agatha Christie’s sleuths this week. In this episode, they look at duo Tommy and Tuppence. The pair appeared in five books: four novels and one short story collection. Find out why Brook and Sarah find them so interesting and what they learned about Christie’s writing.


The Secret Adversary (1922) Agatha Christie

Partners in Crime (1929) Agatha Christie

N or M? (1941) Agatha Christie

By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968) Agatha Christie

Postern of Fate (1973) Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) Agatha Christie

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookHi Sarah. How are you doing?
SarahI’m doing really great. How about you?
BrookYeah I’m great too. I’m looking forward to today’s episode.
SarahYeah, so we are going to talk again about some of Agatha Christie’s sleuths. So just to remind our listeners, in Season 1, we talked about Agatha Christie and her life and her contributions to the mystery space but we are going to start exploring some of her characters.
BrookYeah, and today we’ll talk about Tommy and Tuppence. So, I’ll start us off with a little summary here. Tommy and Tuppence are two of Agatha Christie’s lesser-known sleuths. She began writing these stories featuring Thomas Beresford and Prudence Tuppence Cowley early on in her career. The first book featuring the duo was The Secret Adversary. It was published in 1922 and was Christie’s second published novel. Afterwards books featuring them were sprinkled throughout her career. The Secret Adversary opens with Tommy and Tuppence bumping into one another shortly after World War One. Tommy has fought in the Great War and was wounded twice. We learn that Tuppence is one of several children of a conservative archdeacon who served in the voluntary aid detachment during the war. But the two of them were well acquainted and friends as children. I think it’s really interesting Christie does not make either of these characters particularly physically attractive and and that’s kind of odd in fiction right? She says Tuppence quote “had no claim to beauty but there was character and charm in the elfin lines of her little face with its determined chin and large wide apart gray eyes” unquote and Tommy’s quote “face was pleasantly ugly. Nondescript yet unmistakably the face of a gentleman and a sportsman” unquote. I really like this, the idea that they’re just two ordinary people and we come to admire. And love them, not for their outward beauty, but for their spunk and courage and wit. And they come to admire one another for the same reasons but we’ll get to that a bit. Since they’re both out of work when they bump into each other they decide to form a company called The Young Adventurers. At first they consider engaging in illegal activity as a way to make money. But eventually decide that they’ll offer to do adventurous errands for people. Their first such case is to find a missing mysterious woman named Jane Finn and it certainly proves to be an adventure.
BrookThe book is what I would consider a mystery thriller or a caper, rather than the puzzle mystery like Christie’s first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It’s a huge departure from that type of book. And in the secret adversary the secondary plotline concerns Tommy and Tuppence’s romantic relationship. Over the course of the story they both realize that they’ve fallen in love with one another and by the end of the book they are engaged. And then the books following, they’re a married couple working these cases together. There are five books featuring Tommy and Tuppence. As I said The Secret Adversary is 1922. Partners in Crime is a short story collection from 1929. And this one features some more puzzle mystery type cases they’re working as detectives in a detective agency.
BrookA 1941 novel is N or M then we have By the Pricking of My Thumbs in 1968 and the final Tommy and Tuppence is Postern of Fate from 1973 and at this point the two sleuths are in their seventies and they’re ready to settle down in a country home. But lucky for us, they find a coded message in an old book pointing to a possible murder. And so they take on the case and to investigate this cold case. Unlike the better known Christie sleuths such as Poirot and Miss Marple ,Tommy and Tuppence as you can see from the list of novels, aged in time with the real world. Over the years they’re revealed to have raised three children together and they also have a fun recurring character named Albert in the stories. He first appears as a lift boy who helps them in The Secret Adversary and then in Partners in Crime he becomes their hapless assistant at this private detective agency that they’re operating. And by Postern of Fate he’s their butler. The last Tommy and Tuppence the last Tommy and Tuppence book also happens to be the last book Agatha Christie ever wrote. It was released in 1973. I like to think about Dame Agatha in her 80s dictating that story. She’d grown old with Tommy and Tuppence and here they all were, now in their golden years, investigating their last case together.
BrookSo, Sarah how familiar have you been with Tommy and Tuppence over the years?
SarahYeah, so I have to admit, not very familiar at all. And I have to say I love that they kind of bookended her career, right? They were the second book that she published and the final book that she wrote. And I absolutely adore that she had them age alongside her I think that’s that’s so wonderful.
BrookI do too. I think that’s very special and it makes me feel like these characters must have had a very special place in her heart to do that because they were the only ones who did. You know Poirot basically stayed the same character, Miss Marple even though she’s elderly. She’s always elderly, right? Um, so I think that she must have really cared for these two.
SarahBrook, your description of Tommy and Tuppence’s first novel, I can almost hear what I think would have been the enthusiasm generally in society at the time right? It was 1922 they would have recovered from um the Spanish flu epidemic and you know the First World War had been finished and you know my impression of the early 1920s was that it was just this kind of joyful time for people and and I can almost hear that in the way that you were describing that first novel.
BrookYeah, I’m glad that came across because that definitely is how it reads um and that’s the beauty I think of her setting these ah novels in real time. These characters in 1922 are in their mid 20s. I mean you can practically hear the Charleston playing in the background. And they use a lot of the colloquialisms of like young people in that era the way that they talk um it the story has a caper comedic feel to it. And that’s not to say that they don’t get into dangerous situations. They definitely do. There’s a lot of real danger but it’s such a departure from Styles that you know in some ways it’s hard if someone didn’t tell me that the same person wrote these two books. I would be hard pressed to believe it. But you know you’re right on Sarah it’s very fun. It’s lighthearted. It’s ah it’s a caper and um, yeah, it’s great fun.
SarahDo you know why there were only five books featuring them?
BrookI’m not sure I don’t um you know I haven’t really seen any real ah explanation of why she didn’t write more um I feel like their ah opportunity for her to have been just as popular as the other sleuths that we know so much better. So, I’m not sure the answer to that. But they definitely had a much richer backstory. You know like they they were a married couple, and they had children together, and they had you know this recurring character of Albert, which I thought was just really cute. He came along with them in their life. So, I can’t say for sure. But I I kind of wish that we had more.
SarahIt does sound like they as you suggest were really important to her but you know maybe that’s why we don’t see as much of them, right? You think about how private she was, maybe that’s why we don’t see as much of them because she just felt such a strong connection to them.
BrookThat’s a great point and we know that um from some of the things that she’s written in her diaries that she could tire of Poirot and he could be tiresome right. But um I think that these novels must have been really great palate cleansers for her because her other sleuths that were very successful and definitely her commercial successes were a little stiff. You know, kind of cerebral. And so these gave her a chance to write more of a caper story. There’s very lighthearted and fun. And I wonder if she needed that. You know she wanted that kind of that palate cleanser story that it was something that she could do. But I like that idea that yeah maybe she didn’t want to give too much of these people away and and grow tired of them because they probably could have been just as much of a commercial success. But then you get on the hamster wheel of having to create them and that might have ruined it for her.
SarahYeah, yeah I mean we’ve talked before about how she definitely grew tired of of Poirot and yeah, maybe she just wanted to protect them a little bit.
BrookIt was fun to see her write more about personal relationships. She does the witty banter between Tommy and Tuppence really well and ah Tuppence is just super spunky and just gives it right back to him and their dialogue is is great. Um I feel like it was a good setup for a lot of the ah romantic suspense duos that we see even now on screen. You know. Moonlighting. Um, Miss Scarlet and the Duke. You know that they like each other but they’re trying not to admit it to them even to themselves that they kind of have this connection so she does a great job with that that chemistry.
SarahOh that’s terrific. And super interesting that you know we can draw that line from things that we are more familiar with today to stuff that was written a hundred years ago.
BrookYeah, and that it still appeals. You know we love that. Just as humans. We love that some of those emotions that you go to go through in relationships. Whether it’s you know, friendly relationships platonic or romantic that kind of friction and conflict that people have before they come together as partners. I just I just really enjoyed it.
SarahI really like that it sounds like they had a really happy life. That they did get married. They had children and then you know they’ve retired and have this final case together. I think that’s such a nice arc. And again just thinking about her life and the direction that it took um you know I think that’s really nice.
BrookYes, doesn’t it seem like she’s writing like the perfect fairy tale like it all worked out perfectly for this couple. They got to do these exciting things together. There was um, ah clearly I’ve not read them all I’m sure that there are some. There are some arguments and bickering just knowing Tommy and Tuppence. The little bit that I do but for the most part you know there was no big strife and they like you say they just have this lovely arc and I think she’s writing like this perfect scenario.
SarahAnd I I love the idea of um, them kind of setting up this agency to um, what was it called the young adventurers?
SarahTo help people. I think that’s that’s really cool to I can just imagine that sort of decision making process.
BrookYeah, and they have no idea the the huge adventure that they’re about to go on. And you know that’s a really good point that these books are by and large thrillers more so than like the puzzle mystery as I mentioned at the beginning. And um I find it so fascinating that she went from and we’ve talked about this before the fact that that she could do it all right? She could write short stories and novels, spy thrillers, and puzzle mysteries. But she did this back-to-back it such an early part of her career. She released the Mysterious Affair at Styles and then the very next book is this huge departure where these people go on this sweeping European ah mystery thriller much more of an adventure novel and I was just really impressed by that knowing how early she was in her writing career to be able to pull it off.
SarahWe’ve talked before about how broad her output was right? As you say the traditional puzzle mysteries, these thrillers, the more supernatural stories, and then she wrote romance under the Mary Westmacott name, right? She just did so much and I think as an author thinking about that like it’s okay to write kind of what you want and explore different um different genres and and and different subgenres. We don’t have to stay in one particular space for our entire careers.
BrookI think you’re right. I think she demonstrates that really well.
SarahBrook were there any TV adaptations of any of Tommy and Tuppence’s stories?
BrookThere have been many. There have been many, especially named Partners in Crime, which is the short story collection. And um, although I didn’t get an opportunity to watch any, fFrom what I could see from my research they don’t necessarily follow along with the plotlines of the published stories. It’s sort of taking the characters and extrapolating and putting them. Now, I believe that there are some that are more in line with the stories or the novels. But there really have been a lot. And I think that that um speaks to the fact of how great this character chemistry and the dialogue is between them because they’re just. And as you read the books you’ll see what I mean. That they’re just people that you could imagine you could imagine this onscreen especially as that kind of sweeping thriller where they’re you know, running from one location to the next and hiding out and it all works really well for screen adaptation I think.
SarahI seem to recall watching an episode of the most recent Miss Marple Mysteries and I think they make an appearance in one of the episodes. And I don’t know there are any crossover original stories that feature Miss Marple and um, Tommy and Tuppence or if that was just some creative license that the um creators of of that version of Miss Marple Mysteries took.
BrookI believe that it was just a creative choice because in that particular story Tommy and Tuppence are the original sleuths but in order to bring it to to the screen they made Miss Marple the sleuth and then had Tommy and Tuppence do a cameo basically. But in the original story, Miss Marple doesn’t appear and Tommy and Tuppence are the sleuths for that. Interesting ways that that Christieverse that we’ve kind of talked about she’s done that herself in crossing over some characters and then as the um. Years have passed and evolved then you know even some of the producers have expanded that further because I love the idea of all 3 of those people being in a show together.
SarahYeah I think you could do some really interesting things to really explore how those very different characters could exist in the same world.
BrookAbsolutely would be very fun.
BrookAnother feature of these stories are the way that Christy utilizes cliff hangers at the end of chapters. That’s not really something that I have noticed in her other more famous mysteries with the Poirot or Miss Marple as the sleuths. But um I mean it’s the definite cliff hanger moment at the end of each chapter and um I found it interesting because yes, we’re dealing with more of a thriller and how she used that device in that you know genre subgenre. But but not so much in her puzzle mysteries. I just think as an author it was ah an interesting thing to note that she did that. It definitely served that purpose that she was utilizing because you just had to keep going and moving through the book to find out what happened next.
SarahOh that’s really interesting. How much would I love to have a conversation with her and be able to ask her some questions about some of these things?
BrookOh, absolutely. And the and the way that it seemed to be innate for her because again I know I’m repeating myself but this is back-to-back with Styles so she is doing something completely new and different and it just feels like it was an intuitive knowing for her to how to build this in so I’m always fascinated.
SarahOh my goodness me too.
BrookWell, Sarah this has been so much fun. Thanks for ah chatting with me today about Tommy and Tuppence. I definitely want to read more of these, especially that last book Postern of Fate when they’re the elderly sleuths who happen upon their very last mystery.
SarahYeah, I’m definitely going to have to check out some of the Tommy and Tuppence novels and and short stories and maybe we can regroup after we’ve done that.
BrookSounds great and if any of you decide to take up one of these novels, please get in touch and let us know what you think. And for today, thank you for joining us on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.