Set during World War II, Agatha Christie’s riveting novel in her Tommy and Tuppence series follows the unlikely espionage agents as they pursue a pair of Nazi spies who have murdered Britain’s top agent—now a movie on both Acorn TV and PBS.World War II is raging, and while the RAF struggles to keep the Luftwaffe at bay, Britain faces a sinister threat from “the enemy within”—Nazis posing as ordinary citizens.With pressure mounting, the intelligence service appoints two improbable spies, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Their mission: to seek out a man and a woman from among the colorful guests at Sans Souci, a seaside hotel. But this assignment is far from an easy stroll along the promenade—N and M have just murdered Britain’s finest agent and no one can be trusted.
As light reading between more demanding literary works, Agatha Christie never fails. Although Tommy and Tuppence were always my least favourite sleuths of Agatha Christie’s, the detective formula largely follows the same formulas as in the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple stories.
This one has a bit of Fawlty Towers about it. It’s on the eve of World War II, and T & T go sleuthing in a sleepy seaside boarding house. There they meet the usual suspects: a retired major, a strange foreign woman, a dimwitted elderly woman and her hypochondriac husband, a seemingly devoted mother and her child, a suspicious young German, etc. Will T & & be able to unravel the spies of the ‘fifth column’ before Hitler invades Britain, or will they be found out …?
Although the hotel boasts of no Basil Fawlty, the story is like a comedy of manners here and there, with some delightful phrases and characterizations. The hypochondriac coughs aggressively, the little child goes into ecstasies of mirth, the imbecile wife murmurs pacifically and so on. It got a bit soppy toward the end and was, in essence, predictably unpredictable.
My tattered copy is a testament to the days when I first began my English book collection, searching the dusty bookshelves in second-hand shops up and down Charing Cross Road. I first read this book back then but remember not a single thing. So, less demanding may also mean less rewarding, but there’s something to be said for a bit of brain candy before (and after) more taxing reading experiences. Dostoevsky, here I come!
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