For week 29, I read Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary. This is one of her Tommy and Tuppence novels; the first one, as it turns out. I purchased an e-book compilation boasting 25 of Christie’s stories, for only $8. I should have done more research. As it turns out, I already owned two of three books included in the collection, largely because they were now public domain and everybody and their brothers had copies of them on the cheap. The other twenty-two stories were short stories, not full-length novels, unfortunately. So here I thought I was about to have a compendium of Christie novels at my fingertips, and all my woes of what to read next quite solved in one hit. Alas, I managed to read them all in a very short time. It wouldn’t do to pretend each short story was a whole book, and review each one individually, nor would it quite do to count the twenty-two stories as a book, either. At least, it wouldn’t be quite fair in my head. So, the one proper book will get a review, and the rest is just gravy, I guess.
At any rate; on to the review. This was my first go at a Tommy & Tuppence novel, and I don’t think I cared for the tone as much as the Marple and Poirot books. Perhaps it’s because this one was one of her earlier ones, or perhaps I just don’t relate to the characters as well because they’re entirely new to me. Tommy and Tuppence are both young, both quite poor, good friends with each other, and even as I try to figure out what it is that sets me on edge, I can’t seem to articulate it. Maybe it’s the culture they live in, where Tuppence can’t get anyone to take her seriously except for Tommy (sometimes, once she’s proven herself a bit) because she’s a woman, where everyone is so solicitous about her safety that they shunt her off to the side, running over her needs and wishes just as callously as the fellows they are trying to protect her from. It grates on the nerves after a while. I think there was one occasion where she was able to use it to her advantage, sort of, and while her instincts are not completely useless, ultimately it’s Tommy’s level-headed logic that saves the day, as usual.
Perhaps it’s easier to tolerate in Marple and Poirot because this distinction between logic and emotional intuition (or hunches, or gut feelings) is better blurred when it is contained in one person. Plus, Miss Marple is definitely a tool used to illustrate just how effective an old, “useless” Biddy can be, even though she is constantly being written off by the self-important male authorities, the criminals, and everyone else involved, for that matter. Marple worms her way into the situation purposefully projecting the innocent, harmless old granny persona, and people open up to her and she is able to observe things that official investigation would almost never uncover. Poirot does this as well sometimes; Hastings specifically notes that Poirot puts on a different persona to earn someone’s trust, to make someone slip up and admit some clue. To be fair, where Miss Marple is excused any of her hunches because she is a woman and women are notoriously emotional, Poirot has his own hunches. He insists they are rooted in logic, or “the little gray cells” as he puts it, but to Hastings it very frequently looks like intuition or sometimes, psychic magic. Poirot is very dismissive of such things, but as logical as he is, he still is subject to fishing for compliments, fastidiousness in every aspect of his dress, food and dwelling, and his obsessive precision is off-set by occasional bouts of dramatic emotion. It sounds contradictory, and perhaps it is, but it makes sense in the context of a human being. Humans are not machines of logic, even the most clever and observant of us.
At any rate, there is a lot of dumb luck in this book, and I’m trying to be gracious and remember that a fair bit of it must be luck. This is Tommy’s and Tuppence’s very first time being Adventurers, and they really have no fricking idea what they’re doing, trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. I’ll read a few more and see if they improve, or if they’re a more subtle version of Inspector Clouseau.
Because this novel is public domain now, you can find it on Project Gutenberg for free in digital format. Have I mentioned Project Gutenberg before? If I haven’t, I have been terribly remiss; this is a great project and if you can support them in any way, please consider doing so. For those of you with an e-book reader, most of them allow very easy downloading and reading onto your reader (Kindle users, your mileage may vary; this is one of those situations where Amazon is kind of a dick). I have a Nook, and it’s easy as pie. The website has a guide to look at so you can figure out what you need to do for your e-reader, and there are a number of different formats available to download the books. Once you know which one is right for your reader, you click the title of the book and it will present you with options.
Now, because Project Gutenberg works only with public domain books, this means that they are going to be old. Nothing new is in the public domain unless it was specifically put there by the author, and I don’t imagine there are many of those. Project Gutenberg is also accepting copies of books they don’t already have to be scanned, typed up, edited and compiled into digital format, so that is another way you can support the project. Additionally, if you’re good at proofreading, you can volunteer to help convert the scanned pages into digital format by editing, proofreading, etc.
It’s a good cause, you guys, and it doesn’t have to take much of your time. Books for everyone! Knowledge is power! The more you know!