Although I read a great number of Agatha Christie books as a child, I never came across any from her "Tommy & Tuppence" series on my mother's bookshelves. So I thought that it might be fun to try the first of them to see what Christie's "other" series was like. And this first in the T&T series is like is a strange mix of John Buchan and P.G. Wodehouse -- it's an espionage story, but often reads like a parody of one. The title's play on the Joseph Conrad novel hints at a certain tongue in cheekiness, as does the use of every possible spy adventure cliché.
The story opens with a prologue aboard the sinking Lusitania in 1915, as a mysterious man entrusts a secret diplomatic packet to an American teenage girl. We then leap forward to 1919, where we meet Tommy and Tuppence, a pair of lovely young adults who are somewhat adrift and broke following their wartime experiences. Running into each other in London, the childhood friends cook up a scheme to advertise themselves as "Young Adventurers" for hire. Thanks to a wildly improbable coincidence (a snatch of overheard conversation), they find themselves in the midst of a plot to destroy England.
It seems that some secret mastermind has managed to unite all of England's enemies (Bolshevik Russians, defeated Germany, Irish Republicans, and the English working class) in common cause. All they need to do is provoke a general strike that will topple the government and unleash anarchy (exactly how or why this is the case is left murky) -- and the packet entrusted to the girl on the Lusitania is the key. Apparently it contains some kind of draft treaty whose contents are so explosive that public revelation would throw England into just the desired state of unrest (again, just how this old treaty would do that, or who the signatories are are left to the reader's imagination).
In any event, Tommy and Tuppence take on these plotters on behalf of the British government (who presumably would have more qualified people for the job), and there's much tailing, eavesdropping, impersonation, and general thrills and chills as first Tommy, and then Tuppence are captured. Naturally, neither hero nor heroine are simply killed by their captors, as that would make too much sense. Amidst all this toing and froing, they come into contact with a cast of colorful characters including an energetic young American millionaire, a crafty lawyer, a sinister society lady, a spunky kid helper, and Inspector Japp from the Poirot series. Since the reader knows full well that the plot will be foiled, the real mystery is the identity of the unknown mastermind, Mr. Brown. Alas, careful readers will realize less than halfway through, that barring some kind of "locked room" shenanigans, the identity of Mr. Brown must be one of two people.
So it's rather an odd book, perhaps best read as parody, but enjoyable as an old-fashioned ripping yarn with two engaging leads -- who naturally fall in love. Definitely left me curious to read further adventures of Tommy and Tuppence.