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4.4 out of 5 stars43
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 31 October 2010
One of 5 books featuring Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, an amateur but quasi official detective duo, this is, in my opinion, by far the best. All 5 are interesting in terms of the characters themselves, who worm their way into the reader's affections, but they vary greatly in terms of quality as mystery novels. This one is well plotted with many twists and turns and is a real page turner.

I finished it today, and it's the last of the 5 in terms of the order I read them in (I read them in a random order). My ranking as far as quality is as follows: N or M?, The Secret Adversary, By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Postern of Fate, and Partners in Crime. Chronological order is as follows: The Secret Adversary, Partners in Crime, N or M?, By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Postern of Fate.

All 5 books are very different, and by no means formulaic. The differences in style may be because they were each written many years apart, spanning several decades, long enough for the author's writing style to have gone through many changes; or it may be deliberate, reflecting the main characters' own journey through life and marriage. Either way, it keeps things fresh. They are all worth reading. Perhaps the most different is the second one, Partners in Crime, which is largely episodic and reads almost like a collection of short stories, linked by a fine strand.

Returning to N or M?, I can't say too much about it without revealing the plot, but there is an added layer of interest to modern readers since it was both written and set during World War II. This is no period piece, but the genuine article, written perhaps to provide light relief during a time of great trouble but very much entrenched in the horrors of the time. It's easy at times to slip into observing "ironic" turns of phrase of the kind that have been written by authors writing today but setting their works in that time. Then we are almost immediately brought to attention almost with a sharp prod by the realisation that Agatha Christie did NOT know what was going to happen with the war, and that a successful outcome for our country was by no means assured.

Casting all of that aside, it is, quite simply, an on the edge of your seat good read. Tommy and Tuppence are in jeopardy, and although we know that all will be well because they survive to be in later books, it doesn't seem to matter, or to lessen the tension in any way.

The book begins with a bored couple whose children are doing their bit for the war effort, but who themselves are deemed past their sell by date. Needless to say, they both have other ideas and before long are both in the thick of things as spies. Buy this book and enjoy.
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on 26 June 2001
N or M? is almost a direct link on from 'The Secret Adversary', except in the Second, rather than the First World War. No matter - the setting is perfect and the characters drawn in wonderful Christie style. Also, unlike the later two novels (By the Pricking of my Thumbs and Postern of Fate), there is actually a mystery to solve and enough clues to get it. The mix of mystery and adventure is well done and the plot a good one. Reccommended.
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Ever since reading "The Secret Adversary" I've been a fan of Tommy and Tuppence. They bring humor and sillyness into the world of mystery and suspense.
In N or M we see this again. Tuppence refuses to be placed into any sort of stereotypical feminine role, but does so in a manner that that delights me as a reader. Tommy is with her all the way. Like he says: "from the first we were a joint venture". When he encounters her at Sans Souci (the suspected headquarters of the fifth column), he is delighted and awed. When his boss discovers that they were both tricked he laughed.
It turns out (of course) that it is a good thing that Tuppence is there. Without each other they would not have been able to solve the mystery. There are no clear suspects. Like all Agatha Christie books (and perhaps all others of her genre) first one then another person is suspected of being the culprit. The ending is not surprising but unexpected nevertheless.
This was a terrible time in Europe. Things were black and white and the propaganda at that time in GB was very anti-German, understandably so. In many ways this book shows how group mentality can work and how our attitudes are affected by what is shoved in our faces every day - elementary psychology.
I guess this one thing I really like about Christie's books. She shows how people are and how they think. The culprit is generally just any old person living a normal life, but who then manages to encounter extraordinary circumstances. Sure, there are mass murderers and crazy people in her books as well, but in general the culprit might just as well have been my neighbor.
Enjoy! I certainly did.
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on 17 June 2011
Tommy and Tuppence go undercover in a seaside resort to discover the identity of a Nazi agent

Just fair really. It moves along nicely. Perhaps too nicely. I never got the feeling that anyone was in any danger despite some murderous goings on. The seaside setting doesn't really conjure up an atmosphere of suspense or menace. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, considering this was published while the war was going on. This is more like a Literary sorbet. Not the best Tommy and Tuppence novel but certainly not the worst.
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VINE VOICEon 4 January 2002
The Tommy and Tuppence novels are often neglected. This, the best of them, makes a compelling case for why they should not be. It also presents an Agatha Christie who responds very directly to her time and era, and leaves us in a valuable social record. If you want to feel the nature of the British middle-class fear/hysteria/paranoia about traitors in 1940 (by August 1940 1600 British citizens had been imprisoned without trial on suspicion of Fascist symapthies) read this book. Consider what Agatha Christie is prepared to suspect of some of the very authority figures which her pre (and post) war books usually so revered.
Anyone who thinks Christie just writes clever puzzles (though of course there is a fairly clever puzzle here) should read this book.
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on 10 November 2014
Having just visited the Isokon (Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead) it was interesting to read this unusual Agatha Christie novel about spies, written whilst she was living at the Isokon during WWII. A great who-dunnit set during the early years of WWII but with a twist as it doesn't deal with the usual murder & suspects but with who is the spy.

There is some thought that Agatha Christie may have picked up some ideas for the novel whilst living at the Isokon as it was also the home af a number of spies during that time, including Kim Philby. Who knows what snatches of conversation she picked up whilst dining in the resident's restaurant!?
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on 1 April 1999
This is arguably the best of the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries. It's set in the war when spies were a dangerous possibility to the country's security: a spy is detected in a seemingly peaceful seaside town and Tommy is sent under cover to investigate. However, he has no clue to the identity of the spy: male or female? Codename N or M? Disguises, plots and a thrilling conclusion follow. All in all a ripping yarn.
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on 3 October 2013
This medium-lightweight spy yarn featuring the irrepressible Tommy and Tuppence must have been bang on the money at the time of its publication. N or M does not plunge the depths of human psychology in a probing way that some of Christie's other works do, as that kind of story may have been deeply unpopular in 1941. Instead, it carefully scratches away at the veneer of patriotism worn by all as a mantle during this time. It was therefore necessary, I believe, for this story to insert that most British, inventive and dynamic duo rather than Poirot or Marple, say. It reads a bit like a Hannay story in parts, but it still has all the subtle elements of a Christie whodunnit which observant readers can pick up on. There are several pageturning sections where an innocent is in danger of their lives. T&T are heroic; Tuppence is savvy and Tommy also has his moments of inspiration. It's well worth a read and unlike some of her more gritty plots, is suitable for young enthusiastic readers.
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on 23 July 2001
N or M is not perhaps one of Agatha Christie's greatest triumphs in terms of plot, but as a propaganda piece, it is very much a novel of its time. The characterisation succeeds not only in painting life-like portraits of the main protagonists, but also in deftly conjuring up the world of 'Dad's Army', of the residents of a seaside town expected at any moment to be plunged into Blitzkrieg.
Ignoring the fact that the denouement hinges around the first line of a nursery rhyme being spoken quite coincidentally by a leading protagonist in the most unlikely fashion, 'N or M?' has always been my favourite among Christie's non-murder novels. Perhaps now that Francesca Annis and James Warwick are 'of age' to play the older Tommy and Tuppence, ' N or M?' may even make a television appearance?
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on 9 May 2012
I've read this book loads of times and each time enjoyed it as much as when I read it for the first time.

This is the only book that Agatha Christie has written which is about the second world war and the way she has blended the war and her own mystery into the storyline is brilliant. The story keeps you guessing right until the end with true Agatha Christie style twists and turns.

Tommy and Tuppence come across as normal people wanting to do their bit for the war, but keep on being told they are too old. The seaside town is a lovely sleepy village which on the surface appears to have nothing going on in it, but underneath the surface there is plenty.

Brilliant read, and I am sure I will read again and again in the future. Would recommend.
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