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N or M? The Agatha Christie Collection. Volume 49 Hardcover – 2003
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This 1941 book tells about the work of Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. The met and worked on an earlier case that involved Internal Security in the early 1920s when the beginning of the Great Depression caused turmoil in Great Britain. Now they want to get involved in the war effort but are told they are too old. Mr. Grant arrives with an undercover job for Tommy alone. He leaves for his destination, a boarding house near the sea (Leahampton). He meets the other guests. War time rationing is in effect. One boarder is a German refugee named Carl (Chapter 2). Tuppence has intelligence and shows it! We learn more about the other guests. Can anyone here be a Fifth Columnist? It doesn’t seem likely to Mrs. Blenkensop. Tommy reports to Mr. Grant about the other guests (Chapter 3).
Was Mrs. Blenkensop’s experience on the staircase a hint (Chapter 4)? Can she set a trap to discover who is snooping in her letters? Little Betty Sprot disappeared, a ransom note was found! Some of the people go looking and find the child just in time (Chapter 7)! One resident is taken away by the police. “No doubt whatever.” Meadowes learns of a hidden object (Chapter 9). But he has bad luck as he returns home (Chapter 12). Tuppence is sent on a mission to Leatherbarrow (Chapter 13). She gets a surprise (Chapter 14)! There is an elaborate plot to hide Fifth Columnists. She is made an offer if she tells all, like other Nazi sympathizers. Tuppence has a reply. Will she be saved at the last minute? Will the Fifth Columnists be exposed? [You’ll never guess!]
Chapter 15 has the explanation for the mysteries, such as the kidnapping of little Betty! German propaganda appealed to people’s desire or lust for power. But now the British have a list of all those prominent people who are Fifth Columnists. Chapter 16 tells about the Beresford’s children. There is another surprise when Sheila meets Carl again for a happy ending. Little Betty will also have a happier life. The Beresford’s children feel sorry for their parent’s dull life in wartime.
This is an interesting story as long as you don’t question any implausibilities, such as those children’s books. The idea of important people who are working for the enemy echoes the original story “The Secret Adversary”. You can read “The Double Cross System” by J. C. Masterman or “The Nazi Connection” by F. W. Winterbotham for true stories about WW II.