I am a rather enthusiastic reader, and have been making an attempt to solidify my knowledge of all literature, both popular and not-so-popular. Since Agatha Christie is, by some accounts, the world's most successful writer, I realized that it was a large gap in my literary experience to never have read an Agatha Christie book. So a week or so ago, while browsing a used book store, when I found an Agatha Christie book, I decided to purchase it and read it to find out what the secret of Dame Christie's popularity was.
Apparently, the work I had found, "The Secret Adversary", first published in 1922, was somewhat atypical of her work--but then, apparently, one of the secrets of her success was that much of her work was atypical of her work. Rather than being a crime story, "The Secret Adversary" is actually more of an espionage story. It introduces the characters of Tommy and Tuppence, who would feature in a string of four more books. Tommy and Tuppence, with World War I recently over, are out to seek their fortunes, and decide on a lark to become adventurers. They quickly, through a series of improbable coincidences, become involved in a far reaching, nefarious conspiracy to bring down the British government, using a missing copy of a treaty that was just saved from the sinking of the Lusitania. And at every corner, their movements seemed to be thwarted and dogged by the arch-conspirator known only as Mr. Brown.
The book is very fast paced, with plot twists every chapter or so, and with many of the reader's ideas of where the plot is heading rudely thwarted. The writing is exciting, and the characterization and description are enough to keep the story interesting-- although they are somewhat stereotyped. The largest problem for me was that the identity of the "Secret Adversary" in question was fairly clear early on. However, this may be that I am, of course, a post-Christie reader, and the idea that the most likely suspect is the least likely suspect is something that I am simply accustomed to. For the readers at the time, it may have been quite a surprise. So, to sum it up, as far as detective fiction goes, this book makes me understand how Christie became so popular.