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Literature / Tommy and Tuppence

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"Two young adventurers for hire. Willing to do anything, go anywhere. Pay must be good. No unreasonable offer refused."

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are the protagonists of a series of novels and short stories by Agatha Christie, and mark the few ventures that Christie made into espionage tales rather than the whodunits she's known for. They're far less famous than their mystery-solving counterparts Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Appearing in Christie's second novel, The Secret Adversary, Thomas Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley started out as friends in post-World War I Britain. Jobless and penniless, they make plans to place an ad in the paper marketing themselves as adventurers, leading to an encounter that starts their career as spies for an unnamed British intelligence agency. From there, they were revisited by Christie from time to time, and again, unlike Poirot and Marple, aged in real-time as Christie did, starting out as energetic twenty-somethings in The Secret Adversary and ending up as retired grandparents in their twilight years in Postern of Fate. Postern is also notable as the final novel Christie ever wrote, though not published. They were often referred to by Christie as "bright young things" and she is said to have enjoyed writing their stories the most.

Interestingly, the dedications of two Tommy and Tuppence books (The Secret Adversary and By the Pricking of My Thumbs) are the only times Christie ever dedicated a book directly to her readers.

The Tommy and Tuppence books are:

There was a live-action adaptation revolving around Tommy and Tuppence produced by London Weekend Television in 1983 of The Secret Adversary and several stories from Partners in Crime, featuring James Warwick as Tommy and Francesca Annis as Tuppence. The series was released in the United States as part of the PBS anthology series Mystery!

Other various live-action adaptions have been done as part of other Agatha Christie-based series such as Marple.

BBC adaptions of The Secret Adversary and N or M?, but confusingly titled Partners in Crime note  and starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine aired in 2015. The adaptation this time around portrays them as an established middle-aged couple (circa N or M?) indulging in amateur espionage rather than the youthful spies of the earlier books, and moves the setting for both to the 1950s-era Cold War.

Tommy and Tuppence's stories and novels provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In the Marple take on "By The Pricking of My Thumbs", Tuppence is a resentful, flask-carrying alcoholic who is jealous of Tommy's successful spying career, while she got sidelined because of her pregnancy. None of these issues ever manifested in the books.
  • Alliterative Family: A minor case, but Tommy and Tuppence have two kids (twins) called Derek and Deborah.
  • Amnesiacs are Innocent: Senile old Mrs. Lancaster in By The Pricking of My Thumbs did some completely unsavory things in her youth, but time has rendered her to a sweet, gentle old lady in a nursing home. Then Averted when she not only reveals she is completely lucid and remembers everything she did, but she poisoned another nursing home resident who recognized her and then tries to kill a cornered Tuppence.
  • Babies Ever After: After Partners In Crime. And again after they adopt Betty following the events of N or M?
  • Beneath Notice: Mr. Brown, the mastermind of The Secret Adversary, often appears in menial positions and lets others in his organization stand out while he slips in orders in secret. Tuppence actually sees him, posing as a secretary at Esthonia Glassworks that passes a phone message on to Whittington, and she remembers absolutely nothing notable about him.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The Secret Adversary: Mr. Brown a.k.a. Sir James knows he will get no leniency from the government for his schemes. He takes a cyanide pill hidden in his signet ring.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Tuppence improvises something similar to this to get money from Whittington in The Secret Adversary.
  • Black Shirt: In N or M? Tommy and Tuppence run across a character who admires the Nazis and thinks it a pity that Britain didn't ally with Germany at the start of the war. It turns out the villain has an entire book full of these: people in power who can be counted on to support the Nazis in case of an invasion. The villain is also an example of one, British by birth but spying for and supporting the Nazis.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: In The Secret Adversary, Jane wails in French to convince her kidnappers she's really lost her memory.
  • The Book Cipher: Tuppence finds one in an old children's book speculating that a woman named Mary Jordan was murdered by a member of the household. That starts the mystery off in Postern of Fate.
  • Bookends: After creating Tommy and Tuppence, Christie would periodically go back and visit them from time to time. Rather sweetly, The Secret Adversary was the second published novel of Christie's career, and Postern of Fate was the last novel she ever wrote.note 
  • Bound and Gagged: Happens frequently to Tommy after being captured in several short stories compiled in Partners in Crime and in the novels The Secret Adversary and N or M? In the former, he escapes when Annette slips a knife to him. In the latter, he finds help when he loudly snores in Morse Code through his gag, alerting Albert who happens to be nearby looking for him.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Albert in The Secret Adversary. He improves over the course of the series, though.
  • Canon Welding: By The Pricking of My Thumbs and Postern of Fate both feature characters who have also appeared with Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, despite Partners In Crime referring to Poirot as a fictional character.
  • Character Over Lap: Inspector Japp from the Hercule Poirot books.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Tommy and Tuppence played together as children.
  • Cold Sniper: Averted; Mrs. Sprot breaks down after she desperately shoots her daughter's kidnapper. Played straight, as it is later revealed she was acting to hide her cover.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Mr. Brown's organization in The Secret Adversary.
  • Cover Identity Anomaly: Averted with Tommy in N or M?. Tuppence isn't quite as successful on a couple of occasions. She absent-mindedly mentions having two children when she's claimed to have three the whole time. She brushes it off as her two older "sons" being so close in age she always thinks of them together, and then her youngest. She also claims to be terrible at knitting, but when lost in thought she falls into her old knitting pattern. Again, she manages to come up with an excuse; she was pretending to be bad so another guest at the resort had a reason to "teach" her and feel useful.
  • Cyanide Pill: In The Secret Adversary, Sir James would rather die than be caught and tried as Mr. Brown. He keeps one hidden in his signet ring.
  • Damsel in Distress / Distressed Dude: Tommy and Tuppence are both regularly caught by the bad guys. Occasionally veers into Damsel out of Distress with Tommy, especially with his escape in The Secret Adversary.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tommy, often as a counter to Tuppence getting overexcited or carried away with herself.
  • Dirty Communists: The bad guys who will ruin Britain with the missing document in The Secret Adversary. Also appears to a lesser extent in Partners in Crime.
  • Disability Superpower: Tommy seems to have developed these in "Blindman's Buff". He later reveals his shades are fake and he was playing a joke on Tuppence.
  • Fake American: In-universe, Tuppence pretends to be a heavily-accented American secret agent to get information from Albert. He's amazed at how natural her accent sounds when she later comes back in disguise, "pretending" to be British.
  • Fake Brit: In-universe, Tommy runs into one who's actually German.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The period of the first two books, The Secret Adversary and Partners in Crime.
  • Girl Friday: Tuppence plays one in most of the stories in Partners in Crime.
  • Grow Old with Me: Tommy and Tuppence aged in real time, unlike Christie's other detectives. By Postern of Fate, they were adventure-seeking grandparents.
  • The Handler: Mr. Carter in The Secret Adversary and Partners in Crime, and his replacement, Mr. Grant, in N or M?
  • He Knows Too Much: The dead agent in N or M. Also used in The Secret Adversary with Tommy, but played with in that he only bluffs his way into the hideout and doesn't actually know anything.
  • Hollywood Spelling: A forger incorrectly signs Tuppence's name as "Twopence" on a note and gives Tommy the final clue he needs to solve the mystery in The Secret Adversary.
  • In Harm's Way: The whole point of the Young Adventurers, Ltd. in The Secret Adversary.
  • Ironic Name: Tuppence's real first name is Prudence; as the author notes, she rarely acts with any.
  • The Jeeves: Albert, starting in Partners in Crime.
  • Judgment of Solomon: In N or M? a strange foreign woman has kidnapped an Englishwoman's daughter, and is pursued to the edge of a cliff. The foreigner is holding the kid tightly, but the Englishwoman takes the shot, killing her. Later it's discovered the Englishwoman was a traitor spying for the Nazis, and the other woman was the girl's real mother. Tuppence realizes this as no mother would willingly endanger her own child like that. Tuppence explicitly refers to Solomon in this one.
  • Kissing Cousins: Julius falls in love with his cousin Jane from afar in The Secret Adversary, which is one of the reasons he's so desperate to find her. He does, and lucky for him, she returns the affection.
  • Loose Lips: Tuppence pretends to have them by receiving coded letters from her fake sons to try and lure out the moles in N or M?
  • Love at First Sight: Julius in The Secret Adversary. From a mere picture of Jane.
  • Love Epiphany: Both Tommy and Tuppence experience this in The Secret Adversary when they think the other might be dead.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Mr. Brown for Whittington, and later Boris.
  • Marriage of Convenience: With the possibility of both Tommy and Jane being gone for good, Julius asks Tuppence to marry him out of concern and respect for her, trying to lure her in with the promise of his riches. She turns him down, since she still feels strongly for Tommy.
  • Master of Disguise: Tuppence disguises herself on a couple of occasions and manages to fool the right people.
  • Merciful Minion: Annette in The Secret Adversary, who is the only person in the safehouse who doesn't want Tommy dead.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: The Plan in N or M is that the Nazi agents in Britain will, on a certain day, feed enough false orders to throw Britain into disarray, allowing a Nazi takeover with a minimum of resistance.
  • The Mole: The whole point of N or M? Which guests at the Sans Souci hotel have been planted to send secrets to the Germans?
  • Mr. Smith: Mr. Brown in The Secret Adversary.
  • National Stereotypes: Used extensively, especially in The Secret Adversary, Partners in Crime, and N or M?
  • Neat Freak: Mrs. Sprot refuses to let her daughter Betty touch the beat-up and sticky old children's books on the shelf because they're "nasty." Betty only reads the clean, new copies. The books are very nasty indeed... full of British intel to hand over to the Nazis.
  • One-Steve Limit: Played with in The Secret Adversary. There is only one character named Margurite in the book. But there's also a painting with the character from Faust named Margurite that plays a large role in locating the missing documents...
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Tuppence. Even her husband Tommy forgets her real first name is Prudence.
    • It becomes Serious Business when even she can't remember her own nickname after a strong blow to the head in By The Pricking of My Thumbs.
  • Poison Ring: Mr. Brown has one, and uses it after he gets caught in The Secret Adversary, unwilling to be put on trial for treason.
  • Public Domain: The first book, The Secret Adversary, is public domain in the United States, and is available on Project Gutenberg.
  • Reading The Enemy's Mail:
    • Tommy and Tuppence do this to the letters received by the International Detective Agency in Partners in Crime.
    • Tuppence uses fake letters her fake sons in the military have written her to try and lure out the mole in N or M?
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Tuppence is red, Tommy is blue.
  • Red Scare: Subversive communist plots and spy rings are behind the schemes of The Secret Adversary and Partners in Crime. The 2015 TV adaption of N or M? also fits, changing the Nazi spies to Cold War traitors.
  • Sherlock Scan: Tommy attempts these a couple of times in Partners in Crime. Subverted, because the first time he guesses completely wrong, and the second time he was secretly eavesdropping on the man he was about to meet.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Pretty much the entire point of Partners in Crime. All of the stories are Homages, and occasionally Parody Episodes, of several well-known classic detectives and popular mystery writers of the day. Christie doesn't even spare herself, as the last chapter extensively references Hercule Poirot!
    • By The Pricking Of My Thumbs has an artist said to produce all his work under the influence of drugs (the sample we're provided with is "a big string bag which seemed to have enmeshed itself in a metallic green field full of distorted cows"), by the name of Paul Jaggerowski.
  • Smart People Know Latin: Sir James knows it quite well. Enough that his dying words after taking cyanide are "'Ave, Caesar! te morituri salutant!" note 
  • Smuggling with Dolls: In By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Tuppence discovers a battered, dirty doll in the long unused fireplace of the abandoned house. Later in the book, she inspects the doll more closely and finds it is full of uncut diamonds.
  • Spotting the Thread: Almost literally. Tuppence slips up on her cover in N or M? when she accidentally reveals she's quite good at knitting.
  • Tap on the Head:
    • Regularly happens to Tommy, particularly in The Secret Adversary and N or M? Both times results in him waking up later with a massive headache and captured by the bad guys, but otherwise none the worse for the wear.
    • Averted with Tuppence in By The Pricking of My Thumbs. Her blow to the head results in a severe concussion that causes memory loss and Identity Amnesia for several days until she eventually recovers.
  • They Have the Scent!: In N or M, Tuppence Beresford has rubbed aniseed oil on her shoes so that she can be followed by the officials when she goes to meet a suspected spy. When the person escorting her to the meeting tells her to get into a car, she expresses doubt about the quality of the tires and kicks it several times, transferring the aniseed oil to the sidewall of the tire.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Annette, according to Dr. Hall in The Secret Adversary. Subverted; she was bluffing the entire time.
  • Unfortunate Names: Jane Finn, the oddness of which sets off the entire chain of events of The Secret Adversary.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Bolshevists in The Secret Adversary and the Nazis in N or M. Truth In Literature.
  • Wealthy Philanthropist: Julius, the generous millionaire benefactor of The Secret Adversary, who not only insists on paying for everything for Tommy and Tuppence while they help him try to find his missing cousin, but even offers to help himself like a true Nice Guy.
  • We Do Not Know Each Other: Tommy and Tuppence while undercover in N or M? Tuppence actually acts as an Abhorrent Admirer of Tommy's so they can run into each other occasionally without arousing suspicion.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The Secret Adversary takes place around 1919 or so (some months after the end of WWI); Partners in Crime is stated to happen six years later, which should put it around 1925, and at the end of which Tuppence reveals that she is pregnant; N or M? is explicitly stated to take place in 1940. And yet, somehow by that time the Beresfords' twins, Derek and Deborah (which must have been conceived no earlier than 1925) seem to be out of their teens already, or at least old enough to be serving in the RAF and as a War Office code breaker (respectively). Something here does not add up.