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Six years after their first adventure with "The Secret Adversary", Tommy and Prudence "Tuppence" Beresford find themselves living a life which is pleasant, if somewhat dull and predictable. Railing against this Tuppence declares she needs excitement and peril once more, that the comfortable and safe existence they lead is not something she enjoys and that she longs for the time when they had to take great risks. Tommy, who at least has the diversion of the office work he does for the Secret Service, is less concerned about the monotony of the day to day life they have, yet when a knock on the door brings an important visitor both seize the opportunity offered to them instantly. The caller is Tommy's chief (it is unstated whether he is just the head of Tommy's department or whether he is the head of the whole of the Secret Service) who has a somewhat unusual proposition for both of them. Having taken over a failing detective agency - and having serious concerns over the conduct of the previous owner of the firm - Mr Carter instructs Tommy and Tuppence to take over the company, to maintain the illusion that Tommy is, in fact, Mr Blunt, the erstwhile detective currently in custody. All was not as it appeared to be at the agency, mysterious letters written on blue paper from Russia bearing the number 16 under the stamp have been turning up, apparently from a ham merchant concerned about his wife's disappearance, yet in reality containing far more sinister missives. Tommy and Tuppence are therefore to run the agency as a normal investigation unit, yet to be constantly aware of the impending appearance not only of the letters, but also of the mysterious organiser behind them. Over the course of the next few stories they are embroiled in a series of adventures ranging from the humourous and light hearted, to the more indepth and dangerous and all of them building up to the possibility of an encounter with the enigmatic "number 16".
One of the constant themes running throughout "Partners in Crime" is the amusing way in which Tommy and Tuppence attempt to emulate some of the most popular fictional detectives of either their time or shortly before and even to look for ways in which their investigations might tie in with the style of said stories. Sherlock Holmes, The Old Man in the Corner, Francis and Desmond Okewood and even Hercule Poirot, amongst others, are all imitated, the differing mannerisms of each portrayed admirably by the couple. Christie manages to present the reader with a truly humorous portrayal of each attempt, at times mocking the flaws inherent in the other stories (even with her own) and at others indicating the talents prevalent in them. Tommy's effort to emulate Holmes, for example, is soundly thwarted when his comment about riding a bus based on a ticket he sees is given an entirely unexpected answer. Moreover, Tommy offhandedly refers to Hastings as Poirot's "idiot friend", a description which is somewhat surprising if that was Christie's own view - as Hastings always appears naive and too trusting, but by no means an "idiot". However, this belief may have been that of the readers of those stories and Christie was reflecting that. It is interesting, therefore, when reading the short stories in "Partners in Crime" to rediscover many classic fictional detectives who have not managed to stay the course of time and to gain a small insight into finding out why the detective genre should have been so popular during the late Victorian era through to the 1940's. However, one criticism that must be made in relation to "Partners in Crime" is that, for a large part of the stories, it appears as though they are merely a vehicle for Christie to reveal her ability to mimic the other detectives and the issue of the actual investigations often seems to take somewhat of a back seat.
When considering the short stories as a whole, it is evident that Christie has adopted , for the most part, a fairly light tone towards them. Certaintly there are some cases which deal with murder, or in which Tommy or Tuppence are placed at a degree of risk, yet in the majority of tales there is the underlying impression that there is no significant danger (at least not to the ones who survive). It may be because of the brevity of the narratives, or the constant way in which other fictional investigators are emulated, but the vast majority of stories read as little more than "grippings yarns", or the sort of adventures seen in the films at the time. An exception to this is "The House of Lurking Death", which has a strong element of pathos about it and a couple of fairly chilling moments. As the rest of the stories are more "comfortable", this ensures that "The House of Lurking Death" stands out quite significantly. Throughout the other stories Christie's combined use of humour and adventure results in some very enjoyable reads. The unnecessarily elaborate means of death which one of the criminals instigates for Tommy in "Blindman's Buff", for example, is rather farcical and the gentle mysteries of "The Unshakeable Alibi" and "A Pot of Tea" provide us with an even more non threatening set of scenarios. Christie also is clear to point out that Tommy and Tuppence are very much amateurs in this field, mentioning a couple of failures and revealing the difficulties they have in solving the cases. Whilst they are both confident in their abilities - and with good reason - it is evident that they do not have the advantage of long years of practise that, say, Poirot or Sherlock Holmes might have. It is this aspect of their characters which makes them more accessible to the "ordinary" reader. There is the sense that Tommy and Tuppence could be comparable to almost any married couple their age at the time and this possibility of empathy by the readers increases the interest in the stories.
The personalities of Tommy and Tuppence and the way in which the dynamics of their relationship appear, is a further aspect which is very much prevalent at the time. Tommy is very much a product of his time and age, content to accept the status quo until somebody offers him the opportunity to move against it and with a fairly reserved and solid manner about him. This is not to say that he is dull, or unable to think for himself - as he clearly demonstrates throughout the stories that he is more than capable of both quick thought and deeds, but rather that, for a large part of the tales, he gives the impression of the "everyday man" of the times. In Tuppence, as well, we can see comparisons between her and other young women of the time. Caught between her own desires and the social constraints of the time Tuppence frequently attempts to assert her own demands on how she wants to live her life. Her situation is very much bound up with the era she is living in, her complaint that "twenty minutes work after breakfast every keeps the flat going to perfection" would today be countered with the suggestion that she at least tries to look for a job herself. Yet Tuppence's situation at the commencement of the stories is as a result of society's expectations upon her and Tommy. Tommy is expected to be able to provide for both her and him, the fact that his wife is not working and has only the option of "good works" as employment is indicative of this. Tuppence longs for excitement and independance, yet she does not consider going too far against the conventions of the time. Although the book was published in 1929 (and indeed mentions "The Big Four", also published in the same year, there are strong indications - based on the timing of "The Secret Adversary" and Tommy and Tuppence's age, that it is set several years earlier, at a point when women did not even have the vote (and certaintly not at Tuppence's age). It is ironic, then, that the societal beliefs of the point it is set should ensure that Tuppence is able to enter into the assignment so readily. This is not to say that a modern remake of "Partners in Crime" could be attempted, but some minor adjustments would be necessary.
With regard to the other characters within the story, there is a strong element of familiarity and repetition about much of them. Lawrence St Vincent and Mr Montgomery Jones appear very comparable, for example, and Lois Hargreaves and Monica Deane could almost be the same woman. Moreover, both "The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper" and "The Man in the Midst" are very similar to two stories featuring Poirot, one a short story written in the 1920's, the other a novel published in the 1930's (unfortunately to say what they are would hint at the solution to them). In Inspector Marriot we can see the comparisons with Chief Inspector Japp, intelligent, accepting of outside help and yet perhaps employing more pedestrianised methods to solve a case than the private detectives. These familiar elements are, almost certaintly, deliberate on Christie's part. The "Partners in Crime" title may refer not only to the relationship between "Tommy and Tuppence, but also to the parallels of these narratives and other fictional detective works.
In conclusion, this collection of short stories manages to both entertain and amuse in a way which reveals Christie's versatile talents. Enjoyable as a light read, with nothing especially complicated about it, it presents us with a good portrayal not only of the characters of Tommy and Tuppence, but also of several other investigators. Whilst it lacks the strength of many of her other works, having neither the depth of, say "The Murder of Roger Acroyd" or the terror of "And Then There Were None" it is pleasant enough to read.
Agatha Christie's complete Tommy and Tuppence short story collection, reissued with a striking new cover designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford were restless for adventure, so when they were asked to take over Blunt's International Detective Agency, they leapt at the chance. After their triumphant recovery of a pink pearl, intriguing cases kept on coming their way: a stabbing on Sunningdale golf course; cryptic messages in the personal columns of newspapers; and even a box of poisoned chocolates.