In preparation for the BBC’s new version of Partners in Crime (due to be aired this autumn), I am trying to read a few of the Tommy and Tuppence novels.
The series opens with The Secret Adversary, where the two bright young things tackle a fiendish plot to destabilise the nation. Partners in Crime finds them a few years older, happily – if boringly – married, and eager for a new challenge. The book takes the form of a sequence of short mysteries. What we’d call a story arc these days is supplied by the set-up. Tommy and Tuppence are asked by Scotland Yard to take over Blunt’s detective agency, which is being used by foreign powers to pass secrets. The real Blunt has been arrested, and conveniently the spies do not know what he looks like, meaning Tommy can assume his role.
As Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives, Tommy and Tuppence tackle a series of standalone mysteries (some life-and-death, some light-hearted) with occasional scrapes with enemy agents. The conceit is that their approach to each mystery is influenced by one of their favourite crime writers (some of whom are unfortunately obscure these days).
‘You see the idea? Half-hours with the Great Masters – that sort of thing. You see, Tuppence, I can’t help feeling that we are more or less amateurs at this business – of course amateurs in one sense we cannot help being, but it would do no harm to acquire the technique, so to speak. These books are detective stories by the leading masters of the art. I intend to try different styles, and compare results.’
At the British Library event this week, Dr John Curran gave a talk about the writers who influenced Agatha Christie, and how those influences emerged in her work. A handy slide on Partners in Crime listed the writers pastiched, saving me some detective work (thanks John!):
- G. K. Chesterton
- Baroness Orczy
- A. E. W. Mason
- Freeman Wills Crofts
- Anthony Berkeley
- H. C. Bailey
- R. Austin Freeman
- Edgar Wallace
- Clinton Stagge
- Isabel Ostrander
- and herself
I don’t think he included the obvious one – Arthur Conan Doyle.
Anyway, not knowing exactly whom they are pastiching doesn’t hurt the stories, which are frequently very funny. Here are two Sherlock moments:
He lay back for a minute, half closed his eyes and remarked in a tired tone: ‘You must find travelling in a bus very crowded at this time of day.’
‘I came in a taxi,’ said the girl.
‘Oh!’ said Tommy aggrieved. His eyes rested reproachfully on a blue bus ticket protruding from her glove. The girl’s eyes followed his glance, and she smiled and drew it out.
‘You mean this? I picked it up on the pavement. A little neighbour of ours collects them.’
‘If you must be Sherlock Homes, I’ll get you a nice little syringe and a bottle labelled cocaine, but for God’s sake leave that violin alone.’