Notes On Partners In Crime

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1929

Motive for Crimes: Wealth

Mission: Intelligence

Plot:

Tuppence’s thirst for adventure is fulfilled when Mr. Carter makes a surprise visit to the Beresfords’s home. He proposes Tommy taking over the now defunct ‘The International Detective Agency’ after the capture of Theodore Blunt, whose activities abroad are linked to a famous Russian agent ‘16.’ Tommy is to continue Blunt’s being a private detective while looks out for any blue letters with a Russian stamp on them. As soon as it turns up, the Beresfords must forward it to Mr. Carter.

Handling an array of interesting cases, from the missing girlfriend to an unbreakable alibi, the husband and wife are encountered with a series of fascinating and unprecedented events. Dangers also loom over them from their secret adversaries.

Franscesca Annis as Tuppence and James Warwick Tommy in 1983’s TV series.

Can the duo amateur sleuths accomplish the mission: to capture no. 16?

Highlights:      

Young Adventurers, Ltd.  makes a come back as ‘Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives’ – the couple’s slogan for the firm they run.  Six years after Jane Finn’s affair (see Notes On The Secret Adversary), Mrs. Beresford’s grey cells require exercise.  Playing her part as a demure but very effective secretary, Tuppence shows the same agility and perceptive mind tackling  a curious incident.

This second book of Tommy and Tuppence series has the same light-hearted touch of the sleuthing world as the previous one, published seven years earlier. Moving fast from one case to another, fourteen in total, their beguiling nature will thrill readers to no end. With sleeping enemies and a dangerous mission to achieve, some ‘hiccups’ are bound to happen along the way.

The husband might be the head of the firm, but the wife decides what matters. Or rather, a weary  husband who quietly disagrees the risky steps being taken by his indomitable wife. Nonetheless, she is apt in inventing the first case with a help of an old acquaintance; a good intention on her part that hurts a man’s pride. Tommy then scores in the second case, having found a way to prove the innocence of two people inspired Dr. John Thorndyke.  Summing up, he says: ‘My learned friend forgets. Thorndyke never tells until the last moment. Besides, Tuppence, you and your pal Janet Smith put one over on me last time. This makes us all square.’

Tuppence’s quick-thinking and Tommy’s cautious approach are the opposite attract that make the collaboration a success. Mind, Albert, the page boy Tuppence recruited to watch Rita Vandermeyer in The Secret Adversary comes handy when either of them are in tight places. Furthermore, every prospective client is fed with the agency’s credentials the moment they have stepped into the office. More importantly, his talk is as good as his act as he saves Tommy and Tuppence’s life on separate occasions.

The best aspect of the book is the duo’s humour in role-playing by enlisting various names in the crime genre. Taking his hat off after finding a missing pink pearl, Tommy wears another as Father Brown in The Man In The Mist, being the American McCarthy, trying his hand as Holmes in the mix-up of the US Ambassador’s kitbag on board a liner and Desmond Okewood. Meanwhile, although Tuppence is either Watson or Hastings, she seems to have more imagination than the sidekicks and takes an unexpected move when the net is closing in for No. ’16.’

Father Brown, GK Chesterton’s empathetic character has been adapted on the BBC and the new series were broadcast last January 2013. Mark Williams stars as the protagonist.

My favourite case is The Curious Telegram (I invent the title myself).  A Pole explorer who has returned having been away for two years’ expedition feels something is amiss when he received a telegram from his fiancée. Why didn’t she wish to meet him? After he leaves the office Tuppence points out that the county’s name has been written on the county’s name, which is not a common practice. Her hunch finally leads to the discovery of the ‘missing fiance’ whom has checked herself in into a clinic in Essex.  Furthermore, the scene in which Tuppence looks into the room by climbing the ladder will recall readers’ mind to the similar doing of hers while indentifying Jane Finn’s whereabouts in a nursing home. Above all, what amuses me is not the strange premises, but the very reason as to why the explorer’s fiancée has hidden herself in such establishment.

Full of Christie’s dry wits and humour, this book is nevertheless was written during an extremely difficult time in her life. Kudos to her, quadruple thumbs-up that she kept on writing and most significantly that not an iota of resentment is drawn against the opposite sex. In fact, she encourages the equal partnership between a man and a woman. As far as I am concerned, her hinting at her ordeal is expressed through the Beresfords’s stressing of not taking a divorce case.

In fact, she sent the message of her resilience in the ending. After Tuppence regains her consciousness, Tommy says,‘… we’re going to give it up now, aren’t we? ‘Certainly we are.’ He gives a sigh of relief. ‘I hoped you’d be sensible. After a shock like this..’ ‘It’s not the shock. You know I never mind shocks.’ He murmurs, ‘A rubber bone – indestructible.’ ‘I’ve got something better to do. Something ever so much more exciting. Something I’ve never done before.’ Another project, anyone? You bet.

Lastly, I wish there were more details about No. ’16.’ Who is the agent? As this is not deliberated, I hardly believe she might have been Countess Vera Rossakoff, Poirot’s so-called woman. In the following I omit The Most Fascinating Character owing to her being the perfect criminal and on a par with the fellow whodunits in Sad Cypress, After The Funeral and By The Pricking of My Thumbs (see my respective Notes on the three novels).

The Details of each case in the order of their appearance:

1.       The Missing Girlfriend:

Plot: A man in love is astounded by the sudden disappearance of a woman, of whom he has taken interest in. As usual he waits for her outside a hat shop where she works, but she has not came to work that day. He then seeks her in her lodging and she has not come back the night before.

In despair, he turns to the agency, having remembered about its advertisement on the paper mentioned by the woman. Can Tuppence keep her promise to find her in twenty-four hours?

Cast of Characters:  Lawrence St. Vincent (the client) and Jeanette (a.k.a. Janet Smith)

The Twist: Miss Smith is an ex-nurse, of whom Tuppence acquainted during the Great War and now works in a hat shop

2.       The Missing Pink Pearl:

Plot: A guest’s valuable pearl is missing when she stays at the Kingston-Bruces’s home, The Laurels. Beatrice Kingston-Bruce steps into Blunt’s Detectives office recommended by Lawrence St. Vincent, of whom happens to know the family and was at the house at that time.

Having heard the brief of the case, Tuppence notices that the young woman has not told her everything.

Cast of Characters:

– Elise (Lady Laura’s maid)

– Gladys Hill (the parlour maid at the Kingston Bruces’s house The Laurels)

-Mrs. Hamilton Betts (American, the owner of the pink pearl who stays at The Laurels)

-The Kingston-Bruces (father, mother and Beatrice the daughter)

-Lady Laura Barton (a guest staying at The Laurels)

– Mr. Rennie (Beatrice’s friend)

The Twist: Beatrice and Mr. Reinnie suspect one another for stealing the pearl

3.       The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger

Plot: A doctor describes strange occurrences about the letter and the false summon he had to Tommy and Tuppence. Nonetheless, the client’s eyes somehow glance at a blue envelope arrived moments before. After he left, the couple examines the Russian stamp on it whereby number sixteen appears.

As promised, Tommy goes to the client’s house in Hamsptead at night. Little does he know what awaits him there.

Cast of Characters:

Dr. Charles Bower (a.k.a Carl Bauer)

Inspector Dymchurch

The Twist: Tommy inadvertently pockets a silver cigarette case engraved  ‘Francis from Tuppence’ that is supposed to be Tuppence’s present for her friend’s wedding

4.       The Three Arts Ball

Plot: In a costume party Tuppence realises that a woman, dressed as The Queen of Heart,  has been stabbed with a small dagger and is barely alive. ‘Bingo did it…,’ she says in a strained whisper and shortly afterward dies. She refers to Captain Hale, the deceased’s husband’s best friend.

Franscesca Annis as Tuppence is resplendent in the twenties’ dress

The next day, the deceased’s husband, Sir Arthur Merivale comes over to ask Tuppence about his late wife’s last words. For he had no idea that his late wife would have come to the party.

Did the captain kill her?

Cast of Characters:

Sir Arthur Merivale (the husband)

Lady Merivale (the deceased)

Captain’Bingo Hale (the main suspect)

The Twist: Sir Arthur jumps off the window of the agency’s office

5.       The Curious Telegram

Plot: A North Pole explorer turns up at the agency with a telegram in his hand. For he does not believe that it is from his fiancée, of whom upon his return after two years’ expedition has apparently not very keen to see him. Has she really gone to Monte Carlo for week as written on it?

Cast of Characters:

Gabriel Stavansson (the explorer)

The Honorable Hermione Crane (the fiancée, previously Mrs. Leigh Gordon)

Dr. Horriston (who runs The Grange, a clinic at Maldon, Essex)

The Twist: Mr. Stavansson dislikes a fat woman

6.       Blindman’s Bluff

Plot: A middle-aged man approaches Tommy and Tuppence’s table while they have lunch at the Blitz. Introducing himself as Duke of Blairgowie, he wants to consult them on the matter of the disappearance of his sixteen-year-old’s niece. Furthermore, he will give Tommy a lift back to the office while Tuppence, introduced as Miss Gange is left behind to arrange other matters.

In the car Tommy finds out that the man is an impostor, who knows his real name and the mission Blunt’s Detectives. What will Tommy do?

Cast of Characters:

–          Duke of Blairgowie

–          Captain Harker (the ‘Duke’’s companion)

–          Gregory (the chauffeur)

The Twist: The ‘Duke’ does believe that ‘Mr. Blunt’ is blind

7.       The Man In The Mist

Plot: Still wearing a parson’s outfit after solving a case, Tommy bumps into an old acquaintance, who happens to be in the same hotel in which the Beresfords were having tea. The other man introduces Tommy to his companion, a famous actress Gilda Glen. Presently she sends a letter to Tommy, asking for him to come to her dwelling at The White House.

Meanwhile, Tuppence is acquainted with a poet, of whom is the erstwhile boyfriend of Miss Glen. He remarks on her current relationship with a richer man. ‘And if she sells herself to that muck cheap, Leconbury – well, God help her. I’d as soon kill her with my own hands.’

When Tommy and Tuppence comes at the house at the agreed time, little do they know that the actress has already been killed. More importantly, they have met the murderer before entering the house.

Cast of Characters:

Ellen (Mrs. Honeycott’s maid)

James Reilly (the poet)

Miss Gilda Glen

Mrs. Honeycott (Glen’s sister, with whom she stays at The White House)

Marvyn Estcourt (a.k.a. ‘Bulger,’ the Beresfords’s acquaintance)

The Twist: Gilda Glen was married young at seventeen and now seeks divorce from her first husband to be able to remarry

8.       The Crackler

Plot: A case of counterfeit money brings the couple to a distinguished London club where the transactions allegedly have taken place before the forged notes brought across the English Channel. A certain man in position and power is suspected although nothing can be associated with the crime at a big scale.

The live and parties in the roaring twenties’ Britain.

When the party ends, Tommy, posing as a well-to-do young man with money to burn, follows his new friend, Mr. Reilly to Whitecapel. Through some dingy alleys Tommy goes straight into a lion’s den, which is the factory where the notes are produced. Can he escape in one piece?

Cast of Characters:

–          Hank Ryder (a rich American man)

–          The Laidlaws (a Major and French wife, Marguerite)

The Twist: Tommy has instructed Albert to follow him on a motorcycle if he goes with Ryder. The faithful ‘assistant’ then promptly alerts Inspector Marriot.

9.       The Sunningdale Mystery

Plot: Over lunch the Beresfords discuss the murder of Captain Anthony Sessle on the links. He was stabbed with a woman’s hatpin.  The last person to have seen him alive is his friend and partner in the insurance company, Hollaby. According to him the deceased was seen talking to a woman when he reached the sixth hole first. Afterwards it was noticed that the captain’s luck in the game changed and he left after the eighth hole.

A week later Dorris Evans is charged with the murder. To the police she said to have met Sessle at the cinema and had been invited to his bungalow Sunningdale, when there was nobody there. Moreover, she did not know that he was married. He then suggested their taking a stroll; she was walking  on the outskirt of the golf course when suddenly he brandished a revolver. They were then in a fight and she managed to free herself.

Whose story is the truth?

 Cast of Characters:

–          Mr. Hollaby (the deceased’s friend and partner at The Porcupine Assurance Co)

–          Mrs. Sessle

–          Mr. Hollaby’s son

The Twist: Dorris Evan never sees the body of Sessle’s

10.   The House of Lurking Death

Plot: Tommy’s attention is drawn to the headlines on newspaper:

‘Mysterious Poisoning Case. Deaths From Fig Sandwiches.’

For the victim, Lois Hargreaves, came the day before describing a box of chocolates she had received which contained a small dose of arsenic; enough to cause illness but not a fatal one.

Arrived in the village where Hargreaves used to live, Tommy and Tuppence interviews the doctor about the poisoning. At first they suspect Hargreave’s stepbrother, who benefits from her death. Nonetheless he also died on the same day despite having occurred on a separate occasion. Then, to the deceased’s friend who happened to stay over at the time of the tragedy.

Not until Tuppence meets another inhabitant of the house then she realises how the murderer has done it so far.

Cast of Characters:

–          Dr. Burton (the village doctor)

–          Hannah (the maid at Thurnly Grange)

–          Miss Logan (Lois’s late aunt’s companion)

–          Lois Hargreaves (the client, who inherits Thurnly Grange)

–          Mary Chilcott (Louise’s friend who stays over)

The Twist: Hannah keeps a textbook belong to Miss Logan in her room

An alley in East End London in 19th century. It is through one of these Tommy walks through with Mr. O’Reilly

  1. 11.   The Unbreakable Alibi

Plot: Mr. Montgomery Jones accepts a challenge from Una Drake to solve the mystery of her being at London and Torquay at the same time, on the same day. For he tries to impress her but does not feel to have the skills to explain the plausibility of the impossible.

Cast of Characters:

Mr. Le Marchant (Una’s friend who dines with her at the Savoy)

Mr. Montgomery Jones (the client, recommended by L.St. Vincent)

Mrs. Oglander (who sits next to Una’s table at the Savoy)

The receptionist, the chambermaid at the Castle Hotel in Torquay

The Twist: Miss Drake has a twin sister, who arrived in England from Australia

  1. 12.   The Clergyman’s Daughter

Plot: A priest’s daughter has inherited from a wealthy paternal great aunt, along with a big house. A man puts an offer to it, which she refuses. Then strange things occur, which suggests that her home is haunted.

Dr. O’Neill, whose great interest to the curious happenings in the house, is willing to buy the house for solving its mystery. What makes him increase his offer by £150?

While doing the search, Tuppence discovers a riddle among the great aunt’s papers:

My first you put on a glowing coal

And into it you put my whole

My second really is the first

My third mislikes the winter blast

What does it suppose to mean?

Cast of Characters:

Monica Deane (the client)

The gardener

The Twist: Miss Deane notices that Dr. O’Neill and the previous man who makes an offer to the house have the same gold tooth.

  1. 13.   The Ambassador’s Boots

Plot: Two identical kitbags with the same initials swap owners on board of Nomadic liner; one belongs to a senator and the other to the US Ambassador in Britain. Intriguingly, the senator denies having had the item among his luggage.

When enquired as to the content of the bag, the ambassador says that there were boots inside. ‘Silly case, this. Boots – you now. Why boots?’ asks Tuppence. ‘All wrong. Who wants other people’s boots?’

In their interview with the ambassador’s valet, he tells them that a woman happened to feel queer  outside his master’s cabin. He took her inside and left her alone to fetch a doctor, which took some time. Nonetheless, a witness came forward, saying that she actually pretended to be fainted and was seen to have slipped something in the lining of the ambassador’s boot.

Cast of Characters:

Cicely March (the witness, a.k.a. Ellen O’Hara)

Randolph Wilmott (the US Ambassador)

Richards (Wilmott’s valet)

The Twist: The valet sees a tin of bath salts in the senator’s kitbag

  1. 14.   The Man Who Was No.16

Plot: When Tuppence realises that the leaf of the office calendar is days forward, Sunday 16th,  she thought Albert has made a mistake. The evidence in the wastepaper basket is a contrast. Shortly afterwards a Russian prince goes in, of whom, after an exchange of secret phrases with Tommy, comes clean about his identity.

While the prince takes Tuppence for lunch, Tommy meets Mr. Carter to brew the plan. For he realises that the prince is no.16. Having understood what Tuppence has risked, the Chief reassures the other that his wife is in safe hands; that two agents have been assigned to follow her and No.16 into the prince’s hotel suit. Then all of a sudden they lose track of their targets.

Cast of Characters:

Prince Vladiroffsky (the Russian prince)

Mrs. Van Synder (American, who occupies suit No.318)

The Twist: The Prince is not no. 16

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