N Or M
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1940, and the Second World War has broken out. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are feeling underused – after all, they did catch a spy once (in The Secret Adversary) but the war effort isn’t interested in middle-aged spies. Well, not a pair of them, anyway.
Evidence has arisen that one of two German masterspies, either the one code-named N or the one code-named M – hence the title – is running seditious operations from a guest house on the south coast. Tommy is recruited to investigate, although under strict instructions not to involve his wife. After spinning her a tale about a job in Scotland, Tommy goes undercover at the guest house – only to find that Tuppence is already staying there…
Needless to say, murder soon follows them, and both members of the pair find themselves up to their necks in trouble…
Carrying on with the recent Golden Age theme, how could one ignore Dame Agatha? But, having read all of the Miss Marple and most of the Poirot novels, it’s finally time to check out the Beresfords.
One of the most astounding things about this book is that it was written in 1941 about events in 1940. At a time where the outcome of war must have been uncertain at best, this is undoubtedly a propaganda piece, but it’s a reasonably subtle one. Yes, the villains are dodgy Nazi sympathisers – boo, hiss – but there are some intelligent and somewhat surprising bits – notably the obviously-not-guilty renationalised German. That’s not a spoiler – if you think he’s the villain, well…
The whole thing is surprisingly entertaining all the way through. I have a soft spot for married couples in fiction who are portrayed as happily married – I have the amazing good fortune to be in the same boat – and the moment where Tommy admits to himself, as his superior is having a moan at Tuppence sticking her nose in, that he is actually rather proud of her resourcefulness, is rather lovely.
As for the mystery – it’s not bad, with a good surprise or two. I think that the identity of the murderer is pretty guessable – Christie relies on one of her usual misdirections, but to be fair, she applies it to more than one character this time.
All in all, a very pleasant surprise. A good, solid mystery written with a very entertaining style. Recommended.