With nuclear scientist Worthing missing, “partners in crime” Tommy and Tuppence are investigating his boarding house which is stuffed with sinister characters. Tuppence has been caught by the smooth Major Khan, who forces her to admit that she’s a spy – what was her plan exactly if he was the Russian agent ‘N’? But he says he is also an intelligence agent, searching for N on a mission of revenge.
Tommy is fighting off the fruity Mrs Sprot while Khan reveals that he has proof of N’s identity, but he won’t share it. Tommy suspects Carl Denim while Tuppence suspects Mrs Sprot, but all they can do is follow Khan to the 1952 Veterans Ball. Tuppence disguises herself as a waitress to get them in, and they spot Khan apparently about to kill Carl Denim; but it’s Khan who ends up shot dead in a clearly faked suicide.
The two head for the hotel to retrieve the incriminating evidence from Khan’s safe, but it’s gone, and only Carl Denim and Mrs Sprot are around. She says she found Khan’s body and returned to the hotel, but how could she have beaten Tommy and Tuppence to it? And why is Denim in such a hurry to leave?
Spymaster Carter and sidekick Albert turn up, Carter in a fisherman’s sweater in an attempt to blend in, and reveal that N has sent a blackmail note demanding £100,000 and the release of 30 Russian prisoners, or he’ll detonate Worthing’s bomb and destroy Norwich, or maybe that he’ll detonate Norwich’s bomb and destroy Worthing, we weren’t quite awake at that point.
So with no clues to go on, the bickering twosome return to the hotel. Why MI6 can’t just take in all the suspects and beat them with rubber hoses, we don’t know.
The following day Tuppence searches Mrs Sprot’s room, and gets caught again – she’s been in more bedroom farces than Brian Rix. She finds passionate letters addressed to ‘M’, which Mrs Sprot says stands for ‘Major’ (huh? Really?) – she says the two were having a passionate affair. None of this rings true, though Tuppence seems to swallow it.
Tommy goes bird-watching with Commander Haydock, sees Carl Denim on a boat, and follows him to a beach hut where he finds a short-wave radio transmitter. When he brings Tuppence there, the equipment has gone, but they find the entrance to a tunnel complex which proves to lead into the hotel.
The Mintons, the weird psychotherapist couple, are caught arguing about some portentous issue, and this sparks suspicion for the first time. Tuppence catches Mrs Minton alone and grills her, but it turns out that the Mintons aren’t spies, just unqualified to practice. Tommy gets from Mr Minton a name that Major Khan revealed under hypnosis, Anil Hassan.
Carter discovers that this was the codename Khan used in Berlin after the war, where his reputation was ruined by the theft of some documents, presumably by ‘N’. So that was Khan’s motivation – but this doesn’t get us any closer to the identity of N.
T&T go back to search the hotel, and find a German pistol (a Walther P38, standard officer issue at the end of the war, fact fans) and a German passport in the name Carl von Deinem. They confront Denim, but he escapes them through the secret tunnel, and Tommy disappears, leaving Tuppence distraught on the beach.
As we suspected it would, this episode pretty much degenerated into a series of red herrings regarding the secret lives of the hotel guests. It’s ridiculous that Tommy insists on suspecting Denim, who is clearly too young to have been a major Russian agent after the war; and there are plenty of other suspects, including the sinister Irish hotel owner and her squinty maid, who haven’t even been considered. And, the way the duo insist on searching rooms so ineptly that they always get caught is just getting irritating.
The problem with Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence books is that they’re not really detective stories, they’re John Buchan style adventures – and John Buchan she ain’t, any more than Tommy and Tuppence are James Bond and Modesty Blaise.
Next week, can we expect Tommy to do his ‘some days you can’t find anywhere to get rid of a bomb’ routine?
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