N or M? by Agatha Christie

N or M?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.


  1. Hi Steve – I’ve never been to keen of la Christie’s excursion into adventure and espionage but as I haven’t read this one I’m glad to hear it’s worthwhile – by the way, the initial responses to your post seem oddly garbled – did a message get removed or shifted perhaps? I mention this because I have had odd instances in WordPress where I have answered a message before I had ‘approved’ the comment, leading to all sort of merry technical weirdness …


  2. My fault – I hadn’t approved the first comment that the rest were replies to. All sorted now,

    Not convinced I’ve read any of Christie’s out and out spy stories, but this really isn’t one – it’s all set in one location with a good old murder thrown in.

    I might look at one of her spy ones soon, once I work out which is the least bad.


  3. One quick question about the book if it’s not a spoiler (and I suspect it isn’t). I have a feeling that “M” is a male spy and “N” is female or the other way around. In other words, because they are looking for N or M, neither Tommy nor Tuppence can eliminate any characters because of their sex.


    • Cheers, Kerrie. Keep an eye out as there’s every chance there will be another one by the end of the month. My recent string of “classic” reviews seems to be hitting a lot of duds so I might just need a great Agatha Christie to pick me up!


  4. This review was a surprise. I have read so many reviews of the Tommy and Tuppence books where reviewers just don’t enjoy them. I like the books about the Beresfords a lot, and I am sure I will enjoy this one as much as you did.

    A great review with just enough information.


  5. I have a great fondness for the Beresfords as well, Steve. I enjoyed most of the books back when I was in high school and then went back and reread them after watching quite a few of the productions with Francesca Annis and James Warwick.


  6. I’d also read a lot of lukewarm comments on Tommy & Tuppence, but I found a free ebook version of “The Secret Adversary” (the copyright is expired in the US, so it’s on Amazon free along with “The Mysterious Affair at Styles’). I found it to be quite good. It’s a bit more light-hearted than the typical Poirot, but I felt I needed a change after reading something like 5 in a row. The atmosphere is great. Perhaps a bit guessable, but still fun. I’m looking forward to some of her other espionage titles including this one.


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