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Book review: <i>N Or M?</i> by Agatha Christie

Originally published in 1941, N Or M? by Agatha Christie plunges the reader into the world of middle aged irregulars, boarding houses, knitting, and the worst kind of Nazis... English ones.

The story

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are sitting the Second World War out... and not by choice. Having previously accomplished various acts of bravery during the previous war, they now must watch and wait as their condescending and absent offspring contribute to the war effort without them, and it seems like nobody remembers how useful they could be... until all of a sudden, Tommy is offered a job. Everyone must be told he is to be a filing clerk in Scotland, however, he is actually being sent to Sans Souci boarding house in Leahampton to replace the last spy... and find N or M, one of the top “Fifth Column” Nazi spies.

Tuppence isn’t invited, but using her wits manages to tag along anyway, and the two find themselves settling into the San Souci boarding house as strangers to each other and a collection of odd and suspicious characters fast filling up the suspect lists. Who is N or M? Tommy and Tuppence soon find themselves embroiled in a complex and dangerous plot. Can they catch N or M in time to stop a German attack, and to save their own lives?

The style

While Agatha Christie has an excellent reputation and is an undisputed easy read, I found this one a little irritating. I prefer Poirot, personally. I didn’t find there to be anything endearing or remotely interesting about Tommy and Tuppence, from their irritatingly alliterated names, to their devotion to each other, to their gormless and bland personalities, to their irritating (yet mercifully absent) progeny. Nope, nothing doing there excitement wise. I didn’t even care that much when they were endangered. Furthermore, the other characters were somewhat lacking also... luckily the plot moved fairly rapidly but there was a bit too much stiff-British-upper-lip-jolly-good-old-fellow combined with either gormless and servile or foreign and eye-flashing females for my taste. They all irritated me and I wouldn’t have cared if the Nazis had personally eaten them all.

On the other hand, the themes in the book were interesting, especially those revolving around dehumanising the “other side” during a war, and the respect that spies have for their foreign counterparts. While it is necessary to get rid of enemy spies and soldiers, one can still respect their bravery. On the other hand, there is nothing worse than someone from the allied side “turning” and becoming an enemy. I don’t know if I agree, but she did attempt to get some points across none the less, which improved the story somewhat.

Who is this book for?

Say you were on a ten hour bus ride. This is a good one (I’m speaking from personal experience) but you need more than one because it’s over fairly soon. But it’s light, it’s easy to read, and, as long as you don’t throw it against something because the characters irritate you overly, you’ll be fine. There are better Agatha Christie novels though.

If you like this book, you would also like...

You will most likely enjoy Agatha Christie’s other works, most of them are better than this one anyway. You may also enjoy tripping back in time to a Sherlock Holmes adventure... such as The Sign Of Four or A Study In Scarlet.

In short

Title: N Or M?
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Berkley
ISBN: 0425098451
Year published: 1984
Pages: 233
Genre(s): Airport novel, Spy fiction, War
Review Type: