And so I enter the final decalogue of Agatha Christie’s works — from here to Miss Marple’s Final Cases (1979) — with a return visit to Thomas ‘Tommy’ Beresford and his wife Prudence, known (for reasons I genuinely cannot recall; someone will doubtless enlighten me in the comments) as Tuppence. The Beresfords are unique in Christie canon in that they are the only repeating characters who seem to age in real time, and in doing so they provide an overview of Dame Agatha’s writing career in just a handful of books.
We first met Tommy and Tuppence in Christie’s second novel, The Secret Adversary (1922). There, drunk on the fun of adventure and shenanigans, they were swept up in international intrigue with more than a dash of Bright Young Thing and rich in their youthful author’s joie de vivre, with a world of potential and ideas ahead of her. They next appeared in 1929’s Partners in Crime, by which time Christie’s brain was doubtless a-seethe with plots and potential, and so we got a series of short stories where they took on cases in a pastiche of various contemporary detectives, as if Christie was keen to show how easily she could play the game in any voice she chose.
Twelve years elapsed, in which Christie wrote many of her finest books, and then N or M? (1941) found author and characters both surrounded by young pretenders muscling in on what had previously been their forte, but still eager to show that they could hold their own. It falls rather more in the ‘thriller with detective interruptions’ style, but the opening pages in which Tommy and Tuppence reflect on their perceived uselessness in light of a world where there’s plenty of youth coming through to replace them and their previous activities count for very little have a piquancy that is hard to ignore. I also find it interesting that this was the only book Christie wrote during the Second World War that made explicit use of wartime activities — though, you’re correct, she would later use the Blitz as the background for elements of the Poirot tale Taken at the Flood (1948).
Then nothing for 27 years. Not from Mrs. Mallowan — she was very busy indeed, challenging and surprising left, right, and sometimes centre — but without a sign of the Beresfords, who were gently growing older without anything worth reporting happening to them. And then, dedicated to “the many readers in this and other countries who write to me asking What has happened to Tommy and Tuppence?“, we get By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968), and then five years later they would be the focus of the final novel Christie would ever write in Postern of Fate (1973) — so don’t tell me that she didn’t hold these characters in no small affection and that they, like Jane Marple, wouldn’t come to mean more to Christie as she aged and was able to reflect upon this in her writing.
We are reintroduced to them:
…sitting at the breakfast table. They were an ordinary couple. Hundreds of elderly couples just like them were having breakfast all over England at that particular moment. … A pleasant couple, but nothing remarkable about them. So an onlooker would have said. If the onlooker had been young, he or she would have added “Oh, yes, quite pleasant, but deadly dull of course, like all old people.”