N or M?
I. Biography of Agatha Christie
II. Content of the novel
III. Major Aspect
I. Biography of Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie (née Miller) was born in 1890 in Devon, England as the
youngest of three children in a conservative family. Agatha never went
to a school, but was taught at home by a governess. To express her
feelings as a child she started playing music and, later in life,
writing. In the first World War she worked as a nurse. She was married
twice, the first marriage was divorced, because her husband fell in
love with another woman. Her first detective novel 'The Mysterious
Affair at Styles' was published in 1920. The leading actor was Hercule
Poirot, a retired Belgian police officer, who also featured more than
30 other novels. Miss Jane Marple, an elderly spinster, was another
famous character in twelve novels. All together she wrote 66 novels,
numerous short stories and screenplays, and a series of romantic
novels. Agatha sold over two billion copies of her books and is
therefor the world's best selling author. Her work has been translated
into more than a hundred languages. She always tried to avoid the
public eye, which became more difficult as her fame grew. In 1971 she
achieved Britain's highest honour, when she was made a Dame of the
British Empire. Her last novel was written in 1973, when she was 82
years old. She died 1976 in Berkshire, England.
II. Content of the novel
The novel 'N or M?' (written in 1941), taking place during the second
World War, is about a couple called Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who
are called by the British Secret Service to capture one of Hitler's
most dangerous agents, either called N or M. The action takes place in
a boarding house at a seaside resort in South England. Under the
pseudonym Mr. Meadows (Tommy) and Mrs. Blenkensop (Tuppence)
pretending not to know each other, they try to find out, by the help
of long conversations with the other guests and by many rumours which
are spread round, who acts normal and doesn't pretend to be another
person and who is an undercover agent. The majority of the guests
suspect a German refugee and the proprietness of the house Mrs.
Perenna to be spies. But those prejudices change, when a 'strange
woman' appears, kidnapping a baby (also guest with its mother called
Mrs. Sprot) and then, after a chase, gets shot by the baby's mother,
which seems quite strange to Tuppence. So her attention turns to Mrs.
Sprot. By accident Tommy finds out, that a houseowner called Haydock,
who lives nearby, is a spy. Haydock lets Tommy capture and locks him
up in his cellar. Later, to leave no tracks behind, the thieves want
to throw Tom over board from a ship on high sea. Now Tuppence is alone
with her job to do. An old friend of the couple called Albert comes to
help them. Albert discovers Tommy in the cellar, but, because of
tactical reasons (to catch the spies red-handed), leaves him there and
observes the place. Tuppence too runs into a trap set by Haydock,
because he expects that Tuppence knows too much about his 'work'.
Haydock threatens Tuppence with a weapon to tell him the truth and
dares to shoot her, but a friend, who followed her, shoots Haydock
first. By a stroke of genius Tuppence clears up one mystery after
another and the spies ,,N and M' are locked up.
III. Major aspect
a) Characterisation of the major actors and actresses
Thomas Beresford alias Mr. Meadowes:
The first part of the elderly husband-and-wife team is Thomas or Tommy
Beresford. He does often talk about the good old times, when he was
younger and had a job. It is hard to realize for him, that he is
getting middle-aged, but when he is offered this new job, his self-
confidence gets strengthend. Tommy is an amateur in this field, but
this is really needed.
Prudence 'Tuppence' Beresford alias Mrs. Blenkensop:
Like Tommy Tuppence wants to do something else than only knitting in
her free time. She is clever by having three pseudonym sons, because
she thinks: 'And I rather fancy the sons may come in useful.' (p.22).
Another smart quality of hers is to observe people's faces when
talking about spies or Fifth Columnists. She also keeps a cool head
when the baby is kidnapped: 'We must put ourselves in their places.'
(p.126). She does the major work in this novel.
The proprietress of the boarding house Sans Souci is Mrs. Perenna. For
Tom she is ',quite a handsome woman in her way.' (p.16). Not to
attrac attention she changed her name to Perenna to start a new life,
because her husband was shot as a traitor. Owning a boarding house is
a good camouflage for her. Mrs. Perenna does not want the police at
her house 'The police? They'll be no good.' (p.124). She is afraid of
being imprisoned, because 'She was mixed up in some I.R.A.
For Commander Haydock Bletchley is 'a painfully prosaic chap - typical
Army. Bit set in his ideas , an Army life' (p.148) and that is
totally true. He would die for his country and wants to intern all
refugees who come to ,,his country'. After telling a joke Tom finds
out, that a sense of humour is not Bletchley's strong suit (compare to
p. 26). He speaks out boldly what he thinks ,,The fair widow's annoyed
about it. Thought she'd got her hooks into him.' (p.166) and for this
statement gets bleated by Mrs. Minton.
Mr. Carl von Deinim:
Deinim is a young man, very stiff, fair-haired and has got blue eyes.
He works in a chemical research laboratory and because he is a refugee
from Germany he arouses attention in this time of war at Sans Souci.
Bletchley thinks that he is suspicious and a Nazi, because he is not a
Jew and came to England just a month before the War broke out. Mr.
Grant (friend of the former Chief of the Intelligence) is also
interested in him, but finds out, that Deinim is exactly what he says
he is. At the end of the novel Deinim clears up, that he is not Carl
von Deinim. He ' took his name for reasons of my own.' (p. 229)
Mr. and Mrs. Cayley:
The marriage of the middle-aged couple is like a dictatorship. Mrs.
Cayley is like a ,,servant' who does everything for her husband. It
seems that she has no other aim in life than to minister Mr. Cayley.
Bletchley calls him' a kind of walking chemist's shop.' (p.40) and
for Tom Mr. Cayley seems to be' a genuine hypochondrical invalid.'
(p.45). Mr. Cayley stays at Sans Souci for absolute relaxation, but
that is impossible for him, because Mrs. Sprot's baby is too loud.
The Mrs. Perennas daughter ''s an attractive girl' (p.42), but
sometimes a little bit queer, because she hardly speaks to anyone.
Also Tom discovers her attraction and vitality. 'She was the kind of
gin, that a man might easily lose his head over.' (p.57). Sheila hates
the war and the connected patriotism. She loves Carl von Deinim and is
very upset when he is locked up because he is suspected of being a
Strange Woman alias Vanda Polonska:
Vanda is a penniless, poorly dressed Polish refugee, who entered the
country soon after the outbreak of the war. She is between 40 and 50
years old and the real mother of Mrs. Sprot's baby Betty. Entering the
country she agrees to let Mrs. Sprot adopt Betty, but after a while
she wants her back. She kidnaps her and gets shot by Mrs. Sprot.
b)Behaviour (camouflage) of Mrs. Sprot alias 'M' as a spy
Mrs. Sprot pretends to be a young, bored mother. She pretends to have
a husband who misses her and who sent her and the baby Betty away to a
safe place, where are no air raids. Tuppence excludes her of being a
spy, because she has a child with her 'It's not the kind of thing
you'd bring a child into. I know. You'd keep a child out of it'
(p.63), but nobody knows that it is not her child, but an adopted
child just to fulfil her ,,work-needs' to be an innocent character.
'She felt a queer sense of relief at the domestic atmosphere'
(p.70) feels Tuppence when she comes into Mrs. Sprot's room 'All so
normal, so reassuring, so every-day' (p. 71) She lets her feelings
judge about a person and sometimes this is quite a big mistake.
A negative point of a 'real' mother-behaviour is when Mrs. Sprot makes
a trip to London and leaves Betty at home. She searches for somebody
to look after Betty although she hardly knows anything about the
guests. To carry a gun and then to shoot a person, is also not typical
for a normal loving mother. And this point arouses Tuppence's
If you are an agent trying to catch spies do not trust anybody!
The novel 'N or M?' is a typical mystery book by Agatha Christie. She
rises the tension within the book very strongly and after a climax,
when Commander Haydock gets killed, lets the agents Tuppence and her
partner Tommy dear up the case. I found it quite interesting, that
nearly everyone suspected Carl v. Deinim to be a spy, because he was a
German refugee. Sheila Perenna was the only one, who believed in the
innocence of Mr. Deinim.
The name of the boarding house 'Sans Souci' is, for me, a little bit
ironic. I suppose that in this war-time nobody is without sorrows, for
example what will happen in future or will I still be alive after the
war. The guests only show a laid on kind of carelessness.
All in all I can only recommend this mystery novel to everyone who is
interested in the field of chasing a spy.
Biography: Internet - http ://www.MysteryNet.com/
Book: Agatha Christie - 'N or M?'
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