They Came to Baghdad (1951) by Agatha Christie

Thrillers were never Christie’s strongest writing suit but I think this is one of her better ones. It begins well with a good opening, slowing revealing character and place. The external appearance of these are soon shown not to be trusted – buildings, people who seem ordinary, run down and commonplace are not what they seem. Yet it is easy to forget this as you read the story and in particular I like how some of the characters are not shown immediately to be either “good” or “bad,” the ambiguity of which giving the story an extra layer of mystery. Various characters are introduced to us in the first 60 or so pages. Behind the scenes with the secret service we see plans are afoot to ensure the safety of two important personages arriving in Baghdad. However this is easier said than done. There is a leakage of information within the organisation, which means one of their operatives, Henry Carmichael is in a lot of danger. He has proof of some farfetched, yet lethal plot and is bringing back irrefutable proof of it. But will he manage to make it back? Outside the world of espionage we have Victoria Jones, our protagonist, whose desire for adventure and her lackadaisical attitude towards work, means she soon loses her current employment. Yet a chance meeting with handsome stranger and an opportune new job opportunity mean that she too will be heading towards Baghdad. Violence and more soon erupt on to the stage, as the various characters converge in this city and of course Victoria ends up right in the middle of it all. Not that she can help it. After all a man does die in her hotel room, leaving an ominous and cryptic final message…

Overall Thoughts

Christie’s thrillers often can receive a raw deal. This is not unjustified *cough* Passenger to Frankfurt *cough*, but I think with this story there are a number of things to enjoy about it. Firstly there is Victoria, who is a gripping character. She is not a prim and proper heroine, but has a much more modern feel to her, coming across as bold and audacious. If she wants something, she goes for it and she is not above using lies and subterfuge to do so. I’ve always thought she would make for an interesting serial character.

Given the location it is not surprising that there is an archaeological element to the plot, which given Christie’s background, is predictably well done. In a way I think this thread of the narrative gives the story a more personal touch. You can imagine her smiling when she wrote, ‘archaeologists, she said, made splendid husbands […]’ and I feel like she would have had a lot of fun when she created the bumbling absent minded archaeologist in the tale.

Of course what often lets Christie down in her thrillers is her attempts to include political/monomaniac conspiracies invariably involving capitalism and Communism, with plans to gain world power and allow the rise of the superman figure (a theme which is explored more fully, though not more effectively in Destination Unknown). This element doesn’t really work in Christie’s thrillers and often undermines her clever character cluing. There are moments of the latter in this book, which I think are rather good and sneaky, yet because of the clichéd and stereotypical thriller environment they do not get their moment to shine. The final quarter in particular of the book is rather rushed, meaning not as much attention can be given to the various twists, which is a pity. Nevertheless though the characters are well-crafted and it was still quite a lot of fun. I’m glad I gave it a re-read.

Rating: 3.75/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Moon

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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18 Responses to They Came to Baghdad (1951) by Agatha Christie

  1. Never read this one. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your welcome. I had assumed you had read all of Christie. I think this thriller captures some of the strengths you can see in Christie’s earlier thrillers (which I think are her better ones).

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      • No, I’ve read all the Poirot and Marple tales and a lot of the standalones… you know, writing that, I realise that I still haven’t read The Big Four.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, come on, if I’m going to miss one out, I chose the right one. Having said that, when I reviewed Blue Train on the blog a while ago, that was the first time I read it, and I rather enjoyed that one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Call yourself a fan of golden age crime fiction! All of Christie’s work (bar Passenger to Frankfurt) should be compulsory reading for any GAD blogger lol
        On a more serious note, yeah I re-read The Big Four for the blog last Christmas. It’s interesting, though not necessarily for the mystery component.

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      • I’ll get round to it one day. Currently re-reading Orient Express, which I haven’t read for at least 30 years. Unfortunately it’s one of those where you can’t forget whodunit

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, same with ATTWN and TMORA. I got quite a lot though out of re-reading Orient Express. Are you re-reading it in time for the new film?

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      • I’m stranded away from my current read – Murder At Friar’s Pardon by Martin Porlock – but I’m never without my Kindle. And with only this or Curtain (yuk) to choose from…

        Also, saw the new trailer the other day which certainly made it look more explosive than I recalled. So I thought I’d take a look once more…

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  2. Brad says:

    I go back and forth on this one, Kate. All the criticism you leveled on Christie’s politics is so true, and it’s true here, but I agree some of it is leavened by the focus on Victoria. The woman who read the audiobook is absolutely horrible, and it made me like Victoria less. Like all her thrillers, it drags for me and, at the same time, feels incomplete. But the central deception is cool, and I like Victoria’s romantic destiny at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jcbernthal says:

    Great review! I’d rate They Came to Baghdad slightly higher; because it’s so wonderfully escapist and it reminds me in many ways of The Man in the Brown Suit, with a similar but less juvenile heroine. (But, hey… I also like Passenger to Frankfurt…sort of!). They Came to Baghdad was marketed by Collins as ‘Her Gayest Mystery!’, which I’ve never quite understood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You like PTF? Feel like there’s a blog post or two in explaining that…
      Also gayest mystery? I too am a little bamboozled even if you use a more anarchic definition for the word gay.

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      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Regarding gayest mystery, perhaps they are referring to the amusing and light-hearted nature of the novel with amusing characters like Mrs Hamilton Clipp and Dr. Pauncefoot Jones. Also several “archaeologist” jokes !

        Liked by 1 person

      • Possibly. Though I feel the Tommy and Tuppence books could be considered more amusing and light hearted. Then again dustjacket marketing quotes are remarkably odd things at times.

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  4. rkottery says:

    I think you convey here very well what’s both good and bad about Christie’s thrillers in general. This one I recall being enjoyable without remembering much detail.
    As for Passenger to Franfurt – I seem to remember that it didn’t start too badly but then just went all to pot. But it’s been a while.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Book of the Month: October 2017 | crossexaminingcrime

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