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…
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.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Moon