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review 2018-11-05 17:10
Somewhere between Baghdad and Frankfurt
Destination Unknown (Signature Editions) - Agatha Christie

I liked this one less than I liked They Came To Baghdad, but much more than I liked A Passenger to Frankfurt. It's still a late Agatha thriller, which means that it has problems, but it wasn't awful.

 

"Peters said gloomily: “I suppose it always comes to the same thing in the end. A madman who believes he’s God.”

 

There is something so naive about Christie's thrillers - I think that early in her career, her youth and charm insulated her from the ugliness of geopolitics, and late in her career, her wealth served in the same way. It's interesting to me that the body count is often lower in the thrillers than it is in the straight up murder mysteries. She doesn't seem to even remotely grasp the actuality of the violence of espionage and political intrigue.

 

Destination Unknown lacks the romping charm of the Bundle Brent thrillers, or The Secret Adversary, but still requires a suspension of disbelief upon which it fails, ultimately to deliver. The main character, Hilary Craven, is likable and brave. There are wheels turning within wheels turning within wheels, but at the end of the day, the entire machine sort of breaks down.

 

Anyway, this is a lower tier Christie, but didn't hit rock bottom.

 
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text 2018-11-03 17:54
Agatha Christie completion update

I'm catching up a few reading projects, so I thought I would go through and identify which of the very few full-length Christie mysteries I have left:

 

Why Didn't They Ask Evans

N or M

Death Comes As The End

Destination Unknown

The Pale Horse

By The Pricking of My Thumbs

Nemesis

Postern of Fate

Sleeping Murder

 

That's actually more than I thought, although I am aware that some of them are true clunkers - I've heard nothing good about Postern of Fate.

 

I also have several of the short story collections left, including Harley Quin & Parker Pyne.

 

I also haven't read the books she published under the Mary Westamacott name, which are a bit difficult to find, but are by no means unobtainable. 

 

Giant's Bread

Unfinished Portrait

Absent in Spring

The Rose and the Yew Tree

A Daughter's A Daughter

The Burden

 

And I definitely want to track down the three Detection Club stories:

 

The Floating Admiral

Ask a Policeman

Six Against the Yard

 

 

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text 2018-11-03 16:50
Reading progress update: I've read 58%.
Destination Unknown (Signature Editions) - Agatha Christie

This is an odd book. It does remind me a lot of Passenger to Frankfurt, but, at least so far, it isn't nearly as awful as that one. Although it was really the ending that blew up that book, so there is still time.

 

Christie had a really bizarre obsession with the "elites" basically starting their own society to take over the world. Her late thrillers - They Came To Baghdad, Passenger to Frankfurt, and now this one, remind me a bit of Rand's Atlas Shrugged, although Christie definitely frames hers as cautionary tales, while Rand basically glorifies the idea of (her formulation) "the makers" abandoning "the looters" to death and starvation. 

 

Destination Unknown doesn't have the charm of They Came to Baghdad, at least not so far. Hilary Craven (interesting name choice, there) lacks the manic pixie dream girl charm of Victoria Jones, being of a more serious, less effervescent, character.

 

At this point, though, Passenger to Frankfurt represents the execrable nadir of Christie novels for me, so anything that is, even slightly, less awful will be okay.

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review 2018-04-03 15:42
How To Succeed At Espionage Without Really Trying
The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie

Cross Posted on my classic crime blog, Peril at Whitehaven Mansion

 

Published in 1922, The Secret Adversary was Christie’s second novel, coming directly on the heels of The Mysterious Affair At Styles, her first Poirot outing which was published in 1920. For the first decade or so of Christie’s career she dabbled heavily in the thriller/espionage genre, publishing The Man in the Brown SuitThe Secret of ChimneysThe Seven Dials Mystery and The Big Four, all of which deal with international crime gangs and conspiracies with varying levels of competence and success. After the 1929 publication of The Big Four (which is nominally a Poirot, the plot of which, however, deals less with garden variety murder than with a strange, Austin Powers-esque international crime conspiracy), her publisher must have convinced her to abandon her not wholly convincing thriller career in favor of writing whodunnits, because she doesn’t write another international spy thriller until the second Tommy and Tuppence novel was published in 1941.

 

I am of mixed emotions about this because I find her early thrillers (with the exception of The Big Four, which was absolutely terrible) to be weirdly charming in their innocence about the incompetence of the political criminal/international criminal mastermind. The Secret Adversary definitely falls into the category of charming and innocent. The basic plot is whisper thin (literally – it’s based on Tommy overhearing two people whispering about a woman named Jane Finn) and is generally about the possession of some government documents by a young woman (with amnesia. Yes, really) and an international crime syndicate who want to get a hold of those documents in order to foment revolution in England. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, that’s because it doesn’t actually make any sense. Tommy and Tuppence are two broke Bright Young Things who decide that the best way for them to come into possession of a few pounds is to place an ad in the newspaper, to try to hire themselves out as adventurers.

 

It’s preposterous and in the real world (or in modern fiction, which goes for verisimilitude) they’d have been dead within about 25 pages, and the rest of the book would’ve been spent with the professionals attempting to figure out why these two charming young people ended up murdered by terrorists. That’s not how this one goes, though. It feels like such an innocent world in The Secret Adversary (and in The Secret of Chimneys as well). I can only wonder if this was simply a reaction to the trauma that WWI inflicted on the British people, and surmise that, perhaps, what they really needed was to believe that a pair of children, with very little money, a great deal of sparkling wit and a fetching hat could, in fact, save the world. Because there is nothing even remotely convincing or realistic about this plot, but somehow, it’s impossible to care because it is all so delightful.

 

This was my first time reading The Secret Adversary, and I doubt that it will become one of my favorites although I thoroughly enjoyed it. I went into it convinced that Tommy and Tuppence were lifted wholesale from Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles – imagine my surprise when I actually looked it up and learned that T & T predated N & N by a dozen years. I should’ve known better, though – The Queen sets trends, she doesn’t follow them.

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