Book name: They Came to Baghdad
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Collins Crime Club
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Detective fiction
Publication Date: 1951
Star Rating: 5/5
Agatha Christie wrote many stories and books set in the Middle East, which she knew well as a result of accompanying her husband on his archaeological digs.
They Came to Baghdad is just such a story.
It’s 1950. The war may be over, but Britain still has substantial interests in the Middle East, including in Iraq. A peace conference is due to begin, but its ability to proceed is threatened by espionage.
Featuring neither Poirot nor Miss Marple, the role of detective (and also spy) falls to a resourceful young lady from East London, Victoria Jones.
Victoria is an indifferent shorthand typist. She has just been sacked for imitating her boss’s wife and getting overheard.
Although resilient in the face of her dismissal, she is nearly penniless and has absolutely no idea what to do next.
Sitting on a bench eating her lunch and wondering how to repair her career, Victoria attracts the attention of a handsome and charismatic young man.
He introduces himself only as Edward and mentions that he will soon be travelling to Baghdad. He also takes her photograph as a keepsake.
Victoria is smitten. She is plucky enough to find a short-term job to pay her passage out, flying with a Mrs Clipp who has broken her arm and needs help along the way.
The pack of lies Victoria must tell to get this job does not deter her.
During their flight, all the attention is on celebrity traveller Sir Rupert Crofton Lee. Victoria is repelled by both his attention-seeking behaviour and by the boil on the back of his neck!
Once in Baghdad, Victoria has only Edward’s first name and the name of his employer, the Olive Branch peace organisation, to go on. Despite this, she finds Edward and their relationship begins.
Almost immediately, a man is stabbed in the street outside Victoria’s hotel and takes refuge in her room. He dies, leaving her with a handknitted scarf and the word ‘Lefarge’ to work out what is happening.
He also says ‘Lucifer’ and ‘Basra’, though Victoria struggles to interpret any of what she has been told.
The hotel’s owner, Marcus Tio, summons a Mr Dakin to help dispose of the body. Mr Dakin is a spy whose cover story is that he works in an oil company.
His pressing consideration is making sure that the peace conference is not disrupted in any way.
Dakin gives Victoria a job as an agent, investigating the Olive Branch and reporting back to him. She is inventive and full of courage in how she proceeds, not least of all when she is kidnapped.
When Victoria escapes, she is picked up by an archaeologist and hides at the camp for a week. This also provides us with a brief glimpse of life in the archaeological world, which Victoria enjoys more than she expects.
They Came to Baghdad is a gripping portrait of the post-war world of the Middle East, under British control but also threatened by the emerging interests of other players and, of course, by espionage.
Spies are converging on Baghdad from London and Europe, along with representatives who will be attending the peace conference. The whole atmosphere is exceptionally tense.
I loved They Came to Baghdad. It’s always nice to see an Agatha Christie story with neither Poirot nor Miss Marple. Victoria was funny, brave and reckless in equal measure. Her lack of complaint in tricky times made her very likeable indeed.
Thank you for reading my review.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of The Hollow by Agatha Christie.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Watch the Girls by Jennifer Wolfe.