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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

They Came to Baghdad / Agatha Christie

They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

Baghdad is holding a secret superpower summit, but the word is out, and an underground organization in the Middle East is plotting to sabotage the talks.

Into this explosive situation appears Victoria Jones, a young woman with a yearning for adventure who gets more than she bargains for when a wounded spy dies in her hotel room.

The only man who can save the summit is dead. Can Victoria make sense of his dying words: Lucifer… Basrah… Lefarge.…


***2018 Summer of Spies***

I went into this novel with trepidation, as my friends’ opinions of it are all over the map. I think that reaction to it may be a function of timing & mood—are you in the market for some fluffy, silly spy fun or not?

It does get rather silly at several points—Victoria is remarkably self-sufficient for a Cockney lass who has never been out of London city before. Right after she loses her job, she has a brief encounter with the handsome Edward, which sends her looking for a way to Baghdad! When we are young, we are certainly willing to do ridiculous things to pursue members of the opposite sex that we find attractive, but this is just a bit over the top! Nor does she suffer from culture shock (or not for very long) and is very good at the spy biz, considering her only job experience is typing badly and telling tall tales!

Nevertheless, I couldn’t refrain from speeding to the end, to find out how everything resolved. I could enjoy the cheeky Victoria as she bumped from crisis to crisis and appreciate the other players (Sir Rupert of the swirling cloak, anyone?)

Buddy-reading this with some friends at Booklikes led us to discuss this book vs. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953). The tale that I had always heard was that Fleming got his spy’s name from the bird field guide to the West Indies (by James Bond), but a bit of googling revealed that Dame Agatha beat him to the name, using it for a character in The Rajah’s Emerald in 1934! Of course, it doesn’t need to be either/or, it could be both/and. There is also a scene early in TCTB where Anna Scheele examines her suitcases for tampering which is apparently very similar to a scene in Casino Royale, so now I must read CR in the very near future, while my tired, middle-aged brain is retaining Christie’s version.

I also have to say that I think this book and Murder in Mesopotamia must have been inspirations for M.M. Kaye when she began writing her “Death in [insert exotic location here]” books. I re-read both Death in Kenya and Death in Cyprus last year and to me they seem to have much the same vibe (although Kaye inserts a bit more romance, the atmosphere remains very similar).

All the comparisons made this a much more enriching read than just speeding through a fluffy spy novel, so I thank my BookLikes reading companions very, very much.