There has already been, in the past, discussion on this blog about the fact that many people don’t take Agatha Christie’s spy thrillers seriously. And I have said then, as I will reiterate now… neither did Christie! They Came to Baghdad is quite classic of Christie’s one-off thrillers: mysterious individuals (sometimes in capes!), people in disguise, innocent young women swept up into adventure unexpectedly, betrayal, kidnapping, and pretty clear-cut Good Guys and Bad Guys.
I, of course, ate it up. I completely love Christie’s spy thrillers. I love the way they are over-the-top and funny, but still have an engaging plot and interesting characters. It’s all just ridiculously dramatic and so much fun.
Victoria is our unlikely heroine. Christie has a knack of creating a relatable, realistic character – in this case, Victoria Jones, shorthand typist – who then go on to do something absolutely ridiculous – like haring off to Baghdad because she fell in love with a young man in a park – and yet manages to keep the situation feeling fairly believable. I wouldn’t do what Victoria did, but I didn’t really doubt that Victoria would!
Through a series of events, Victoria finds herself entangled in complications with international implications, and is soon working as a sort of unofficial spy for the Good Guys. Throughout, Victoria is intelligent, intrepid, and upbeat. She’s also a liar, not very good at planning ahead, and quite stubborn. She made a believable, likable heroine, and I was completely on her side even when I didn’t agree with her decisions.
I had read this one before, so it’s hard for me to say if Christie wasn’t as knacky with her red herrings or if (more likely) I just subconsciously remembered some of the tricks. So I wasn’t particularly surprised by the ending, but the journey was still great fun.
Throughout, Christie does get mildly preachy in spots. It’s obvious (to me) throughout her career that Christie also believed strongly that there were definite Good Guys and Bad Guys, but she didn’t necessarily believe that they were the people that everyone always said were Good or Bad.
“I know everybody says there’s going to be another war sooner or later,” said Victoria.
“Exactly,” said Mr. Dakin. “Why does everyone say so, Victoria?”
She frowned. “Why, because Russia – the Communists – America – ” she stopped.
“You see,” said Dakin. “Those aren’t your own opinions or words. They’re picked up from newspapers, and casual talk, and the wireless. There are two divergent points of view dominating different parts of the world; that is true enough. And they are represented loosely in the public mind as ‘Russia and the Communists’ and ‘America.’ Now the only hope for the future, Victoria, lies in peace, in production, in constructive activities and not destructive ones. Therefore, everything depends on those who hold those two divergent viewpoints, either agreeing to differ and each contenting themselves with their respective spheres of activity, or else finding a mutual basis for agreement or at least toleration. Instead of that, the opposite is happening, a wedge is being driven in the whole time to force two mutually suspicious groups further and further apart. Certain things led one or two people to believe that this activity comes from a third party or group working under cover and so far absolutely unsuspected by the world at large. Whenever there is a chance of agreement being reached or any sign of dispersal of suspicion, some incident occurs to plunge one side back in distrust, or the other side into definite hysterical fear. These things are not accidents, Victoria, they are deliberately produced for calculated effect.”
Is it totally conspiracy theory? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn’t make it any less plausible then or now.
For me, Christie’s writing is truly classic because it is, in so many ways, quite timeless. While culture may have changed somewhat in the last sixty-odd years since this book was published, there is still a basis of relatability because Christie understood and portrayed human nature so very well.
They Came to Baghdad is a super fun romp of a spy thriller, with more serious undertones, should you choose to read them. Either way, it’s a fabulously fun read and highly recommended.
AND it marks the halfway point for 20 Books of Summer – Book #10!!!