Destination Unknown // by Agatha Christie

AKA So Many Steps to Death 


//published 1954//

So this is one of those Christie thrillers that I wasn’t really impressed by.  While I generally enjoy her thrillers, even when they are a little absurd, Destination Unknown feels too serious to be taken in her usual lighthearted vein (think The Secret Adversary and The Man in the Brown Suit).  While I generally feel like Christie is writing her thrillers with tongue in cheek at some level, Destination Unknown lacked that sparkling humor.  There are snippets of it here and there, but not enough to bring up the overall tone of the book.

All over the world, important scientists are disappearing.  Are they going of their own will, or are they being kidnapped?  Either way, the Good Guys suspect that the scientists are being taken behind the Iron Curtain to the Bad Guys.  At the beginning of our book, another scientist, Tom Betterton, has recently disappeared.  His wife claims to know nothing of his disappearance.  Several months after he left, she tells the Good Guys who have been following her case that her doctor has recommended that she go to a warmer climate to recover from the stress and anxiety.  The Good Guys prick up their ears and send someone to follow her to Morocco, hoping that Mrs. Betterton is actually on her way to join her husband.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Betterton’s plane crashes.  She is the only survivor – and lies in a coma in the hospital.  Meanwhile, another English woman has arrived in Morocco.  Hilary’s life has gone through a series of devastating blows, and even the beauty and mild climate of Morocco isn’t enough to lift her spirits: she has decided to commit suicide.  Before she can do so, she is approached by one of the Good Guys, who has a proposition.  Mrs. Betterton is going to die.  Does Hilary want to take her place and attempt to infiltrate the Bad Guys?  And so our story really begins…

It’s not a bad story.  It’s put together well, and if you can get past the whole “the entire world is either Good Guys or Bad Guys” thing, it’s fairly plausible.  But for some reason it just comes across a little heavy.  There are passages of conversation in which characters talk about why the Good Guy concept of the world is the best, and while, on the whole, I do actually agree with them, it sometimes comes across as a little preachy, even when the point is solid:

Why do you decry the world we live in?  There are good people in it.  Isn’t muddle a better breeding ground for kindliness and individuality than a world order that’s imposed, a world order that may be right today and wrong tomorrow?  I would rather have a world of kindly, faulty, human beings, than a world of superior robots who’ve said goodbye to pity and understanding and sympathy.

Me, too!  Except I don’t always it belabored in my fiction.

I think that the other weak point of this book is that there isn’t a lot of action.  It takes a long time for Hilary to even get to the compound, and then it’s still not terribly exciting.  Instead of interspersing her action and humor with some solid insights, this book was more an attempt to give us insights interspersed with a bit of action.  I realize that this book is, in some ways, a product of its time, but still.

A 3/5, but not particularly recommended.

#16 for 20 Books of Summer!  20booksfinal