Top Social

Rick Steves' Agatha Christie: They Came to Baghdad | 1951

Image from the delightful
"When Crosbie had gone Dakin sat bent over his desk. He murmured under his breath, 'They came to Baghdad...' On the blotting pad he drew a circle and wrote under it Baghdad -- Then, dotted around it, he sketched a camel, an aeroplane, a steamer, a small puffing train -- all converging on the circle. Then on the corner of the pad he drew a spider's web. In the middle of the spider's web he wrote a name..." - They Came to Baghdad, p. 12

The Sum of It:
Spies! Murder! Morse code! International intrigue! Kidnapping! Accomplished liars! Adventurers! Archaeologists! Air travel! Hair dye! Dust storms! Dickens references! This book has it all. Really like a lot. Like, almost everything that could potentially be in a mystery book is in this one, and it's not super long, page-count-wise. As a result it is a #teensybit #confusing, but overall a fun read. 

Essentially, the main character, Victoria Jones, is a clever fabricator of tales and great at imitating people, but is a terrible shorthand typist and quickly gets fired from her job for mocking her boss' wife (ha!). As she is eating two sandwiches and considering her next move on a park bench, she sees a super hot guy named Edward, gives him a smile, they chat for five minutes and she falls in love. Him too, apparently, but the bummer for the lovebirds is that he has to move to Baghdad for work the next day. No matter, decides Victoria, she'll just figure out how to get a job in the next few days that will take her to Baghdad too so she can track him down. Oy vey, right? But don't worry, turns out Agatha is a little more meta than we might have given her credit for in the past.

Anyhow, Victoria makes up some dignified references, gets a job escorting a lady with a broken arm to Baghdad, goes about searching for her boo. Meanwhile, the "President" (no indication of which country, assuming America) as well as a bunch of other dignitaries are planning a big meeting in Baghdad. An international man of mystery/government secrets is also cautiously making his way to the city, carrying critical information about international affairs, as is an international woman of mystery. Some sort of international intelligence agency is also converging on Baghdad to protect secrets guy and his liaison, a famous explorer, as well as the dignitaries coming to the meeting. ALSO a network of baddies who kind of sound like some weird combination of Communists and neo-Nazi types except more obsessed with youth and less obsessed with race? ALSO a bunch of archaeologists are around, presumably to allow Agatha to show off some of the new stuff she had learned about archaeology in her own travels in the Middle East. A million different things are happening, seemingly unrelated to each other, until a bleeding man stumbles into Victoria's hotel room one night, begging to be hidden. She hides him, only to find him dead in her bed after the fake cops chasing him have left! Quickly, she becomes embroiled in all the international spy intrigue that's going on and gets quite a few nasty surprises along the way. And also learns a ton about archaeology. #themoreyouknow

The YOA Treatment:
So, as noted, there is SO MUCH GOING ON in this book, and SO many characters that it was honestly hard to track at some points. A couple times when a new character was introduced I had to flip back through the part I'd already read to make sure I hadn't already met them before because there are so many people coming and going, some with multiple identities. Agatha really doesn't write many genuine spy mysteries, so I think maybe it's just not something she's as practiced with. However, eventually the details coalesce and it gets pretty good! Quite caper-y, which we all know I enjoy. I'm also pleased with Agatha turning what had become kind of a common love-story narrative for her on its head a bit. 

One thing about this book that is obviously pretty cool is that Agatha takes the opportunity to turn her rich experiences travelling in Baghdad and beyond into beautifully detailed settings and scenes, from a stroll through the Copper Market to the date palms along the Tigris to the elaborate and glamorous hotels of the city. The descriptions of how a dust storm appears suddenly and leaves everything in its wake coated in a rusty brown are too realistic not to be drawn from real life experiences! 

Additionally, it's clear that Victoria's experiences assisting on an archaeological dig are pulled straight from Agatha's joyful times spent assisting with her second husband Max's digs throughout the Middle East #teamMax. In her autobiography, Agatha writes a lot about how happy she was doing that work, and constantly learning more about it, by Max's side. The work and sites are described in loving detail, and Victoria, who has hitherto been a bit flakey, suddenly develops a real devotion to the work of discovering, cleaning, repairing, and cataloging artifacts for all kinds of reasons that really seem more Agatha than Victoria, which is actually kind of cool. 

- E. 
Be First to Post Comment !
Post a Comment