They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. Should have stayed home.

They Came to Baghdad

Read December 2014
Recommended for Christie completionists, fans of the 1950s
 ★    ★    1/2

 

Agatha Christie does thrillers.

Or not, depending on your point of view.

This one might work as a movie (I’m disinclined to find out, but if you are interested, here, but fails to impress as a book.

Victoria Jones has been fired from her typist position. As she sits in a courtyard, eating her lunch, she’s politely approached by a diffident young man, Edward, who strikes up a conversation. In America, Miss Anna Scheele, personal secretary to the head of a firm of international bankers, informs her employer she must leave on vacation to care for her sick sister in England. In the Iraqi countryside, Carmichael is trying to sneak back into Baghdad in time for a major world powers meeting with proof of a certain conspiracy. Mr. Dakin, the local Baghdad covert agent is charged with ensuring security for the meeting, and is hoping to preserve international peace. Richard Baker is an archeologist fanatic traveling to Dr. Pauncefoot Jones’ dig in the Iraqi countryside. When Victoria decides she is in love with Edward, she takes a position with a couple traveling to Baghdad. Separate plot lines build and come together in a dramatic finish.

One of the ways Christie excels is in capturing the minutia of the small town life, the details that instantly identify a character, making them resonate in the imagination. In Baghdad, there’s a full cast, but no one but Victoria Jones really gets the attention they deserve, and once introduced, they tend to fall out of the action, only to appear significantly later. As a non-thriller reader, I find I’m not particularly impressed by megalomania as character motivation.

Mostly, I blame the lack of world-building. Baghdad of the 1950s was an entirely different city from Baghdad of 2014. Its one of those books that was probably perfect for the decade is was published in, but works significantly less well for current times. I needed more atmosphere. I had the vaguest sense of place, most likely pulled from old memories.  In my case, Christie’s 1950s Baghdad felt a lot like Elizabeth Peters’ Egypt in 1880, which most likely reflects time spent reading the Amelia Peabody series.

Baghdad, 1950
465508_orig

Baghdad 1950

 

Baghdad, 2014

An Iraqi policeman and civilians inspect the site of a bomb attack in the Jihad district in Baghdad, Saturday, July 19, 2014. From mashable.com

Baghdad 2014 library

The library after bombing/fire and water damage.

So many coincidences in this plot! The government recruiting a naif based on her spunky attitude and ability to lie convincingly? She was charming, no doubt, but it played like a Cary Grant script, not a thriller. Overall, I don’t regret the time, but it wasn’t a great example of Christie’s capabilities. I prefer her Marple and Poirot series. It’s passable, but I recommend it for fans of thrillers and Christie completionists.

 

 

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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7 Responses to They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. Should have stayed home.

  1. fromcouchtomoon says:

    “They should have stayed home” Lol!

    Great images, btw.

  2. Doug says:

    It’s a pity that a book with a billion good reviews has the mediocre review foremost on the web. Having just read the book I’m gratified that Baghdad with some local color intact was preserved even in a adventure novel. Now that it’s bombed to bits and all the places described in the book have turned to rubble, it’s sort of a historical document. Also, the Arabs in the book were described in positive ways, not murderous cartoons which is sadly far more typical in movies/books. No sense of time and place? I think we read a different book. Or possibly you can’t extricate yourself from CNN imagery sufficiently to step backwards and see the city as described before the fall of it. I thought it was fascinating.

    • thebookgator says:

      I debated not approving your comment, Doug, because it seemed like you didn’t really read my review. If you had, you would have noticed that I explicitly compared the city before and after as missing from the story. Although I see a number of my pictures have broken links, so thanks for commenting and indirectly bringing that to my attention. They were preserved at my Goodreads review, ironically: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1144331052

    • Sue says:

      I am just getting around to reading it now. I have had her entire leatherbound collection for at least 30 years. I am finally an old widow and have the luxury of sitting and reading whatever and whenever. My collection is 80 plus books so it has taken time to get to all of them as a hectic life is no longer in the way… Agatha Christie is my all time favorite author! As Doug has admitted, so can I. This book has captured my interest and kept me reading in fascination for two days. Almost finished sad to say. The characters have become my fast friends and will stay with me for a long time. I also love the preservation of “old” Bagdad and references to nationalities I am well familiar with. A very delightful read from our dear , clever and quite brilliant Dame Agatha.

      • thebookgator says:

        Glad you enjoyed it! Her entire collection? My goodness. I have to keep borrowing from the library. I’m not sure I have that much space anymore, although I probably do have about ten of her works.

  3. Sue says:

    Very large library style bookcase my father in law built in the 1920’s. I have lots of his books as well as antique ones. Agatha’s amazing collection takes up most of it on two wide shelves. The fam calls it my pride and joy…mostly just joy. PS Oops BagHdad

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