They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie

April 3, 2009

they-came-to-baghdad Agatha Christie is of course well known as a prolific writer of clever murder mysteries. Actually, she was just a prolific writer, period. She not only wrote novels, but also a bunch of short stories and even stage plays. With all those plots under her belt, it’s not surprising that she would want to break from formula and shake things up once in a while.

They Came to Baghdad, a 1951 novel, represents one of these breaks from formula. Instead of a standard murder mystery, the book is more of an adventure novel with lots of romantic overtones thrown in for good measure. The result wasn’t all that bad, but it definitely doesn’t rank among Christie’s best, either.

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Victoria Jones is a young woman who has just been fired from her job as a shorthand typist at a small London firm. Being the free spirit that she is, she takes the whole incident in stride and goes to the park for a nice picnic lunch, where she promptly meets a handsome young man named Edward. They share a few laughs, and Victoria thinks there might be something developing between them. But Edward says he’s leaving for Baghdad for work the next day. He takes a photo of her before he goes, and that’s that.

Victoria can’t get Edward out of her mind. She finally decides that she will go to Baghdad as well, in order to surprise Edward and see if it really is true love. Trouble is, Victoria doesn’t have any money to her name, so she heads to an employment office to see if they have any admin jobs available to her. Amazingly, she comes across a woman in need of a traveling companion–for her journey to Baghdad. Victoria interviews for the position, is accepted, and soon departs for the Middle East.

After arriving in Baghdad, Victoria gets herself mixed up in matters involving international espionage. The heads of state of three powerful countries are about to converge on Baghdad for important meetings, and there are rumors floating about that assassination attempts will be made. Victoria is commissioned to help uncover the leader of a nefarious terrorist group, a task which she accepts and pursues with diligence. The rest of the novel then covers the various dangers that Victoria encounters during her adventures.

My Reaction: While I would much rather read a good old fashioned whodunit from Christie, I thought They Came to Baghdad was a pretty decent story. I mean, sure I didn’t think it was very likely AT ALL that Victoria would run to Baghdad after a man that she spent an hour with, but whatever. Once I just accepted the fact that Victoria did it, I was able to focus on–and enjoy–the rest of the story.

The plot was very convoluted, and I’m positive that I missed several important points, but the action moved along at a fast clip, so there weren’t any really boring parts to deal with. What’s more, Victoria Jones was a likable protagonist, making it easy to spend time with her. She was smart but not brilliant, resourceful but not MacGyver-like. It was refreshing to have a “normal” person as the main character for a change.

As I said, though, the main plot was kind of obscure and hard to follow, which prevents me from giving They Came to Baghdad too enthusiastic a recommendation. It is a fairly decent read, however, so there’s no need to skip it if you’re working your way through the Christie canon. I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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