They Came to Baghdad
Starting off the 2017 Cannonball with a book I have never read by one of my favorite authors.
They Came to Baghdad is an Agatha Christie book but there are no delightful British spinsters or fussy Belgians on the case. Instead this is the story of a young British woman who is failing spectacularly at being a career gal in London shortly after World War II. She’s indifferent to typing and a confident spinner of half-truths and white lies. I don’t blame her. Career options for adventure seeking ladies at this time are severely limited. On the day she is, very justifiably, fired from her steno pool job, she meets a handsome stranger and is smitten. Unfortunately, this handsome stranger is on his way to Baghdad and their relationship appears doomed.
Except that mere money, distance and rational decision making are no obstacles to our plucky heroine and she snags a one-way ticket to Iraq. Once she arrives, things get a little sticky and she finds herself embroiled in an international conspiracy full of double agents, assassins, kidnappers and muuuurder. Christie does a great job of mixing up motivations. There are idealists who want to force world peace through conformity. There are anarchists who want to watch the world burn and there are opportunists who just want to be personally enriched. Her characters lack realistic motivations or reactions, but it doesn’t really matter. You don’t watch James Bond movies for character development and at least this Bond is convincingly ditsy and naive.
There were a few moments when reading this book where I laughed out loud. The potential romantic partners are dashing, the mystery is interesting and the heroine, Victoria Jones, is a lot of fun. She makes a few boneheaded decisions, but then I am reminded of the incredible privilege that women of a certain race and class had back then. She actually can pop off to a foreign country with no money, no connections, and no way to get back home with confidence. She is a young, beautiful, white and British. Not to mention, she is a budding con artist with the smarts and skills to outwit murderers, kidnappers and lecherous old men. The tone-deaf colonialism that is pretty rampant throughout the book is pretty awful, but Victoria is very much a prototype feminist. She might be on the prowl for a handsome beau, but only after she gets done saving the world from the bad guys.