‘Outside in Bank Street it was sunny and full of swirling dust and the noises were terrific and varied. There was the persistent honking of motor horns, the cries of vendors of various wares. There were hot disputes between small groups of people who seemed ready to murder each other but were really fast friends; boys and children were selling every type of tree, sweetmeats, oranges and bananas, bath towels, combs, razor blades and other assorted merchandise carried rapidly through the streets on trays. There was also a perpetual and ever renewed sound of throat clearing and spitting, and above it the thin melancholy wail of men conducting donkeys and horses amongst the stream of motors and pedestrians shouting, “Balek — Balek!”
It was eleven o’clock in the morning in the city of Baghdad.’
It is 1950 and everyone is coming to Baghdad.
Mr. Dakin, the undercover head of British Intelligence in Baghdad, is awaiting Henry Carmichael who is returning to Iraq with evidence to back up his fantastic story of an international plot involving a deadly weapon.
‘In substance, it is exactly like the Fifth Column activities at the beginning of the last war, only this time it is on a world-wide scale.’
Dakin’s best and most reliable man has either gone mad or his story is true. Four men with similar features to Carmichael have already been murdered in Persia and Iraq. He didn’t get away unsuspected and the enemy are on his trail. When he enters Baghdad the danger will be even greater.
World leaders hoping to promote peace are coming to Baghdad for a secret summit and Dakin is desperate to have Carmichael’s evidence to present to them.
Meanwhile in London, Victoria Jones, a young Cockney typist just fired from her job, is sitting in a park eating her lunch when Edward, a handsome young man, strikes up a conversation. Victoria, who considers herself an excellent judge of character, is immediately smitten, so much so that when she hears that he is heading to Baghdad the next day to work for a Dr. Rathbone, she decides that somehow she would get herself to Baghdad.
They Came to Baghdad is one of the few Christie novels that is a spy/political thriller rather than her typical detective novel.
I think her detective novels are better than her spy thrillers but this book was a fun read with a complicated plot full of people who are not what they seem.
It took me a while to figure out that Victoria Jones was the main character. She didn’t seem very promising at first with her tendency to tell elaborate creative lies to make her life more interesting. Her sudden decision that she was in love with a man she’d barely talked to gave all the appearance of an airhead; but she was also generous, courageous and thoroughly optimistic, and she grew on me.
‘She, Victoria Jones, a little London typist, had arrived in Baghdad, had seen a man murdered almost before her eyes, had become a secret agent or something equally melodramatic, and had finally met the man she loved in a tropical garden with palms waving overhead, and in all probability not far from the spot where the original garden of Eden was said to be situated.’
Victoria’s quick wits and inventive qualities are given plenty of scope in Baghdad where she is caught up in a kidnapping and a murder, and manages to talk her way into working at an archaeological dig by posing as an anthropologist. Through it all she matures and learns some truths about human nature while keeping her inherent optimism and revealing her true mettle.
‘Surely those were the things that mattered — the little every day things, the family to be cooked for, the four walls that enclosed the home, the one or two cherished possessions…
Humility is what keeps you sane and a human being…’
They Came to Baghdad was a good Christie book to follow on from her autobiographical, Come, Tell Me How You Live, where she recounts her time working and travelling with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
It also captures a very different Baghdad to that of today, just over 70 years later.
Linking to 2022 Cloak & Dagger Challenge