Passenger to Frankfurt
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Not known|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|LC Class||PZ3.C4637 Pas PR6005.H66|
|Preceded by||Hallowe'en Party|
|Followed by||The Golden Ball and Other Stories|
Passenger to Frankfurt: An Extravanganza is a spy novel by Agatha Christie first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club in September 1970 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at twenty-five shillings. In preparation for decimalisation on 15 February 1971, it was concurrently priced on the dustjacket at £1.25. The US edition retailed at US$5.95.
It was published to mark Christie's eightieth birthday and, by counting up both UK and US short-story collections to reach the desired total, was also advertised as her eightieth book. It is the last of her spy novels. At the beginning of the book there is a quote by Jan Smuts, "Leadership, besides being a great creative force, can be diabolical ..."
Sir Stafford Nye's flight home from Malaya takes an unexpected twist when the bored diplomat is approached in an airport by a woman whose life is in danger. He agrees to lend her his passport and boarding ticket. Suddenly, Stafford has unwittingly entered a web of international intrigue, from which the only escape is to outwit the power-crazed Countess von Waldsausen who is hell-bent on world domination through the manipulation and arming of the planet's youth, which brings with it what promises to be a resurgence of Nazi domination. Unwittingly the diplomat has put his own life on the line. His Great-Aunt Matilda hints to him of a terrible world-wide conspiracy that has something to do with Wagner and "The Young Siegfried". When Stafford meets the mystery woman again, he finds himself drawn into a battle against an invisible and altogether more dangerous enemy.
Stafford Nye, along with the mystery lady from the plane, "Mary Ann", (aka Daphne Theodofanous or Countess Renata Zerkowski) is invited into a secret ring of British members of the government, led by the retired Lord Altamount and including a character featured in many Christie novels, the master of international finance, Mr. Robinson. This group is investigating and fighting the Countess's secret Nazi superpower.
Back in World War II, Hitler went to a mental institution, met with a group of people who thought they were Hitler, and exchanged places with one of them, thus surviving the war. He escaped to Argentina where he married and had a son who was branded with a swastika on his heel. The Countess, however, has a son whom she also branded with a swastika and substituted for Hitler's son.
Meanwhile, the secret British government group explains in many long expository chapters about how drugs, promiscuity, and student protests are all secretly caused by Nazi agitators who want to bring about anarchy so that they can re-build fascism. One of their group is probably a traitor.
Stafford then meets with his Great-Aunt Matilda again. She goes off to the Alps in a wheelchair to meet with the Countess, who was her schoolmate many years ago. Great-Aunt Matilda tells Stafford about a scientist, Professor Shoreham, who invented something called Project B, or "Benvo", which is a riot-control drug that makes people altruistic but also may lobotomize them. Shoreham had a stroke, can't communicate well, and has spent years doing nothing but listen to music; he destroyed all records of Project B. When the traitor from the government group tries to kill Lord Altamount, the shock of the violent incident brings miraculous recovery to Shoreham, who resolves to go back to work on his project.
The final chapter is an epilogue set some time later, with Stafford Nye at his Great-Aunt Matilda's house preparing for his upcoming marriage to Mary Ann. It is implied that the false son of Hitler is about to become the organist at their church. A small girl named Sybil bursts into the room calling Stafford her uncle. It's unclear who she is; either Hitler's granddaughter or the Countess's granddaughter perhaps. Benvo seems to be in common use. The book ends with Stafford contemplating Sybil's stuffed panda and inviting it to be the best man at his wedding.
Literary significance and reception
Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) in The Guardian (15 October 1970) said, "Of all the idiotic conventions attaching to the thriller the silliest is the idea that a car whizzing round a corner at high speed can be aimed at an intended victim who has, quite unseen, stepped off the pavement into the roadway at exactly the right moment. Agatha Christie uses this twice in Passenger to Frankfurt. For the rest the book is largely a discursus [sic] on a favourite old theme of Mrs Christie's, the present state of the world and its future outlook, on both of which she takes a somewhat dim view. In other words, for her eightieth book a rather more serious work than usual from this author."
Maurice Richardson in The Observer (13 September 1970) began, "Her eightieth book and [al]though not her best very far from her worst." He concluded: "At moments one wonders whether the old dear knows the difference between a hippie and a skinhead but she is still marvellously entertaining. I shall expect her to turn permissive for her eighty-firster."
Robert Barnard: "The last of the thrillers, and one that slides from the unlikely to the inconceivable and finally lands up in incomprehensible muddle. Prizes should be offered to readers who can explain the ending. Concerns the youth uproar of the 'sixties, drugs, a new Aryan superman and so on, subjects of which Christie's grasp was, to say the least, uncertain (she seems to have the oddest idea of what the term 'Third World' means, for example). Collins insisted she subtitle the book 'An Extravaganza.' One can think of other descriptions."
- 1970, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1970, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1970, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 272 pp
- 1972, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
- 1973, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1984, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover; ISBN 0-7089-1184-6
- Finnish: Salaperäinen matkustaja (A Mysterious Traveller)
- French: Passager pour Francfort (Passenger to Frankfurt)
- German: Passagier nach Frankfurt (Passenger to Frankfurt)
- Portuguese (Brazil): Passageiro para Frankfurt (Passenger to Frankfurt)
- Portuguese (Portugal): Passageiro para Francoforte (Passenger to Frankfurt)
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (pp. 82, 87) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- The Guardian. 15 October 1970 (p. 8).
- The Observer, 13 September 1970 (p. 28)
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 202). Fontana Books, 1990; ISBN 0-00-637474-3