They Came to Baghdad
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||No artwork|
|Genre||Adventure novel / Political thriller|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|5 March 1951|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||256 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||Three Blind Mice and Other Stories|
|Followed by||The Under Dog and Other Stories|
They Came to Baghdad is an adventure novel by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 5 March 1951 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at eight shillings and sixpence (8/6) and the US edition at $2.50.
The book was inspired by Christie's own trips to Baghdad with her second husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, and is also one of few Christie novels belonging to the action and spy fiction genres, rather than to mysteries and whodunnits.
A secret summit of superpowers is to be held in Baghdad, but it is no longer secret. A shadowy group (which is both anti-Communist and anti-Capitalist) is plotting to sabotage the event. Things get complicated when enthusiastic young "adventurer" Victoria Jones discovers a dying secret British agent – Henry "Fakir" Carmichael – in her hotel room. His last words – "Lucifer...Basrah...Lefarge" – propel her into investigation. "Lucifer" refers to the mastermind, Victoria's false[clarification needed] lover Edward, who is behind the plot. "Basrah" is the city where Carmichael saw Edward and recognised him as an enemy.
"Lefarge" turns out to actually be "Defarge" and is a reference to a Charles Dickens character; it is an allusion to the fact that the name of a vital witness has been stitched into a scarf. While Victoria is the central character, the real heroine is Anna Scheele, secretary/executive assistant to an American banker, who has discovered a great deal about finances of the shadowy group. She appears rather sparingly, with a few brief appearances in the early part of the story, then seems to vanish, to the chagrin of the evil organization who fear her financial knowledge and who want to liquidate her, and of her allies who wish to protect her. She is presumed dead by her allies but she reappears at the eleventh hour in a most surprising manner.
An interesting comparison can be made between the romance themes of this novel and The Man in the Brown Suit, which is also primarily an adventure novel, rather than a straight whodunnit. In that book, the exciting, mysterious young man that falls into the heroine's room ends up as the romantic hero. In Baghdad, an exciting, mysterious young man also falls into the heroine's room, but he is disposed of, as is the other exciting, mysterious young man that the heroine has followed to Baghdad. A more conventional and staid archaeologist ends up as the romantic hero; Christie herself was married to Mallowan by this date.
References to actual history, geography and current science
They Came To Baghdad is one of the few Agatha Christie novels where one of the minor characters is a real person. When Victoria first comes to Baghdad, she visits the Tio Hotel, where she meets a bartender named Jesus. Jesus was a Chaldean Christian bartender from northern Iraq. He makes a brief appearance in Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt, Jr.'s book For Lust of Knowing: Memoirs of an Intelligence Officer.
Literary significance and reception
Julian MacLaren-Ross enthusiastically reviewed the novel in the 20 April 1951 issue of The Times Literary Supplement when he said it was: "more of a thriller than a detective story, though there are plenty of mysteries and two surprises reserved for the closing chapters; one of these is perhaps her best since the unmasking of the criminal in The Seven Dials Mystery". He went on to comment on that, "the easy expertise of the writing is once more a matter for admiration" and concluded that Christie's powers of invention "never fail her".
Maurice Richardson of The Observer (4 March 1951) wrote: "A bit light and frilly, in parts almost giggly, as Agatha Christie's thrillers are apt to be, but it has the usual creamy readability and a deeply planted fiend."
Robert Barnard: "Fairly preposterous example of thriller-type Christie, but livelier than some. Engaging heroine and unusually good minor characters – archeologists, hotelkeeper, etc. The plot concerns attempts to prevent The Big Three (Britain was one of them then) from coming together and making peace. Though the villains are not left-wing, they sound like her left-wing idealists of the 'thirties (wanting, as usual, to create a 'New Heaven and Earth' – highly dangerous!)"
It was adapted as an episode of Westinghouse Studio One in 1952.
- 1951, Collins Crime Club (London), 5 March 1951, hardback, 256 pp
- 1951, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1951, hardback, 218 pp
- 1952, Pocket Books (New York), paperback (Pocket number 897), 215 pp
- 1957, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), paperback, 192 pp
- 1965, Dell Books, paperback, 221 pp
- 1965, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, hardcover, 256 pp
- 1969, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), hardcover, 287 pp ISBN 0-00-231814-8
- 1970, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), hardcover, 287 pp
- 1974, Pan Books, paperback, 221 pp
- 1978, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, hardcover, 410 pp ISBN 0-7089-0189-1
In the UK the novel was first serialised in the weekly magazine John Bull in eight abridged instalments from 13 January (Volume 89, Number 2324) to 3 March 1951 (Volume 89, Number 2331) with illustrations by "Showell". An abridged version of the novel was published in the 1 September 1951 issue of the Star Weekly Complete Novel, a Toronto newspaper supplement, with an uncredited cover illustration.
- The Observer, 4 March 1951 (p. 7)
- 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
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (p. 15).
- The Times Literary Supplement, 20 April 1951 (p. 241).
- Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie – Revised edition (p. 206). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON LD116.
- They Came to Baghdad at the official Agatha Christie website