I have about 10 books left to read of Dame Agatha's canon of fictional work, and I must admit that this was one of the ones I was not looking forward to.
Knowing from previous experience that Christie did not excel totally sucked at writing international espionage thrillers, and still suffering from some sort of PTSD following my reads of Passenger to Frankfurt, Destination Unknown, Postern of Fate, ... I expected that this book could only be approached with the help of:
1. A Support System
So, imagine my surprise when the book turned out to be a romp with a fabulously delightful young female lead character - Victoria Jones - who stands up for herself and, as is unfortunately rather unusual in a Christie novel, does not completely loose her mind to a sapless idiot of romantic interest...well, ... it's a long story...just read the book.
I loved the setting of the story in Baghdad, even tho it is littered with the ex-pat cliches of its time. I loved the inclusion of the archaeologists...especially Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones (whom I simply had to call Dr. Jones in my head all the way through...even if he did not resemble our fedora-wearing favourite at all), and I even did not mind the ridiculous conspiracy plot.
Now, you may ask why I didn't mind the ridiculousness here in They Came to Baghdad when I have so often on this journey through Dame Agatha's canon complained about the sheer idiocy of similar plots?
I honestly have to say that it is because They Came to Baghdad opened my eyes even more to the overrated status of Ian Fleming's James Bond series, which to date I had considered the epitome of ridiculous espionage thrillers.
The fact is that I recognised a lot of the really cool elements from the Bond series (of which there are very few elements in the entire series, imo) in this very book, written by Christie, years before Fleming even published his first spy thriller - Casino Royale.
The "similarity" that stood out most for me was a scene where a character checks her/his hotel room to see if anyone has been snooping while they were away. It is one of the most memorable scenes in Casino Royale and was also one of the scenes that made it into the movie franchise (in Dr. No, I believe...one of the Connery ones anyway).
So, it came as a shock to me to see the exact same scene written by Agatha Christie is used in They Came to Baghdad, which was published 2 years before Fleming's first Bond novel. 2 years before!!!
There were other elements, too. For example, Christie dreams up a conspiracy in this book that resembles an organisation that features in the later Bond novels ("SPECTRE" anyone?).
I mean, I know that Fleming basically copied the entire plot of Casino Royale from Phyllis Bottome's book The Lifeline, and I had great fun in researching this claim earlier this year and compiling a comparison of both books after seeing for myself how much Fleming "borrowed" from Bottome.
What I had not expected, tho, is that there are other elements of the iconic classic that is the Bond myth, that may have not originated as such with Fleming, but that may have existed prior to Fleming's canon.
Least of all, I expected to find these elements in Christie's work! I love her mysteries. I love her writing even tho her sometimes antiquated views drive me nuts.
And now I have to yet again salute Dame Agatha for the very thing I had not thought her capable of - I have to salute her for being able to create an international espionage romp that has all the hallmarks of a Bond novel, mocks the entire essence of the Bond novel, and simultaneously improves upon it - and all of that before the blasted Bond novel even became a thing!
But never mind my weird obsession with Bond and Fleming's plagiarism thievery. They Came to Baghdad does not need the comparison to work as book. Christie dreamt up a hilarious adventure and it is obvious that she had great fun writing the story.
Nearly every chapter starts with a tongue-in-cheek comment, and the characters themselves - including a celebrity sporting a cloak and a large, unusual hat - are so much fun to watch.
Some of Christie's comments and descriptions are dated, of course, but They Came to Baghdad seems positively enlightened when compared with that other, slightly more famous, series of spy adventures that was to be created two years later.