Victoria Jones, newly redundant as a result of her employer hearing her unflattering impersonation of his wife, meets Edward and promptly falls in love. He is about to return to Baghdad and she determines that she will follow him. Aided by her penchant for story-telling she is hired as a companion for a one-way trip to Iraq and as a result gets involved in a far-reaching conspiracy that is trying to achieve something that I have already forgotten.
And that is the overall problem, it is completely forgettable. I know I have read it before but remembered nothing about it and I can’t imagine that I will remember anything from this re-read. There a few nice touches, including a neat way of escaping from a locked room.
However this is definitely the worst of the thrillers that I have re-read so far and one for the completist only.
Signs of the Times
The story is set in 1950 and Baghdad is still in the “sterling area”. Up until 1954 Britain maintained military bases in Iraq.
Captain Crosbie refers to “Dear Uncle Joe” meaning Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR from 1924 to 1953.
Mr Morganthal says “They got the Shah of Persia last year, didn’t they? They got Bernadotte in Palestine.” An assassination attempt was made on Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919-1981), the last Shah of Iran, in 1948 but although five shots were fired from a range of three metres, he was unharmed apart from a graze to the cheek. Folke Bernadotte (1895-1948) was a Swedish diplomat and the UN mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948-49. He was assassinated by Lehi a.k.a. The Stern Gang, a Zionist paramilitary organisation.
Edward invites Victoria to come and have a sausage at the SPO in Tottenham Court Road – no sniggering at the back – but I can’t find what SPO stands for.
Edward had served in the RAF and won a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy”.
The rhyme beginning “Jumbo said to Alice I love you” was written to protest against the sale of Jumbo the elephant by London Zoo to P. T. Barnum in 1882.
An unknown man uses the codename “Sanders of the River” after the 1911 short-story collection by Edgar Wallace.
Victoria wonders whether she can make use of UNESCO to get to Baghdad. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation was formed in 1946 and followed on from the League of Nations’ International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. Its first director was Julian Huxley, brother of “Brave New World” author Aldous.
“The Thief of Baghdad” was showing at the local cinema. Presumably the 1940 version starring Conrad Veidt, best known as Major Strasser in “Casablanca”.
Victoria flies with BOAC. The British Overseas Airways Corporation was created in 1939 following the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways. In 1974 it merged with British European Airways thus going full circle and becoming British Airways again.
Sir Rupert wonders if Rice’s illness is a case of Scheele’s Green. This is a pigment containing arsenic which may have been the cause of Napoleon’s death as his wallpaper was green and in the damp climate of St Helena may have proved fatal.
Victoria compares herself to the Saracen maid who knew only her lover’s name “Gilbert” and “England”. This is based on the legend of Gilbert Beckett, father of Thomas à Becket, and the Fair Saracen, who followed him home from the Crusades knowing only the words “Gilbert” and “London”.
Mrs Cardew Trench quotes “A primrose by the river’s brim” which is by William Wordsworth.
The lines “When you were a King in Babylon and I was a Christian slave” are a paraphrase from “Or Ever the Knightly Years…” by William Ernest Henley. He was one-legged poet and the inspiration for Long John Silver in “Treasure Island”. His daughter called J. M. Barrie her “fwendy-wendy” which lead to the creation of Wendy in “Peter Pan”.
Someone refers to “the cleverest swindle since the time of Horatio Bottomley”. Bottomley was a ambitious businessman and fraudster, who sailed close to the wind a number of times before being convicted in 1922 for stealing funds from his Victory Bonds Club.