Thomas Betterton is the latest top-level scientist to have disappearedwithout a trace. The security services are concerned but have no possible way of penetrating the organisation responsible until Betterton’s wife dies in hospital following a plane crash and suicidal lookalike Hilary Craven is persuaded that there is a more worthwhile way of doing away with herself than taking the tablets she has bought up from the pharmacies of Casablanca.
So Hilary becomes Olive, hoping that she may be picked up to join her “husband” but even if she can get inside whatever is going on there is no guarantee that she will be able to get out again.
I had read this before but couldn’t remember anything about it, for the simple reason that there is nothing to remember – a thriller without thrills and a very slight mystery with no real clues. One for completists only.
Signs of the Times
The story is set in 1953.
I don’t know who first came up with the disappearing scientist plot, but this, published in 1955, comes before another recent re-read “The Dark Crusader” (1961) by Alistair Maclean and “The IPCRESS File” (1962) by Len Deighton – an excellent film, but a terrible book.
Betterton had been working at Harwell for eighteen months before his disappearance. Originally an RAF base during the Second World War, Harwell became home to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment. Its nuclear facilities are currently in the process of being decommissioned with the work due to end in 2025.
Mention is made of “witch hunts in America” and “the Committe of Investigation of un-American Activities” references to McCarthyism and the seeking out of actual, but mostly just suspected, communists and almost anyone of a left-wing persuasion.
Hilary recalls the quote ” as a garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse” which is taken from the biblical book, the Song of Songs (or Solomon).
Miss Hetherington reads a Fontana book. Fontana was a paperback imprint of Collins, Christie’s publishers. I found a great page of covers here which includes a number of Christie’s (although one at least is a spoiler of sorts) and other mystery authors.
Morocco is a French colonial possession. The French Protectorate in Morocco lasted from 1912-56.
It appears to be the American Peters, rather than Hilary, who refers to “the four freedoms you talk about in your country. Freedom from want, freedom from fear…” before being cut off. This is odd because the four freedoms were defined by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, with the other two being freedom of speech and freedom of worship.
What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently
Puzzle for Wantons (1945) by Patrick Quentin
Lorraine Pleygel is so happy with her own love life that she attempts to help her three closest friends with theirs by bringing their soon to be divorced husbands to join her house party in the hope of a rapprochement. This is obviously a terrible idea and whilst a first sudden death is covered up, after a second it is clear that there is a murderer in their midst.
There is so much going on here that I defy anyone to solve this – at one point I thought “Ah, so it’s one of that type” but I was completely wrong. Definitely better than the previous outing for the Duluths “Puzzle for Fools”.
Maigret in Vichy (1967) by Georges Simenon
Maigret’s doctor finally notices that he does not have the healthiest of lifestyles and sends him to Vichy to take the waters, thus rendering the Maigret drinking game redundant for this book. He may still smoke his pipe though! Naturally he gets pulled into a murder case by an ex-colleague and helps find the tragic truth at the heart of the matter.
10:30 from Marseille aka The Sleeping Car Murders (1962) by Sébastien Japrisot (translated by Frances Price)
Georgette Thomas is found strangled after all the other passengers have disembarked from the Marseille to Paris night train. The police try to track down the five people who shared her compartment only to find that they start being murdered as well. Can they stop the killer before they complete a macabre half-dozen?
This was a re-read and whilst I remembered two quarters of the solution, I put them together wrongly and so was pleasantly surprised by just how much was going on in this one. A genuine puzzle in a suitably French wrapping.
One thought on “#55 – Destination Unknown”
My favorite Christie podcast compared this recently to They Came to Baghdad, which raises this one a bit in terms of a better heroine and a better opening. I like the twist at the end. Everything else is forgettable, and the thriller plot is stupid. Why build that fortress in a mountain?? Theoretically, all these scientists came willingly! Give them new faces and let them all stay somewhere nobody else wants to be – say, Trump’s golf course in Scotland!
I very much enjoyed the Fontana covers . . . and you’re right! One of them shows the murderer in the act of doing the thing they do to get away with murder that we don’t learn about until the end! I understand the artists throwing sexy ladies and gents in very little clothing up, but why give away the ending???
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