Sir Stafford is in the passenger lounge of Frankfurt Airport when a woman in fear for her life asks to borrow his voluminous cloak and passport so that she can evade her enemies. He agrees and sets in train events that will change his life forever.
Events happen, meetings happen, there is a cast of what seems like thousands. It is an absolute mess. I’m deliberately not reading The Secret Notebooks until I’ve re-worked my way through the whole canon, but I’ll be fascinated what they have to say about this book. It comes between Hallowe’en Party, which got a bit silly but still had a coherent plot, and Nemesis, which as far as I recall made sense, but this book is a complete nonsense. What the publishers thought they were doing is anyone’s guess and there is a reason why it is one of the few Christie’s not to have been filmed because where would you start?
I have this as part of my complete matching partwork and for that reason only I will keep it but I have no intention of ever reading it again. Even if you are a completist, I’d say don’t bother, only being one myself, I know you’ll have to!
Signs of the Times
Written in 1970 and presenting a possible future, with a mention of Thursday, 11th November, this is presumably set in 1971.
Although now we would generally write “tannoy” and use it as a generic word for a public address system, here it is rendered as “Tannoy” reflecting the fact that it is actually a brand name, being derived from “tantalum alloy” which was the material used for one of the eponymous company’s early models.
Sir Stafford Nye is returning from Malaya, which is maybe how he still thought about it, but it had joined with North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore in 1963 to become Malaysia. Singapore was expelled in 1965 and became a separate country.
The quote “I wish I loved the Human Race; I wish I loved its silly face” which Nye thinks may by Chesterton is actually by Sir Walter A Raleigh (1861-1922).
A character called Lazenby is mentioned early in the book, who later turns out to be the Prime Minister. As this is a supposed spy thriller, hopefully he was named for the then James Bond, George Lazenby.
Nye asks if people think he might be “another Philby”. Harold “Kim” Philby was a high ranking British spy who worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union. Despite being initially suspended for tipping off his fellow double agents, Burgess and Maclean (who are mentioned later in the book), enabling them to escape capture in 1951, he was later exonerated and resumed his career until he was finally exposed and defected in 1963.
I was very surprised that Christie used the phrase “arseing around” which just seems so out of character.
The Martin B referred to is presumably Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary. He tried to escape Berlin at the end of the Second World War and for some time it was believed that he may have been successful. It wasn’t until a DNA comparison was done in 1998 that it was definitively proved that he had died in 1945.
References to previous works
In the Introduction when discussing settings for her books Christie refers to a cruise on the Nile (Death on the Nile), a meal at a Chelsea café (The Pale Horse) and travelling on the Orient Express (Murder on the Orient Express).
Colonel Pikeaway first appeared in “Cat Among the Pigeons” as did Mr Robinson. Amy Leatheran first appeared in “Murder in Mesopotamia”.