Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie

Hilary Craven is a woman whose life has fallen apart. Her husband left her, her small daughter has died and she has no reason to live any more. No longer attaching any importance to her life, she decides to commit suicide in a Moroccan hotel, only for her latest endeavour to fall apart on her when she is found out and prevented by a spy who happens to put two and two together. He makes Hilary an interesting offer. If she is going to die, why not do so in the service of her country? It seems that scientists all over the world are going missing and it is presumed they are either defecting to or being kidnapped by the Russians. The need Hilary to go undercover to see if she can ferret out just what is going on. Her interest in life renewed, Hilary embarks on a dark and dangerous journey into the heart of evil.

Although the style of this book is unmistakeably Christie, it’s not one of her typical books. It’s not actually a mystery as such, but a thriller with the element of a mystery. There’s no Marple of Poirot to lead the reader through the twists and turns and as such is disappointing and nice at the same time. Disappointing because Marple and Poirot are really her most beloved characters and those who enjoy Christie are usually big fans of both and like to see them again and again. Nice because it keeps Christie’s work fresh and new instead of relying on the same old formula time and time again. Even the venue is changed in this one from England to Africa, so no lush countryside or humungous country homes, but the mystery and intrigue of a country with strange customs and vast expanses of land with few inhabitants. The story itself is fairly simple and I’m afraid rather full of holes, relying heavily on luck and coincidences. Having said that, it’s Christie and not really meant to be taken quite so seriously, so it’s easy to forgive its failings. What is particularly interesting to me reading it so many years on is not the plot itself, but how it reflects the political situation of the day. The Cold War was raging and the West feared the East as much as the East did the West and everyone lived in mistrust of each other. A disappearing scientist wasn’t simply a disappearing scientist but a political crisis. One fewer scientist in the West was a double loss because it was a gain for the enemy. There’s a curious mix of fear, idealism, obsession weaving it’s way through the characters giving today’s reader an idea of what the situation must have felt like back then. Christie exploits the romance of the age in this work, with a twist of her own which keeps it from becoming a cliché.

Even though I’ve never been a flaming feminist (probably mostly because the way has been cleared by other women who came before me), one thing I quite liked about this novel was that she made the heroine weak on the one hand, but strong on the other, just like we all are at times. It’s more realistic than just creating a strong, fearless woman who sets an obviously unattainable standard for other women. It sets a good example for how a woman can become strong given the chance. That might seem trite in today’s society, but looking at the period when it was written, I think it was an important message for women in general.

All in all, I give this one a 4 out of 5 rating for a Christie novel.

1 comment:

Kerrie said...

If you'd like to submit this to the upcoming edition of the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival the submission site appears to be behaving ok now.