Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie: Book Review

Passenger to Frankfurt 001

Passenger to Frankfurt is unlike any other Agatha Christie book I’ve read. It was first published in 1970, the year she was 80, as her “eightieth” title, although she had written more than that.

It rambles on a lot, has many characters, and at times I wondered what it was all about. I decided that it was best not to think of it as an Agatha Christie crime novel, but rather as a collection of her thoughts about life and the society she had lived through, with a bit of intrigue thrown into the mix.

It begins well, with Sir Stafford Nye, a diplomat on his way back to London, sitting in an airport lounge in Frankfurt. He was thinking that “life and journeys by air were really excessively boring” when he met a dark haired woman whose life was in danger and his own life changed for ever. The woman wanted his passport to get her safely to London, disguised by his dark purply-blue cloak with its scarlet lining and hood.  He agreed.

So far, so good. From then on Sir Stafford is dragged along, somewhat unwillingly at first into a world of espionage, and world-wide organisations dedicated to anarchy and violence, all mixed with strains from Wagner – with the Young Siegfried – and Nazism. It’s a bleak picture of the world with money and the power of money perverting young people world wide, following blindly like the children beguiled by the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

I never really got the impression that many of the characters were real, apart from Sir Stafford his Great-Aunt Matilda and the young lady known as either Daphne Theodofanous, or Mary Ann or Countess Zenata Zerkowski. Great-Aunt Matilda is a very verbose lady who tells him that things are in a very bad mess  and “once people learn to love destruction for its own sake, evil leadership gets its chance.” Cynically she also comments that politicians are not to be trusted:

And one can’t help coming to the conclusion that politicians have a feeling that they have a kind of divine right to tell lies in a good cause. (page 80)

Sir Stafford doesn’t really know who he can trust, or who is playing a double game. It’s his sense of humour that is in the way of his career that makes him useful in discovering what is going on – he’s not a hero-worshipper and can see through humbug. The power some people wield through their personality is vital in enthusing people with their vision but it’s also dangerous:

It’s the magnetic power that a few men have of starting something, of producing and creating a vision. By their personal magnetism perhaps, a tone of voice, perhaps some emanation that comes forth straight from the flesh. …

Such people have power. The great religious teachers had this power, and so has an evil spirit power also. (pages 106 -7)

I find myself rambling as I think and write about this book. It does get rather repetitive with it’s pessimistic emphasis on a

growing organisation of youth everywhere against their mode of government; against their parental customs, against very often the religions in which they have been brought up. There is the insidious cult of permissiveness, there is the increasing cult of violence. Violence not as a means of gaining money but violence for the love of violence. (page 113)

It certainly is not representative of Agatha Christie’s books and not one I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t read any of her books. Although there is a degree of pessimism and cynicism running through it there is also a strain of humour, a sense that you shouldn’t take it all too seriously and I did enjoy it. Sir Stafford is the best portrayed character and as Agatha Christie has him say:

One cannot go entirely through life taking oneself and other people seriously. (page 43)

5 thoughts on “Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie: Book Review”

  1. Margaret – Thanks for this excellent review. I have to agree with you that Passenger… isn’t much like any other Christie books – at least none that I’ve read. It’s really quite different, isn’t it? As much of a Christie fan as I am (and I am!), I wouldn’t put this among her best work. It gives one “food for thought,” and I always like that in a book, but as you say, I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who hasn’t read any other work by Christie. Still, Christie at her weakest is, in my opinion, still better than many others at their best.

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  2. Margaret, I’m trying to remember if I have ever read this Christie novel. It does not sound at all familiar and I thought I had read them all. Very interesting quotes. Sort of like today. Maybe it is the opinion of the “older” generation for each generation after them. 🙂

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  3. It sounds like a book for a true Agatha Christie lover, for the Christie connoisseur who wants to know the complete oeuvre. But I do like the line about politicians feeling they have the divine right to lie for a good cause.

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  4. I plan on reading Murder at the Vicarage very soon, which I think if the first Miss Marple novel? I am reading PD James’s Talking about Detective Fiction at the moment and she writes in a little detail about Agatha Christie and while she sings the praises of Christie, she does mention some of her work is a little uneven and her later novels not as good as the earlier ones. I think I might read her later books out of curiosity if I had read most else. You’ve read quite a few now, I think?

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  5. I have just finished this book – Passenger to Frankfurt hence my looking on line to see if there were any reviews. I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I do!!
    I agree with Margaret in so much as this is really not like any other Christie book I have read. However, I really didn’t enjoy it and at times nearly gave up! I actually wonder what it was all about actually. Compared to others I have read which, in my opinion are fabulous – really clever and have me desperate to read more- this was (I’m going to whisper this) almost amateurish in parts. Not at all representative of her incredible talent. Maybe it was something to do with going through the war?
    One page did make me smile though – talking of politics…
    ‘We want a sensible & serious policy for youth, a more economical method of government. We want different ideas to obtain in education but nothing fantastic or high-falutin’. And we shall want, if we win seats, and we are able finally to form a government – and I don’t see why we shouldn’t – to put these ideas into action.

    I had the radio on in the background talking about the UK’s General Election (later this week) at the time. Nothing changes!

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