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)