06 July, 2009

Book 17 - Destination Unknown, or: All redheads look the same to me

So this month is my favourite month of the year - the month that the International Film Festival hits town! Which includes the movie version of Coraline which has been out everywhere else since forever. This may cut into my reading time, though, since I'm planning on seeing at least nine movies over the next three weeks, and class starts up again on the 14th. Still, it's not like one update a week is totally arduous, so I'll do my best to keep to schedule! Meanwhile, I bring you another Agatha Christie - enjoy!

Title: Destination Unknown (1955)

Author: Agatha Christie

Why this book?
I went to the library to pick up a couple of books I wanted only to discover that none of them were readily available, which was kind of irritating. My back-up plan was to take out a couple of murder mysteries, and this was the only Christie on the shelf.

What's it all about anyway?
Hillary Craven has flown to Casablanca to kill herself. Her daughter has died, and her husband has left her, and she doesn't see that there's anything worth living for. But before she can take the large dose of sleeping pills she has collected, she is interrupted by a Mr Jessop. He tells her that if she's really so keen on killing herself, he's got a much better way.

Recently, it seems, a lot of Western scientists have been going missing - it's assumed that they've been defecting to the Soviet Union. The wife of one of the scientists, a Mrs Betterton, is suspected to have been flying out to join her husband; the plane she was on crashed, and she is now dying. Jessop wants Hillary to impersonate Mrs Betterton in order to find out what is really going on; they two both have the same mop of red hair, which is as much as she needs to pass for the other woman. What's more, she will almost certainly be killed during the mission if she accepts it. Hillary does; after all, one death is just as good as another.

Under her new identity as Mrs Betterton, Hillary meets her Soviet contact and finds herself on board a plane with a group of scientists who are preparing to defect from the West. But Hillary can't understand how a group of people with such different motives - fascism, money, communism - can all be going to create the same ideal world. Things only get stranger when she arrives at a hospital for lepers, and finds that Mr Betterton is prepared to pretend that she's his wife... there's definitely more going on than meets the eye.

Hillary realises that she no longer wants to die - but she might not even survive long enough to discover the truth, let alone to escape...

The Good and the Bad
First of all, I can't say the title of this book without breaking in to the second verse of OMC's How Bizarre. But that's probably just me.

This isn't the kind of book one usually associates with Christie - it's more thriller than murder mystery, and more adventure story than thriller. It's not nearly as strong as her murder mysteries, either, but her writing is as excellent as ever. She shows Hillary to be a strong, intellegent women, who is able to fight her way back, metaphorically, from the very pits of despair and find a whole new lease on life. Andy Peters, Hillary's love interest, has enough darkness to him that he's not too good to be true, but is good enough that we hope that whatever secrets he's hiding won't ruin his relationship with Hillary. And there's the usual satirical character descriptions:
"In an uncomfortable Empire-type chair, Miss Hetherington, who again could not have been mistaken for anything but travelling English, was knitting one of those melancholy shapeless-looking garments that English ladies of middle age always seem to be knitting. Miss Hetherington was tall and thin, with a scraggy neck badly arranged hair, and a general expression of moral disappointment in the universe."

The let-down of the book was really that Christie relied too much on the big reveal twist ending. Given some of the issues the book had touched on - charismatic leaders, ideals being hijacked by the power-hungry, and the East/West divide, it felt pretty weak. Without giving too much away, there is only one thing which isn't neatly tied up by the end, and it really felt like there should have been a lot more to it than that.

So should I read it or what?
The end was a bit of a let-down, but only because the rest of the book was so strong. This is definitely in the "I Couldn't Put It Down" category, and is therefore highly recommended!



Angie said...

Thanks for the review. I've never read an Agatha Christie book but I've always meant to. But I'm never sure where to start. Do you have a favorite of hers?

outpostroad said...

Helen, thanks for this. I've never read this one before. Is there some kind of decent explanation as to why everyone believes she's this other woman just because they have the same hair color?

Angie, I know you're asking Helen, but my favorite Agatha Christie is The Man in the Brown Suit and I recommend it to everyone I can.

Angie said...

outpostroad: Thank you for the suggestion.

HelenB said...

Angie - unfortunately I only recently started on Christie myself, so I can't really give you a definitive rec, unlike outpostroad! I did like Evil under the sun, though, which I also wrote up here.

Shannon - it's based around the fact that passports then didn't have photos then, only descriptions. Obviously the whole thing would have fallen apart if she'd met anyone who actually knew the real Mrs Betterton, but the only one who does is her husband, who's prepared to play along with it!

Angie said...

Thanks Helen - I'll go check out the review.

Sadako said...

This does sound very different from regular Christie. I've read a lot of her stuff and it's less thriller, more murder mystery, as you well know. Maybe I'll pick it up; it has been a while since I've read one of hers.