Series: Stand Alone
Victoria Jones lost her job, again. But on the upside, she was given
references and a week's pay - so with money in her pocket, Victoria
treats herself to lunch in the park. While there, she meets Edward, a
rather dashing young man on his way to Baghdad for work. Before Victoria
can learn much more about him, he blends into the crowd and is gone. In
an instant Victoria decides she must get to Baghdad to see Edward
Shortly upon arriving in Baghdad a man, who turns out to be a British
agent, dies in her hotel room. His death and last words plunge Victoria
into a whole new adventure in the covert world of secrets and spies. A
world which, if she doesn’t play her cards right, might just claim her
life as well!
volume is an interesting entry in the Christie canon, as it is not a
whodunit or thriller per se. It follows in the footsteps of The Man In The Brown Suit,
as it is an adventure novel at its core with political intrigue and
mystery thrown in for flavor. I enjoyed reading about Victoria and her
over-the-top antics which ultimately save the Western world from tearing
itself apart (it was set at the beginning of the Cold War). The book I
think just reaches the level of pot roast, adding flavor to the canon
and is well worth reading. However it is not quite as brilliant as The Man In The Brown Suit,
whose spunky narrator followed a similar adventurous path. I think it
just reached the pot roast level due mainly to the fact I don’t see this
particular book as being very plausible, entertaining yes, plausible
no. But don’t go on just my opinion check out both of them yourself and
tell me what you think!
The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things....
Do you remember the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?
Not the Johnny Depp version, but the classic Gene Wilder edition? (If
you don’t you should watch the classic version tout suite!) Right now I
am hoping you remember the bit where Wonka is expounding on his great
idea for nursery room walls, lick-able wallpaper! Where all the fruits,
including snozzberries, taste like the real deal. Since then the
practical side of my brain has been trying to figure out how to engineer
similar wallpaper which wouldn’t turn into a slobbery, disgusting mess
over repeated lickings. However I can congratulate Christie in making me
rethink this scene in a sinister light since my reading of They Came To Baghdad.
To understand why this movie scene might contain more menacing
connotations, and why I can thank Agatha Christie for altering my
perception of an innocent film, we need a bit of background. "Scheele’s
Green" - ever heard of the stuff? Well neither had I until I read a
passage in They Came To Baghdad which mentioned it, “That reminds me, what’s Scheele’s Green?..It’s something in the chemical line.” (pg. 85). Curious about what they were speaking of I looked it up.
Evidently, back in 1775 people were fed up with the green pigments
available at the time; they faded and turned awful colors over time
(plus they weren’t very bright). Enter a man called Carl Wilhelm Scheele
who solved the inherent problems with the color and produced a nice
vibrant green. It was called Scheele’s Green (Obviously. Later this
pigment was refined & altered slightly and named Paris Green but
they were essentially the same animal). The thing is the main ingredient
is rather dodgy: arsenic.
This particular pigment had a wide range of uses - dyes, paints,
intestinal antiseptic, insecticide and rat poison. I mean what could
possible go wrong with using the same compound to dye your dress and
kill bugs? Plenty. Over time, people begun gathering empirical data,
such as those who wore green clothing seemed to get sick more often. Or
when the green paint started getting damp and moldy the people living in
those rooms seemed to get sick (and sometimes die) far more readily
than people who lived in non-green rooms. We now know that the mold is
what caused the issue here; it altered the chemical structure of the
green compound and emitted a poisonous fume which slowly weakened (and
killed) people. Which is the basis of one theory on Napoleon’s death,
since no leader bent on world domination can die without generating at
least one conspiracy theory. This one states that while in exile on St.
Helena, Napoleon had a favorite room in his home, The Green Room. The
Green Room of course was pained Paris Green, and when Napoleon became
ill, he spent more and more time indoors and breathing in these
poisonous vapors. While his death is official listed as being caused by
cancer, some scientists point out that arsenic is also a carcinogen and
again could have hastened his death.
However the most common way Sheele’s or Paris Green ended up in a
home was through wallpaper. It was all the rage in the UK to have its
vibrant color adorn your walls. And you guessed it, the wallpaper had
the same problem as the paint when it became damp and started to mold;
it emitted a poisonous gas which harmed all those who used the room.
Even if you kept the wall paper from molding, if you fancied papering
your sitting room with green flocked wallpaper, the dust generated from
the flocking was just as deadly when inhaled (since you were breathing
So now think back to Willy Wonka’s wallpaper with the knowledge that
the greens used for the leaves, grapes and apples may have contained a
toxic agent to produce its bright colors. The pigment’s use in paint was
only banned in the 1960’s (not sure when the dye was banned). So if
Wonka had stockpiled dye which used Scheele’s or Paris green and didn’t
pay attention to the outside world very much, he may have inadvertently
been poisoning his guests... So this is how Christie bent my perception
of a childhood classic through a passing comment made in They Came To Baghdad! And I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.
“Strangely enough, your capacity to think
up a convincing lie quickly is one of your qualifications for the job.”
(pg. 131) I suppose each job has its own unique standards!