First Published: 1970
Summary: Sir Stafford Nye is a diplomat whose sense
of irony and humor has kept him from reaching his full career potential.
Meaning? Sometimes he cannot help but pull the tiger’s tail - not a
trait the diplomatic core generally holds in high regard. This same
sense of whimsy is why he decided to drink a beer he knew was drugged. Why? A striking woman approached him in the airline bar and told him the most incredible story....
Review: I have spoke before about my theory about
the best place for the average Joe to meet a spy - in an airport - since
they are always dashing about the globe doing their job. Meeting a spy
at Target seems a bit to prosaic to me, but perhaps I am just
romanticizing “the life”. This particular theory is based on my weird
sense of humor not actual fact (you thought I was going to say wine
didn’t you...). It seems that Christie entertained a similar idea
forty-four years earlier. The opening of Passenger To Frankfurt
features just such an occurrence - Sir Nye encounters a female spy in
an airport bar. This mystery woman convinces Nye to allow her to use his
passport in order to slip though security unnoticed and loose her
pursuers. Reading a version of my theory in the pages of a Christie
novel coupled with tension our femme fatale created was fantastic! The
opening gambit made me extremely hopeful that the rest of the book would
be filled with exotic destinations, intrigues and action. The ending of
the book did fulfilled my expectations with clear action and a
satisfying resolution. Even the epilogue which is a bit curious, tied
the beginning and ending together nicely even if it came a bit out of
left field. The problem with this book lies in the 150 pages in the
middle, I am sorry to say.
For a bit of background you need to know that for Passenger To Frankfurt Christie recycles an idea used in They Came To Baghdad,
a shadowy sinister organization bent on creating a “New Heaven and a
New Earth” by destabilizing and destroying the old established
institutions. The difference is in Frankfurt the puppeteers
target students to further their agenda by arming, agitating and
controlling them. It is not Christie’s recycling I find problematic, but
the fact she follows the British counterintelligence’s “managers” (ie.
politicians, military men & experts) rather than their agent’s
actions. Frankfurt would have been far more interesting had Christie shown us how a shadowy group was able to destabilize Europe or South America, how
they influence students or followed the “management’s” agents executing
their counterintelligence orders. Instead Christie dictating the
minutes of several meetings which focused on “what the world was coming
too”. In addition each time the “managers” gathered for a meeting it
brought the book’s momentum to a complete stop. Which I found
frustrating! This book felt like a flickering light bulb, the action
would blink on and I’d be all excited, here is where the novel would
really take off and then it was snuffed out (again) by a meeting. Making
the book feel much longer than it actually was. The thing is the
resolution to this novel ends on such a high note it managed to leave a
far more favorable impression in my mind than perhaps it should.
It seemed Christie chose to focus more on world politics rather than her plot in Frankfurt.
She mentioned Vietnam, Mao, China, Russia, Communism, air plane
hijackings and world events of the day. Which is odd because Christie
seemed to shy away from such overt references in her prose before this
installment ( in fact she edited out all references to WWII in The
Sleeping Murder feeling they dated the book before it was published).
With all of these factors added together Frankfurt leaves me
feeling perplexed, since I cannot in good conscience recommend reading
this installment for fun over Christmas Break. However I think there are
small slivers which you should be familiar with - if you are like me
and like being able to see the interconnectedness of the books in a
canon or if you are a completion-ist and need to finish all her works
once you start!
In any case Frankfurt marks Christie’s last foray into the
realm of the spy novel! Yay! It also marks her 80th book to be
published....well according to her publishers. In reality they
“massaged” her publication numbers a tiny bit in order to reach this
magical threshold. Collins included all of Christie’s regular mysteries
up until that point, four short story collections which had only
appeared in the U.S. and her six Mary Westmacott novels. Collins Crime
Club was keen on creating this angle to help celebrate Christie’s
eightieth birthday, 80 book in 80 years, a nice bit of symmetry isn’t
it? The title page included the line “an extravaganza” on it, in
reference to this achievement. All of this was in addition to the normal
pomp surrounding the publication of her books.
While Collins Crime Club may have used a bit of jiggery pokery in
order to reach 80 titles, the fact is she did really write that many -
they just weren’t strictly her mystery titles or available everywhere.
Over the course of her career - including short stories, plays, poems,
nonfiction and adaptations - the number of pieces she produced is
amazing! Around the two hundred and fifty mark! What I finding it
astonishing how she was able to repeatedly and consistently come up with
new material to hoodwink her audience. I cannot begin to say how much
respect I have for this great lady, even if I wasn’t thrilled by this
weeks particular installment...
Her sheer productivity boggles the mind doesn’t it? Translated into
average numbers this roughly means she penned around three works a year,
from the year she was born until the year she passed at eighty-five.
What is even more astonishing? She isn’t even close to being the most
prolific author out there, not even the most prolific mystery writer
either! George Simenon a Belgian crime writer whose most famous
character was Commissaire Maigret a French police detective (happily
these books are coming back into print!) penned over five hundred works
over his lifetime. In addition he hold the ranking of the #17 most
translated author in the world at 2315 times (to put this in perspective
Mary Higgins Clark is #40 with 1485, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle places at
#14 with 2495 Christie is still holding the #1 spot at 7233 according to
UNESCO’s 2013 Translationum Index).
A fellow golden age mystery writer John Creasy was no slouch in the
output department, he penned over six hundred works under a whole slew
of pen names! In addition Creasy founded the Crime Writers’ Association
in the UK in 1953 (the organization responsible for the Dagger Awards).
Seriously where did they find the time? I struggle to balance work,
married life and a weekly blog!
Now if you add Christie, Simenon and Creasy’s output together it is a
mere drop in the bucket compared to these two hyper-prolific authors! A
Portuguese pulp writer Ryoki Inoue has penned over 1,000 works and he’s
still going strong. What I find even more incredible is the fact he
didn’t start seriously writing until 1986 when he was forty years old -
meaning he’s written all of his books in the last twenty-eight years!
This feat in writing is dwarfed by a Spanish romance writer who holds
the Guiness World Record for the large number of Spanish books even
sold. Maria Socorro Tellado Lopez aka Corin Tellado wrote over 4,000
novels (and yes I got the number of zeros correct)! Can you imagine?
Their fingers must actually be ink stained! Or if they used computers to
write perhaps they squint? (due to the glare from the monitor...)
While 80 novels in 80 years and 250-ish total works does herald some
bragging rights... Christie cannot claim the most prolific author of all
time, she isn’t even the most prolific mystery writer. What can she
claim (by a very wide margin) is she’s by far the most popular!
Fun Fact: Isaac Asimov is #24 on the translation
list, penned over 500 works and is one of the only authors whose works
appear in all ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System!
Cheating: With only two and a half weeks to go it would be horrible to blow it now!