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Literature / They Came to Baghdad

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They Came to Baghdad is a 1951 novel by Agatha Christie.

It's not a Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot novel and in fact isn't a murder mystery at all. In fact it's one of a handful of spy thrillers that Christie wrote between murder stories. The heroine is Victoria Jones, a single young lady who, as the story kicks off, has just lost her job as a London secretary. While she's sitting on a park bench contemplating what to do next, she strikes up a conversation with a dashing, handsome former RAF pilot named Edward. Edward states idly that he is soon headed off to Baghdad to work for something called the "Olive Branch Foundation". They soon part company, but Victoria, enchanted with Edward, decides that she simply must rush off to Baghdad and find him again.

So she does, getting a temp job as companion to an older woman also headed to Baghdad, because Victoria can't find a ticket. She dashes all the way to Iraq without even knowing Edward's last name, but she makes inquiries and soon tracks him down. Romance is in the air...but one night, a spy named Carmichael staggers into her room, and collapses and dies, having been stabbed through the heart...


Compare The Man in the Brown Suit, a Christie novel from over a quarter-century before, with a very similar plot structure.


  • Absent-Minded Professor: Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones is so focused on his archaeolgical digs that he cannot remember his own intern's name, allowing Victoria to impersonate her. Still, he's the first to twig on Richard's growing interest for Victoria and wouldn't actually confuse his wife with his sister-in-law.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Victoria is having a quiet evening in her hotel room when a man stumbles in and asks her to hide him. It's Carmichael, who has been stabbed and dies moments later.
  • Author Appeal: Victoria goes to Baghdad, joins an archaeological dig, and winds up falling in love with a handsome archaeologist. Agatha Christie married an archaeologist (Sir Max Mallowan), accompanied him on digs, and eventually became a sort of self-taught archaeologist herself.
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  • Becoming the Mask: It turns out that Dr. Rathbone, who was supposedly running a society to encourage friendship and fellowship among the peoples of the world, was actually an embezzler running a scam and pocketing the money. But at the end he reveals that he's come to believe in what he preached.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Mrs. Pauncefoot-Jones, who comes to Baghdad to join her husband Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones on the same flight that brings Victoria back to Baghdad. She is eventually revealed to be not Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones's wife, but his sister-in-law...Anna Scheele the spy, whom Edward was trying to kill.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Victoria only realizes that the dying Carmichael muttered "Defarge" instead of "Lefarge" when she happens to read A Tale of Two Cities at the site of the archaeological dig.
  • Dead Drop: Dakin, the British spy chief in Baghdad, arranges a system in which Victoria will leave a certain handkerchief hanging on a certain nail if she wants to make contact.
  • Dying Clue: Carmichael gasps "Lefarge" right before he dies. Victoria is completely clueless until she realizes that he actually said "Defarge" and was making a reference to A Tale of Two Cities; Madame Defarge was famous for knitting and it turns out that the scarf Carmichael was clutching as he died contained a coded message.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Carmichael, in disguise, is in the waiting room of the British consulate when he senses danger. He makes himself known to Richard Baker, also in the waiting room, by tapping out a message with the prayer beads in his hand. Richard manages to pick up on this and tap out a response with his pipe on an ashtray.
  • Foreshadowing: Dakin says offhandedly that "aviators" are some of the people who seem to be joining the shadowy conspiracy. Edward was an RAF pilot in the war.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Victoria and Mrs. Clipp are waiting for the plane, which has revved up four times. It's Sir Rupert Crofton Lee, the nattily-dressed bigwig who is coming to Baghdad for the conference.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Edward laughs about how Victoria passed herself off as the niece of the Bishop of Llangow. Victoria then realizes that she never told him that; she only told Mrs. Clipp, the woman she was traveling with, and Mrs. Clipp had left Baghdad before Edward got back. She immediately realizes that Edward is actually the mastermind of the criminal conspiracy.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Victoria tells Edward about the man who staggered into her room and died, and the nefarious conspiracy that Dakin told her about, Edward is skeptical, remarking that it sounds "so like a thriller".
  • Love at First Sight: Victoria is infatuated with Edward and travels all the way to Baghdad, Iraq to find him again, on the basis of a single brief conversation in a park. Subverted later when Victoria finds out the truth about Edward, and thinks of her feelings as "adolescent calf love".
  • Nebulous Evil Organization: Edward's group. It's not completely clear what they're up to—they're planning to disrupt the conference by entering some fake documents, they seem to have gotten ahold of some uranium deposits, and there's even a suggestion that they may be plotting an assassination of the President of the United States in Baghdad. What is established is that they are attempting to foment a war between the democracies and the communist bloc, so that, after those two factions destroy each other, Edward and his gang will rule the world.
  • No Name Given: Capt. Crosbie mentions that "the great Dictator" of "a certain European power" power will be attending the conference. In other words, Stalin.
  • Real Person Cameo: Just about the only instance of this in the Christie canon. Jesus the Baghdad bartender, a very minor character, was a real guy.
  • Romantic False Lead: It turns out that Edward, Victoria's crush whom she traveled to a whole different continent to see again, is actually the evil mastermind. Richard the archaeologist is the one she ends up with.
  • She's Got Legs: So says the narration, which introduces Victoria Jones as having "an agreeable figure and first-class legs."
  • Secret Test of Character: Victoria passes herself off at the dig as an anthropologist and manages to fake it for a couple of days, but eventually Richard confronts her, saying that he's been testing her the whole time and has figured out that she's an impostor.
  • Stealing from the Till: Dr. Rathbone turns out to be running a scam in which he's stealing the money supposedly going to his nonprofit foundation. That's how Edward and his group got their hooks into Rathbone and used him, by threatening to expose him.
  • Title Drop: In the opening chapter of the novel. After Crosbie and Dakin discuss how great leaders of the world are coming to Baghdad and the conference, as well as Anna Scheele, Henry Carmichael, and the man trying to kill Carmichael, Dakin mutters "They came to Baghdad...."
  • Trust Password: Carmichael the British agent makes himself known to his contact, an Iraqi shopkeeper, by reciting a very precise conversation about the purchase of a sheepskin coat.