|pearls aren't a nuisance in this one|
An air of unreality pervades Destination Unknown, especially in the second half of the novel, when the protagonist's unknown destination is reached. Initially Destination Unknown (in the United States originally published as So Many Steps to Death) has the appearance of a Cold War thriller, with a plot concerning vanished western scientists, believed to have defected to the Soviet Union.
One such scientist is Tom Betterton, whose wife, Olive, is currently in hospital in Casablanca, dying of injuries received in a Moroccan plane crash. English intelligence authorities believe Olive Betterton, a loyal wife, was en route to join her wayward husband.
Determined to discover the whereabouts of Tom Betterton and the other missing scientists, the intelligence service employs Hilary Craven, an ordinary Englishwoman who had come to Casablanca to commit suicide but was providentially interrupted in her attempt, to masquerade as the dying Olive. Hilary knows not where her steps will take her, but she is determined to take this new journey into the danger-filled unknown....
The first half of Destination Unknown I found pretty engrossing. As others have pointed out Hilary Craven starts off as a more unusual Christie character, an initially distraught woman determined to commit suicide after the desertion of her husband and the death of her young daughter. (Autobiographical implications come to mind: was Christie thinking of what she herself might have done after Archie left her, had she lost her daughter as well?).
However, Hilary quickly transforms into what seemed to me the typical plucky Christie thriller heroine, after receiving a stern talking-to from a British intelligence officer:
He finished the sentence for her. "A woman with a noticeable head of red hair who hadn't the pluck to go on living."
"That a rather harsh judgement."
"It's a true one, isn't it? I don't go in for being sorry for people. For one thing it's insulting. One is only sorry for people who are sorry for themselves. Self pity is one of the biggest stumbling-blocks in the world today."
Hilary said thoughtfully:
"I think perhaps you're right...."
"Pluck" got Christie pretty far in life, it must be admitted (not to mention a damn great deal of talent). Yet this still felt a bit pat.
|the American first edition|
At first it appears that Destination Unknown might be more "grown up" too, more realistically dealing with espionage during the Cold War. However, we soon find we are still very much in land of make-believe. This is fine, except that I found the second half of Destination Unknown notably unexciting for a thriller. (Compare it to Live and Let Die, published the same year.)
I must admit I had more sheer fun with Christie's earlier Fifties thriller, They Came to Baghdad (1951). Yet I'm glad I finally read Destination Unknown, one of only two Christie crime novels I had never yet read.
Anyone care to guess what my last unread Christie mystery is?