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Passenger to Frankfurt First Edition Cover 1970

Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition

Passenger to Frankfurt: An Extravanganza is a spy novel by Agatha Christie first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in September 1970 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year probably in November.[1] The UK edition retailed at twenty-five shillings. In preparation for decimalisation on 15 February 1971, it was concurrently priced on the dustjacket at £1.25. The US edition retailed at $5.95.

It was published to mark Christie's eightieth birthday and, by counting up both UK and US short-story collections to reach the desired total, was also advertised as her eightieth book. It is the last of her spy novels.

At the beginning of the book there is a quote by Jan Smuts :- "Leadership, besides being a great creative force, can be diabolical ..."

Plot summary[]

Sir Stafford Nye's flight home from Malaya takes an unexpected twist when the bored diplomat is approached in an airport by a woman whose life is in danger, he agrees to lend her his passport and boarding ticket. Suddenly, Stafford has unwittingly entered a web of international intrigue, from which the only escape is to outwit the power-crazed Countess von Waldsausen who is hell-bent on world domination through the manipulation and arming of the planet's youth, which brings with it what promises to be a resurgence of Nazi domination. Unwittingly the diplomat has put his own life on the line; when he meets the mystery woman again she is a different person and he finds himself drawn into a battle against an invisible and altogether more dangerous enemy

Plot summary[]

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

Coming back from Malaya, Sir Stafford Nye is in transit at Frankfurt Airport when he is approached by a woman. Her life is in danger and she needs to borrow his cloak, his passport and his boarding pass to London. Always in need of an antidote to boredom, Stafford agrees. He slips his passport into his cloak and steps away to buy a stuff Panda for his niece. When he returns, the cloak is gone. He drinks his glass of beer and falls unconscious.

Back in London, Stafford tells his superiors only the cover story the woman had told him: somehow his drink had been drugged, he fell unconscious and his wallet and passport was stolen. Stafford is about to put the event behind him but strange things begin to happen. Some men claiming to be cleaners come to take away his suits, including the one he wore in Frankfurt. Twice, he is almost run down by speeding cars. Eric Pugh, a friend, has heard for various sources that there's some espionage racket he seems to have got himself into and advises him to be cautious. Horsham from Security calls on Stafford and tells him that his actions probably saved the life of one "Mary Ann". Stafford is intrigued and places an advert in the papers asking "Passenger to Frankfurt" to please communicate.

To Stafford's surprise, there is a response: an advert with a rendezvous. At the first meeting, she slips a ticket to a Wagner opera into hand hand. During the opera he is seated next to him. She is seated next to him but ignores him throughout. At one point she mutters "Young Siegfried". She borrows his program and he later finds some musical notes scribbled on it. It's Siegfried's Motif, "Siegfried's Horn".

Stafford visits his Great Aunt Matilda. A venerable but extremely well-connected old lady, she had heard all about Stafford's incident. She tells him about the concerns in official circles about a worldwide pattern of unrest and violence especially among youth. Someone appears to be behind it but no one knows who. The phrase "Young Siegfried" and the Siegfried motif seem to be significant.

At a dinner hosted by the American ambassador, Stafford is surprised to be seated opposite none other than "Mary Ann", whom he now learns is called "Countess Renata Zerkowski". After dinner she offers him a lift home but instead drives him to a house in Godalming where he meets an assembly of people, a committee of investigation into the present troubles: Mr Robinson, Colonel Pikeaway, Horsham, the elder statesman Lord Altamont and his assistant James Kleek. They want him to help investigate the unrest. The current trends of violence, permissiveness, decadence and drugs seem to feed into it but they are masterminded by someone behind the scenes. Travel and find out the who and what and why and where. Stafford's qualities are an advantage. He doesn't take things too seriously and therefore never takes things or people at their valuation. He would know a humbug when he sees it. Stafford agrees to help but has one question: what was Mary Ann carrying that so she so desparately wanted to get to London? She would only reply that it is "a birth certificate".

First stop is Bavaria where Stafford and Renata attend a music festival for youth lavishly put on and obviously funded by someone. Then Renata takes him to a schloss to meet a mysterious Charlotte von Waldsausen who is extremely rich, and controls a powerful industrial empire although she stays in the shadows. While there, Stafford hears the horn motif again this time announcing the arrival of a handsome blond young man, Franz Joseph, who addresses Countess Charlotte as his mother. This must be the "Young Siegfried" who is obviously being groomed for leadership. Renata tells Stafford he has a magnetic personality and the gift of oratory: "He speaks and his following would follow him to death". Stafford listens to one of his rallies in an amphitheatre in the Dolomites. The crowd is ecstatic but Stafford sees it as "pasteboard" and "humbug". Stafford and Renata continue their travels, which the text suggests would include India, Pakistan and South America.

The unrest in the world worsens with groups of youth, well and heavily armed, rebelling and taking over large parts of many countries. By now, (and possibly with the inputs from Stafford and Renata), British intelligence has assembled a picture of what the conspiracy masterminding this wave of insurrection looks like: there's a wealthy centre of financial power run by the mysterious Charlotte, personalities controlling the world of armaments, drugs, science and an unknown woman named "Juanita".

Great Aunt Matilda decides to help and takes a rest cure at a gasthaus in Bavaria, really a cover to visit the Countess Charlotte who was a school mate! Charlotte tells her that she has been preparing a leader, the "Young Siegfried" for all the bands of youthful rebels. He would have the tools, money, and weapons to do the job, "a leader by birth as well as character".

The German government confirms this and reveals that a long kept secret that Adolf Hitler had, during his last days, swop places with a body double and had been smuggled out to Argentina where he married and had a child, this Franz Joseph. Pikeaway however is not too worried. British intelligence had known about this for some time and has lately gathered the intelligence to prove that Franz Joseph is a fraud--in fact the birth certificate and other documents to prove this were exactly what Mary Ann was carrying when she got out of Frankfurt with Stafford Nye's help. (So it seems Great Aunt Matilda's visit was more to fill in blanks for the reader since Pikeaway knew it some time ago).

There remains the need for a solution to the wave of violence. Admiral Blunt, a senior official, consults his old friend Great Aunt Matilda and probes her memory for one Dr Shoreham. Matilda remembers vaguely that Shoreham had been working on a Project Benvo, a drug which would turn people altruistic and thus "benevolent". However he stopped the project for some reason, destroyed his notes and shortly thereafter he suffered a stroke and is now an invalid.

Armed with Shoreham's address from Matilda, the members of the Committee of Investigation fly to the doctor's house in Scotland. Shoeham agrees that Benvo could be useful in the present circumstances but is reluctant to disclose what he knows--he stopped, not because he had failed but because he feared the consequences: what is good for today might be abused for evil tomorrow. But he trusts Altamont and will hand it over if he asks.

It turns out James Kleek is a traitor and he tries to kill Altamont but Horsham and Munro stop him. Shoreham's nurse turns out to be "Juanita" and tries to shoot Altamont--he is hit and dies of shock. Juanita turns out to be Milly Jean Cortman, the wife of the US ambassador. She had earlier murdered him. The shock of the attack however somehow brings Shoreham out of the effects of his stroke Back to his normal self, he is determined to resume work on Benvo as a monument to Altamont.

Stafford and Mary Ann marry and he chooses Sybil's stuffed Panda who had been in at the beginning as the best man.

Characters[]

Frankfurt[]

  • Sir Stafford Nye: English diplomat, age 45, with a sense of humour that marks him as unreliable to some in the diplomatic community.
  • Mary Ann: Countess Renata Zerkowski, who is known as Daphne Theodofanous in various situations. She starts out a woman without a name when Nye first meets her in the Frankfurt airport. She is an active member of the group seeking to prove Countess Charlotte in the wrong, collecting information worldwide. Horsham says her mother was Greek and her father was German, and a grandfather was an Austrian subject (in the days of its Empire). The Intelligence group dubs her Mary Ann, reflecting her varied work for them.

Godalming[]

  • Henry Horsham
  • Colonel Ephraim Pikeaway
  • Mr Robinson
  • Lord Edward Altamount: Retired from diplomatic service, serving as a consultant, and one of the select intelligence group. He dies of shock when Milly Jean Cortman wounds him with a gunshot.
  • Sir James Kleek: Lord Altamount’s right hand man, who recognizes patterns. He worked for Altamount for seven years, yet he is the traitor in the group, who tries to inject Altamount with strychnine but is stopped by Horsham in the meeting at Professor Shoreham’s house. Further he tries to discredit Mary Ann as being Juanita, when Kleek knows the true Juanita.

Paris[]

London[]

Bavaria and around the World[]

  • Countess Charlotte von Waldsausen: Rich and powerful woman, very fat and with health problems that make walking difficult, who lives in Bavaria. She is also called Big Charlotte and she was a schoolmate of Lady Matilda. Matilda considers her to be like the character Brunhild in the opera Siegfried by Richard Wagner. She wants to change the world order, having been fond of the Nazi approach to life, an approach which was lost in World War II. The war ended 25 years before this story.
  • Franz Joseph: Young Siegfried under Countess Charlotte. Handsome, a skilled orator and musician. The one to lead the young in anarchy to break down the old en route to new, fascist ways. When the conspiracy is broken, Sir Stafford Nye brings him to England to play the organ at her local church.
  • "The Ring"
  • Juanita

Meeting with Professor Shoreham in Scotland[]

  • Professor John Gottlieb: He lives in Austin, Texas. Mary Ann visits him to ask about Project Benvo, which means Benevolent. He knows that Shoreham destroyed his records on the project a few weeks before he had a serious stroke.
  • Squadron Leader Andrews
  • Professor Robert Shoreham: Victim of a stroke, he has been listening to music, not working. Considered one of the brightest scientists, the Intelligence group seeks him out for information on one of his last projects. Like so many characters, he is good friends with Lady Matilda, who calls him Bobby.
  • Lisa Neumann: Professor Shoreham’s secretary. Austrian woman who worked with him first as a technical assistant, until his stroke.
  • Dr McCulloch

Aunt Matilda's circle[]

Others[]

Literary significance and reception[]

Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox) in The Guardian's issue of 15 October 1970 said, "Of all the idiotic conventions attaching to the thriller the silliest is the idea that a car whizzing round a corner at high speed can be aimed at an intended victim who has, quite unseen, stepped off the pavement into the roadway at exactly the right moment. Agatha Christie uses this twice in Passenger to Frankfurt. For the rest the book is largely a discursus on a favourite old theme of Mrs Christie's, the present state of the world and its future outlook, on both of which she takes a somewhat dim view. In other words, for her eightieth book a rather more serious work than usual from this author."

Maurice Richardson in The Observer of September 13, 1970 started off by saying, "Her eightieth book and though not her best very far from her worst." He concluded: "At moments one wonders whether the old dear knows the difference between a hippie and a skinhead but she is still marvellously entertaining. I shall expect her to turn permissive for her eighty-firster."

Robert Barnard: "The last of the thrillers, and one that slides from the unlikely to the inconceivable and finally lands up in incomprehensible muddle. Prizes should be offered to readers who can explain the ending. Concerns the youth uproar of the 'sixties, drugs, a new Aryan superman and so on, subjects of which Christie's grasp was, to say the least, uncertain (she seems to have the oddest idea of what the term 'Third World' means, for example). Collins insisted she subtitle the book 'An Extravaganza.' One can think of other descriptions."

Notes[]

Whether through personal research or personal contacts, Agatha Christie in this novel is clearly referring at times to the Nazi Survival organisation Stille Hilfe (Silent Help) and its founder and original benefactor the aristocratic Helene Elizabeth, Princess von Isenburg. Although the monstrous physical description of her equivalent within the novel does not physically resemble Helene Elizabeth both women share the same political outlook. Stille Hilfe is best remembered (and still exists) as a non government organisation aimed at rehabilitating the Nazi era of German history and campaigning for pensions for Nazi SS war veterans and related causes. However after its foundation in 1951 it did indeed run successful youth-oriented campaigns and together wit Die Spinne ("The Spider") were real-life analogues of the fictional ODESSA (fictional in the sense of being an organised deliberate network rather than loose "Old Boys Club").

To this extent despite some ill informed critics and commentators dismissing this book as particularly shallow and silly, Agatha Christie has once again proven to have had a better grasp -and deeper knowledge- than those offering the most superficial and transient criticism of her work.

Interesting to note that on the cover of the popular paperback edition of this novel in the 1970s, a redback spider is depicted - with a red swastika as its warning markings...

Publication history[]

International titles[]

  • French: Passager pour Francfort (Passenger to Frankfurt)
  • German: Passagier nach Frankfurt (Passenger to Frankfurt)
  • Swedish: Passagerare till Frankfurt (Passenger to Frankfurt)

Trivia[]

Sir Stafford Nye in terms of his description has a passing resemblance - down to peculiarities of dress - with a somewhat similar character in They Came to Baghdad. For this reason it is possible both characters were inspired by a real life acquaintance or contact of Agatha Christie.

References[]

  1. Wilton Garrison, "With No. 80 Agatha Christie Goes Modern", The Charlotte Observer, North Carolina, 8 Nov 1970 - "... this week she will mark the publication of her 80th book--A PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT (Dodd Mead,$5.95)."
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Hercule Poirot novels The Mysterious Affair at Styles - The Murder on the Links - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - The Big Four - The Mystery of the Blue Train -Peril at End House - Lord Edgware Dies - Murder on the Orient Express - Three Act Tragedy - Death in the Clouds - The A.B.C. Murders - Murder in Mesopotamia - Cards on the Table - Dumb Witness - Death on the Nile - Appointment with Death - Hercule Poirot's Christmas - Sad Cypress - One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - Evil Under the Sun - Five Little Pigs - The Hollow - Taken at the Flood - Mrs McGinty's Dead - After the Funeral - Hickory Dickory Dock - Dead Man's Folly - Cat Among the Pigeons - The Clocks - Third Girl - Hallowe'en Party - Elephants Can Remember - Curtain
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Other novels The Sittaford Mystery - Why Didn't They Ask Evans? - And Then There Were None - Death Comes as the End - Sparkling Cyanide - Crooked House - They Came to Baghdad - Destination Unknown - The Pale Horse - Endless Night - Passenger to Frankfurt
Published as Mary Westmacott Giant's Bread - Unfinished Portrait - Absent in the Spring - The Rose and the Yew Tree - A Daughter's a Daughter - The Burden
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