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 ..."
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
- 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.
- Panda: Nye buys a stuffed panda as a gift for his niece Sybil, when he is in the airport.
- Lady Matilda Cleckheaton: Grand aunt of Nye who is well connected and has a mysterious past that left her with so many friends and contacts. She takes action to aid her nephew, with Lord Altamount and by her trip to Bavaria. She was a schoolmate to the rich and powerful countess.
- Amy Leatheran: Nurse and assistant to Lady Matilda. First appeared in Murder in Mesopotamia (1936).
- Admiral Philip Blunt: An old friend of Lady Matilda.
- Gordon Chetwynd: Sir Stafford’s acquaintance in the office, who tells Nye his story was in the newspaper.
- Henry Horsham: Of the Security office, who pays heed to the incident of Nye at the airport, his passport taken. He is in the select group of Intelligence agents that meets at Robinson's home.
- Colonel Munro: Works in the same office as Nye, and talks over Nye's incident at the airport, investigates it.
- Eric Pugh: Sir Stafford’s acquaintance, school friend who is good at gathering information. They talk when he is in London, back from Malaya, and after his incident in the airport.
- Colonel Ephraim Pikeaway: Heavy pipe smoker, retired, who is one of the select Intelligence group working to block an unwanted international movement. He is confident in Sir Stafford Nye.
- Sir Geroge Packham: The Minister who speaks with Pikeaway about Nye's incident at the Frankfurt airport. He worries about Nye.
- Sam Cortman: Ambassador of the United States to the United Kingdom, fictional. Days after the dinner, shot dead on the embassy steps in London, by his wife it was later learned.
- Mildred (Milly Jean) Cortman: Wife of the American ambassador who hosts an embassy dinner.
- Mr. Robinson: Financier, master of international money flows, both how to do them and how to learn who is doing them. He realizes that Shoreham did not burn his records of an important project, but put them in a safe somewhere. The character appeared in three other novels: Cat Among the Pigeons (1959), At Bertram's Hotel (1965), and Postern of Fate (1973).
- 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.
- 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.
Meeting in Paris
- Signor Vitelly: Prime Minister of Italy. He reports on upheavals in his country.
- Monsieur Coin: The Minister of the Interior for France. Meeting in Paris regarding violent social upheavals.
- Monsieur Grosjean: The President of France. Meeting in Paris regarding violent social upheavals in France and other European nations.
- The Marshall: Charismatic military man of France, who insists he will face the armed groups of young people. He gets shot and wounded by the students.
Meetings in London
- Cedric Lazenby: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who wants to solve everything by a talk between him and the leader of another nation.
- Admiral Philip Blunt: An old friend of Lady Matilda. Considering the options.
- Professor Eckstein: A British scientist of high repute, nervous in this company of high government officials. He has a grim summary of lethal weapons, nothing helpful to the present situation.
- Herr Heinrich Spiess: The Chancellor of Germany, who meets with the Prime Minister and a few of the Intelligence group, so they hear the story of a German psychiatrist.
- Dr Reichardt: Psychiatrist at Karlsruhe during the war and after, he presents a story to the group that Hitler visited his hospital and let a patient who believed he was Hitler (a psychiatric disease) leave in his place. The patient left behind is soon removed by his family.
- Clifford Brent: One of three young men who visit Nye at his flat, showing they know he is one of them, the anarchists. Nye plays the Siegfried motif on his recorder, and one of them recognizes it.
- Jim Brewster: Second of the three young men.
- Roderick Kettely: Third of the three young men.
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: He is the pilot who flies the party of the Intelligence group (Horsham, Altamount, Kleek, Munro, Robinson), to Professor Shoreham's home in Scotland and assists when things get violent.
- 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.
- Juanita: Name by which a dangerous spy, a dedicated killer, is known; she is found at Professor Shoreham's home. Shoreham needs a nurse as well as Miss Neuman, and the newest one is Miss Ellis. Her real name is Milly Jean Cortman, wife of the American ambassador to Britain. She shoots Lord Altamount when Kleek's effort to kill him by poison is blocked.
- Dr McCulloch: Tends to Professor Shoreham and sees that Shoreham is ready to work again after the incident that afternoon.
Literary significance and receptionEdit
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."
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 Edit
- 1970, Collins Crime Club (London), September 1970, Hardcover, 256 pp
- 1970, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 272 pp
- 1972, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback
- 1973, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 192 pp
- 1984, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, ISBN 0-7089-1184-6
- German: Passagier nach Frankfurt (Passenger to Frankfurt)
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.