Destination Unknown, first published in 1954, is a standalone by Christie that falls firmly into her thriller category, in fact even more so than some of her other thrillers I have read/reread recently as we have no murder mystery at the start (as for instance, in The Man in the Brown Suit, They Came to Baghdad or The Secret at Chimneys), but more of a spy plot. I read this as the November pick for my Goodreads group challenge reading lesser known Christies this year.

The book opens with a couple of secret agents Wharton and Jessop who are dealing with the problem of top scientists going missing, having possibly ‘crossed the Iron curtain’. Thomas Betterton, a scientist who has worked on some important technology, has like these others, recently disappeared. His wife, Olive, claims she knows nothing about his disappearance and looks suitably worried, but the agents are convinced she knows more than she is letting on. Parallelly, we meet Hilary Craven, a woman whose marriage has broken up (her husband has remarried), and who has lost her only child to an illness. Heart-broken and in deep despair, she tries first to escape her past by travelling to Morocco, and when she realises this will cure nothing, by attempting suicide. But also in Morocco, is agent Jessop who is on the trail of Olive Betterton. When Olive dies in an accident, Jessop convinces Hilary who is a lot like Olive in appearance to take her place and help them track down the missing scientists.

Hilary agrees and so begins her adventure where at first, she must travel to different destinations in Morocco following Olive Betterton’s itinerary; here she meets other British and American travellers, and waits to see what happens. She almost begins to believe it a pointless exercise, but then, she is contacted by someone, and with that begins another journey, which takes her not quite to the place she was expecting to be taken, and where she finds things very different from what she had thought, as well.

As I always write when I review Christie’s thrillers, these are no where near the same level as her traditional mysteries but if one suspends disbelief a little (in some cases anyway), they can be a fair bit of fun for she does have likeable characters (and mostly very spunky heroines) and builds up the suspense very well; and of course, there is always a twist one doesn’t see coming.

So was the case with this one. Destination Unknown has in fact surprised me each time I read it—this was the third or may be even fourth time I read it. When I had read it previously, I had forgotten whodunit and was in for a good surprise while on this read, I remembered who but what exactly was done I couldn’t quite remember, so once again I had fun reading it. While in the initial parts of the story one is involved in Hilary’s story and the sorrow she has had to bear, once the adventure, and her journey as Olive begins, one really begins to get pulled into that thread wondering just where we are going, and what we will find there. Like many of the other heroines in Christie’s thrillers, Hilary too, is spirited and doesn’t let anything faze her.

The missing or rather defecting scientist plot is something I think was a valid concern at the time the book was written (the Wikipedia entry for the book mentions scientists from Los Alamos who vanished), and something that has been explored by other authors as well, including if I remember right, Enid Blyton, in one of the Famous Five books. The plot touches on issues of politics (at least the characters different political beliefs), science and scientists’ need for freedom to do their work, and also the related moral considerations.  Alongside we have another plot that is moving along, and another mystery, which is revealed only towards the end, but to which we realise we have been given clues all through, and which I certainly didn’t see coming the first time around.

We also have a romance thread, more than one character with secrets or hidden identities, and some local colour which we encounter during Hilary’s travels in Morocco.

All in all, this made for a fun revisit. 3.75 stars

Bookish coincidence: Hilary’s travels take her to Dakar, a place where Antoine de Saint-Exupery was posted as a manager when employed with Aeropostale (mentioned in The Prince of the Skies which I read recently)

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie

  1. I keep thinking I’m going to read more Christie novels and have even bought a few for kindle but not managed to fit them in so far. One day.
    It’s good to see that you enjoyed your reread.
    Lynn 😀


  2. It’s so long since I read this one I have really no memory of the story at all. Time for a re-read, then, although I’ve never enjoyed her thrillers as much as her mysteries. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 My last read of this was also may be 4 or 5 years ago (could be longer); I agree with you on her thrillers not being as enjoyable as her traditional mysteries, but from my recent round of rereads I’ve started to have fun with them. I like the spunky heroines and interesting locales–also she does bring in the unexpected twist in these as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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