The Book: Agatha Christie, PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT. Fontana paperback reprint, 1972. Good-minus condition; pages are age-browned, cover is loose, cover and pages are dogeared and book shows signs of exposure to damp.
First read: 1980
Owned since: 1980
I have complicated feelings about the "young adult" publishing category, because I would not have read those books as a preteen or teenager even if they were available to me. What I read, in my teens, was Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Phyllis Whitney and Stephen King. Not necessarily in that order.
I did not like being an adolescent, and still distrust anyone who says they did like it, or anyone who tells a teenager they're the best years of their lives. I wouldn't be 16 or 17 again for all the money in the world. My reading during those years was aspirational and educational -- that is, I read books about the fabulous life I hoped someday to be leading, and about adults whose character traits I wanted for my own.
PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT, which Agatha Christie wrote to celebrate her 80th birthday (it was her 70th or 71st book), did all of those things. It begins with Sir Stafford Nye alone in the Geneva airport, wearing a sweeping bandit's cloak that amuses him. A woman approaches him and makes a strange proposition: she is fleeing for her life, and he can save her by allowing her to steal his cloak and his identification papers. Sir Stafford is rather charmed by the woman and by the idea, and agrees.
Home again, Sir Stafford gets a visit from a mysterious Mr. Horsham, who tells him that his actions have saved the life of a very important person, known in certain circles as Mary Ann and in others as the Countess Renata Zerkowski. Fascinated, Sir Stafford wants to meet the woman again, so advertises in the personals -- and finds himself drawn into an international security operation that's fighting a neo-Nazi plot to take over the world.
It's all wildly implausible and wonderfully romantic. I read this book over and over again, dreaming of foreign places and international conspiracies and 45-year-old diplomats who would be impressed with smart women ... and strangely enough (or not so strangely), I still do.