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I am quickly coming to the conclusion that there is nothing so boring as having a career.

Stafford Nye, Staffy to his aunt Mathilda, a British foreign office diplomat is on his way to London from Malaya when his flight is diverted to Frankfurt, where a woman makes him an offer he cannot refuse. She asks for his passport that would let her travel to London as she may risk her life getting to Geneva, her original destination. Staffy, ever on the lookout for a break from monotony, agrees. What follows is an international conspiracy complete with mysterious cars trying to run you over at intersections, coded messages posted in the classified section of newspapers, an international covert group, mad scientists, angry generals, thick-headed politicians, and a spy with multiple identities. At this point, you are probably thinking – what about high speed car chases and empty cartridges bursting out out of semiautomatics? Ms. Christie prefers her characters expend their little grey cells than shells.

Passenger to Frankfurt, written in 1970, is one of 66 detective novels that Agatha Christie has written in addition to 153 short stories, making her the most published author in history. This is the first and only of her written works that I have read, and if I can shore up my credibility at this point, I have enjoyed the Poirot television series and David Suchet’s fine portrayal of the Belgian detective. Passenger to Frankfurt in comparison, if one can compare the written with the visual, falls short of the high standard set by Poirot. True, this is not a detective story or a murder mystery, somewhat of a spy novel but not quite that either. Passenger to Frankfurt begins with a lot of promise, but half-way through the book, it slows down, gets repetitive, and by the end one feels like being taken for a ride in a rickshaw in a town that you have never visited before, which is to say that one is held captive by a curiosity for how all this is going to end.

One of the Radiolab podcasts on NPR talks of an analysis of the works of Agatha Christie by Ian Lancashire, an English professor at the University of Toronto, with regards to the frequency and number of different words used in each of her works.

When Lancashire looked at the results for Christie’s 73rd novel, written when she was 81 years old, he saw something strange. Her use of words like “thing,” “anything,” “something,” “nothing” – terms that Lancashire classifies as “indefinite words” – spiked. At the same time, number of different words she used dropped by 20 percent. “That is astounding,” says Lancashire, “that is one-fifth of her vocabulary lost.”.. “I did not want to say what was said in the end,” says Lancashire, “that yes, the data supported a view that she had developed Alzheimer’s.”

The 73rd novel referred to above is Elephants Can Remember, written in 1972, 2 years after Passenger to Frankfurt.

Christie was never formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. But she often complained of an inability to concentrate in her later years, and friends reported that she would have fits of anger and wouldn’t make sense in conversations.

I haven’t read Christie enough to even speculate on her condition. Christie has sold the most books after Shakespeare and the Bible, according to her estate, and that is no easy feat. Passenger to Frankfurt remains an engrossing read, and one can weather the rough patches in the book knowing that this comes near the end of a splendid career.

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