Destination Unknownby Agatha Christie
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American scientist, Thomas Betterton, has disappeared from a conference in Paris-only the latest in a series of notable men to have vanished into thin air. Equally strange is the death of his new bride in Casablanca. To discover the secrets she took to her grave, British Intelligence enlists the aide of an unlikely secret agent-an enigmatic young woman with nothing left to lose. The proposal for Hilary Craven? Impersonate the late Mrs. Betterton. But the masquerade means embarking on an unknown escapade, hiding from an unknown enemy, and retracing a stranger's steps to an unavoidable death...
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The man behind the desk moved a heavy glass paper weight four inches to the right. His face was not so much thoughtful or abstracted as expressionless. He had the pate complexion that comes from living most of the day in artificial light. This man, you felt, was an indoor man. A man of desks and files. The fact that to reach his office you had to walk through long twisting underground corridors was somehow strangely appropriate. It would have been difficult to guess his age. He looked neither old nor young. His face was smooth and unwrinkled, and in his eyes was a great tiredness.
The other man in the room was older. He was dark with a small military moustache. There was about him an alert nervous energy. Even now, unable to sit still, he was pacing up and down, from time to time throwing off a remark in a jerky manner.
"Reports!" he said explosively. "Reports, reports and more reports, and none of them any damn good!"
The man at the desk looked down at the papers in front of him. On top was an official card headed, "Betterton, Thomas Charles." After the name was an interrogation mark. The man at the desk nodded thoughtfully. He said,
"You've followed up these reports and none of them any good?"
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"How can one tell?" he asked.
The man behind the desk sighed.
"Yes," he said, "there is that. One can't tell really."
The older man went on with a kind of machine gun volley abruptness,
"Reports from Rome; reports from Touraine; seen on the Riviera; noticed in Antwerp; definitely identified in Oslo; positively seen in Biarritz; observed behavingsuspiciously in Strasburg; seen on the beach at Ostend with a glamorous blonde; noticed walking in the streets in Brussels with a greyhound! Hasn't been seen yet in the Zoo with his arm round a zebra, but I daresay that will come!"
"You've no particular fancy yourself, Wharton? Personally I had hopes of the Antwerp report, but it hasn't led to anything. Of course by now . . . " the young man stopped speaking and seemed to go into a coma. Presently he came out of it again and said cryptically, "Yes, probably . . . and yet--I wonder?"
Colonel Wharton sat down abruptly on the arm of a chair.
"But we've got to find out," he said insistently. "We've got to break the back of all this how and why and where? You can't lose a tame scientist every month or so and have no idea how they go or why they go or where! Is it where we think--or isn't it? We've always taken it for granted that it is, but now I'm not so sure. You've read all the last dope on Betterton from America?"
The man behind the desk nodded.
"Usual Left Wing tendencies at the period when everyone had them. Nothing of a lasting or permanent nature as far as can be found out. Did sound work before the war though nothing spectacular. When Mannheim escaped from Germany Betterton was assigned as Assistant to him, and ended by marrying Mannheim's daughter. After Mannheim's death he carried on, on his own, and did brilliant work. He leaped into fame with the startling discovery of ZE Fission. ZE Fission was a brilliant and absolutely revolutionary discovery. It put Betterton absolutely tops. He was all set for a brilliant career over there, but his wife had died soon after their marriage and he was all broken up over it. He came to England. He has been at Harwell for the last eighteen months. Just six months ago he married again."
"Anything there?" asked Wharton sharply.
The other shook his head.
Not that we can find out. She's the daughter of a local solicitor. Worked in an insurance office before her marriage. No violent political affinities so far as we've been able to discover."
"ZE Fission," said Colonel Wharton gloomily, with distaste. "What they mean by all these terms beats me. I'm old fashioned. I never really even visualised a molecule, but here they are nowadays splitting up the universe! Atom bombs, Nuclear fission, ZE fission, and all the rest of it. And Betterton was one of the splitters in chief! What do they say of him at Harwell?"
"Quite a pleasant personality. As to his work, nothing outstanding or spectacular. just variations on the practical applications of ZEF"
Both men were silent for a moment. Their conversation had been desultory, almost automatic. The security reports lay in a pile on the desk and the security reports had had nothing of value to tell.
"He was thoroughly screened on arrival here, of course," said Wharton.
"Yes, everything was quite satisfactory."
"Eighteen months ago," said Wharton thoughtfully. "It gets 'em down, you know. Security precautions. The feeling of being perpetually under the microscope, the cloistered life. They get nervy, queer. I've seen it often enough. They begin to dream of an ideal world. Freedom and brotherhood, and pool-all-secrets and work for the good of humanity! That's exactly the moment when someone who's more or less the dregs of humanity, sees his chance and takes it!" He rubbed his nose. "Nobody's so gullible as the scientist," he said. "All the phony mediums say so. Can't quite see why."
The other smiled, a very tired smile.
"Oh, yes," he said, "it would be so. They think they know, you see. That's always dangerous. Now, our kind are different. We're humble minded men. We don't expect to save the world, only pick up one or two broken pieces and remove a monkey wrench or two when it's jamming up the works." He tapped thoughtfully on the table with his finger. "If I only knew a little more about Betterton," he said.
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Meet the Author
Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in English and another billion in a hundred foreign languages. She died in 1976.
- Date of Birth:
- September 15, 1890
- Date of Death:
- January 12, 1976
- Place of Birth:
- Torquay, Devon, England
- Home schooling
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Such a clever clever story line....I love Christie!
Scientists and other professionals have been mysteriously disappearing from places all over Europe. It's assumed that they have gone to Russia, but maybe not. Intrigue and romance and thrills follow as the search moves from England to Morocco to the High Atlas Mountains. Unlike the Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple series, and closer to a mid-century Robert Ludlum, this book is fun to read and much more fun to hear Emilia Fox's depiction with the strength of a powerful actor. Listen. It's fun.