|Cover of the first edition, published by The Bodley Head (artwork by Ernest Akers)|
The adventurous pair soon run up against members of a secret organisation who have a nefarious interest in the documents. At one point, Tommy follows one of the criminal agents to a house that transpires to be organisation’s headquarters, and finds himself eavesdropping on a meeting of the agent’s fellow members, an international cast of criminals that includes a Russian, an Irishman and a German.
Hidden away, Tommy notices the arrival of another individual, who is allowed to enter the meeting room when he reveals his identity – Number 14 – to the doorman. Someone else arrives, gives his number, and gains access. Within the room, and at the head of the table, is Number 1, who, like Largo in the novel of Thunderball, is not himself the head of the organisation (who is known mysteriously as Mr Brown).
Once everyone is assembled, they get down to business. One of the members requests more money from the organisation to pursue his part in the grand scheme. They read reports from various unions, which they have been infiltrating in order to spread discord and lay the foundations of revolution, which will be achieved with the release of the information contained in the missing documents. They agree that a certain union member, who might be a fly in the ointment, ‘must go’, and they discuss how they could induce the young woman to reveal the whereabouts of the package (‘In Russia we have ways of making a girl talk’).
Reading this, naturally I was reminded of Thunderball, and certainly there are similarities between the organisations in Ian Fleming’s and Agatha Christie’s novels: the use of numbers, the discipline, the international membership, the involvement of the unions, the threat of violence, and the business-like manner of planning world chaos.
It seems that even in criminal organisations, there’s a standard way of doing things. Now there’s a thought – did Mr Brown and Blofeld attend the same evil business school?