Three Grand Dames of Mystery: “Murder in Mesopotamia” by Agatha Christie

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16360-_uy120_ Hercule Poirot solves a murder at an archeological dig near Baghdad in Murder in Mesopotamia. The book is narrated by Nurse Amy Leatheran, hired as a companion for the wife of the expedition leader, Mrs. Leidner, who has exhibited nervousness and a fear of something unnamed. As Nurse Leatheran gets to know the people at Tell Yarimjah, she discovers that most of the men seem in love with Mrs. Leidner, while the women view her with distaste, which Nurse Leatheran attributes to jealousy of the incredibly charming woman.

Then one afternoon, Dr. Leidner goes to awaken his wife from her usual afternoon nap, only to come stumbling out of the room crying that his wife has been murdered. When the local captain realizes that only a member of the expedition could have committed this complicated murder, he suggests asking Hercule Poirot, who is scheduled to pass by then the next day, to give assistance. Nurse Leatheran holds the unique position of being a stranger and thus without a motive, yet she has had a chance to get to know the suspects.  So seen through her eyes, Hercule Poirot assumes the role of doctor of the case, with her as his assistant. In the end, Poirot unmasks the murderer in his usual summation of this complicated and terrible crime.

This is the first Hercule Poirot book to be set in the Middle East, but Christie went on to set several other books, both featuring her Belgian detective and starring other characters, throughout the region. She became interested in archaeology when friends in charge of a dig convinced her to join them a little outside of Baghdad, a location seen as very romantic in the era, in 1930, where she met Max Mallowan, whom she married soon after. Incidentally, he received a knighthood for his work in archaeology, making him and Christie one of the only married couples where each partner was given such an honor in his and her  own right. Christie spent many dig seasons with her husband, so when she wrote about the Middle East and archaeology in particular, she wrote out of her own personal experience. If you find this topic of interest, check out her nonfiction book, _Come, Tell Me How You Live_, about life about life on a dig. The archaeological setting in this book adds an interesting flavor.

Murder in Mesopotamia is a good book with a creative mystery plot, but readers need to view it as an artifact of a specific time in history when looking at cultural references. Nurse Leatheran makes many negative comments about the native Iraqis, such as assuming Mrs. Leidner’s fears might be from spending too much time alone with the natives and when she describes one man as “very dark, a dirty dark yellow color.” It is important to keep in mind that the views of a book’s narrator do not necessarily reflect the views of the author. I have so far not been able to locate any indication whether Christie shared the views of Nurse Leatheran or whether she used the narrator to expose the insularity and xenophobia of the British traveling abroad.

Anna Massey performs the audio version of this Poirot book. Being used to hearing Poirot read by men, I took some time to get used to hearing him as read by a woman. But since the book itself has a female narrator, it would not make sense for a man to read it. However, I just didn’t connect very well with Massey’s voicing of this book. I don’t know whether another choice of women would suit it better.

This is not a book that I would recommend as someone’s first exposure to Agatha Christie’s writing or to Hercule Poirot, but if someone has already read a couple of the better books, that person would certainly enjoy this. I give it four stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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