As Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie opens, Lynette Ridgeway, one of the richest and prettiest women in England, is having fun fixing up her “new toy,” Wode Hall, which she has purchased for the then-exorbitant sum of 60,000 pounds. Her oldest friend, Jacqueline de Belford, seeks Lynette out to give her fiance, Simon Doyle, a job. We next see Simon on his honeymoon in Egypt, but not with Jackie. With Lynette. In fury over her maltreatment, Jackie has been stalking the couple all over Egypt.
There the trio encounter Hercule Poirot and share a boat with him on a trip up the Nile, along with a memorable cast of characters. When Lynette is found shot, everyone assumes that Jackie has murdered her rival, but she has an unbreakable alibi. Which of these many unique individuals on the boat has committed this crime?
This book is probably my favorite Hercule Poirot novel. The characters are remarkably well-defined, from the communist nobleman to the rich American aristocrat, her placid nurse, and always-hopeful niece to the romance novelist with sex on the brain and the suspicious American trustee of Lynette who “just happens” to run into her and Simon while they are honeymooning. We also run into Colonel Race, whom we met in Cards on the Table. Taking the official lead in the investigation, he gives head to Poirot as the real investigator. In addition, the plot is remarkably well-planned, with plenty of plausible suspects and strategies used by Poirot.
Agatha Christie does an enjoyable job of portraying the cultures of Egypt and that of the Western tourists who toured the country in the pre-World War II era. The wife of a noted archaeologist, Christie had plenty of experience in the Middle East and dealing with prejudices of Westerners with insular prejudices. This appears more subtly in this book than in Murder in Mesopotamia, which takes place on a dig in Iraq, but we do see the so-called “donkey boys” through the eyes of the people on the boat. These children try to hire out their donkeys to tourists or otherwise make money off the tourists.
This book deals in particular with the effect the act of murder has on the person who commits it. Poirot famously states, “I do not approve of murder!” In saying this, he focuses less on the innate value of all human life than on the way taking another life warps an individual, making that person unsafe to live in society any longer. This theme gets developed regularly throughout the other Christie books that feature Poirot, climaxing in her final Poirot book, Curtain . While indicated in books prior to Death on the Nile, the topic first begins to take prevalence here.
David Suchet performs the audio version of this book, doing an excellent job of creating and juggling the voices of the many characters. His wide range of vocalizations demonstrates his gift as a superb character actor.
With Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie created a real masterpiece. If you read only one book by this gifted author, you should consider this book. I give it five stars!
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