Murder In Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

At an archaeological dig in Mesopotamia, Nurse Amy Leatheran is recruited by Dr Leidner, the leader of the dig, to look after his wife. Everyone seems to have a different opinion of Louise Leidner, but when she is murdered in her bedroom, it rapidly becomes apparent that someone in the camp actually hated her enough to kill her. But how could one woman instil such a motive in someone. Luckily, there’s a Belgian nearby who knows a thing or two about murder…

This is my last stab at finding that book to introduce some girls at school to the divine work of Dame Agatha, and it’s always had a reputation as a bit of a classic. I read it yonks ago, and, apart from the murderer, couldn’t remember much about it at all. So, is this the one to entice young readers under the spell of Dame Agatha?

Actually, let’s get something straight. This has got a good reputation, hasn’t it? Because, quite frankly, I thought it was a bit rubbish.

First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way. I’ve seen this book referred to as Christie’s only novel-length attempt at a certain type of mystery. It’s not, in my eyes, for the same reason that a certain Ellery Queen novel that has the same reputation, isn’t either, or indeed, The House of the Red Slayer by Paul Doherty. The latter book, in fact, was minorly spoiled for me by being described as such – luckily, it’s such a good read, that it didn’t bother me one bit. But a mystery which is SPOILER for only one suspect should not be described as a SPOILER SPOILER mystery. Because it gives the game away, and that’s no fun for anyone.

So, what did I dislike about this one? Three things in fact.

Number one – some of the most cardboardy of cardboard characters. With the possible exception of the narrator, Amy Leatheran, the characters are the least interesting bunch that I’ve ever met. In fact, if you asked me now (only a few hours after reading the book) how many people were at the summing up… I’d have to go and look it up. A right bunch of dullards, which made the first section of the book, where not much happens at all, quite tough going.

Number two – the mechanism of the murder. No details here, obviously, but if you’re going to describe something as barred (highlight for mild spoiler) then you should make clear that there appears to be a massive gap between the bars big enough to stick something important through (highlight again for mild spoiler). Not to mention that basic physics means that the final position of something is unlikely to have been where it was – indeed, I’d be surprised if it was in one piece.

Number three – she didn’t notice? Really? No more than that, but it concerns the motive.

So, dull characters, unlikely method and really stupid motive – part of it at least. Oh, and Poirot’s a bit slow to realise the importance of something, despite twigging that it was SPOILER very early. All in all, a real disappointment.

Anyway, tune in next time to find out what we’ll be using for the introduction. But it certainly isn’t going to be Murder in Mesopotamia.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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14 Responses to Murder In Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

  1. Sarah says:

    Oh dear – I like this book! I think nurse Letheran is terribly prudish but in a funny way and I quite like who the culprit is too. I’ve never thought of it as belonging to a certain sub-genre but you are right. That part of the explanation is the least satisfactory I think.

    • It just seems impossible that there was no recognition of the culprit, if you know what I mean. It’s entirely possible if I’d read it in one go, or when I was less busy, I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. C’est la vie.

  2. Val says:

    ‘Partners in Crime’ worked as a great intro to my daughters (9 and 11) ..then the other Tommy and Tuppence and then Miss Marple Short stories.

  3. Puzzle Doctor – I am very sorry to hear you didn’t like this one. Honestly, I did. Well, we can’t all like the same things equally….

    • This might be a case of how one’s mood affects how you see a book. I’ve been very busy at work and was only able to grabs small chunks of the book at a time over an extended period. It’s possible that the overall warm Christie-ness of the book eluded me this time, unlike, say, Cat Among The Pigeons, which I basically read in one sitting. But I stand by my points concerning the mechanism and the motive…

  4. I am and will always be a huge Christie fan but this is among my least favourites because of two fo the factors you mention, relating to the culprit.

    • Phew. I was starting to think it was only me who had a problem with it. I’m pretty sure that body of reviews of Christie’s work on my blog shows that I’m a huge fan too, but everyone has their off days.

  5. Not among my favourites either, though she made at least one later attempt at this type of plot surely (I’m thinking of Poirot and lots of snow …). I much prefer practically all the books she wrote around it such as THE ABC MURDERS, DEATH INT HE CLOUDS, CARDS ON THE TABLE etc.

  6. Val says:

    I can’t be totally objective as I so enjoyed the BBC radio version ..which is fun and probably remember this better than the original book :0)
    I love her work but she did write the odd stinker …one of her later novels really made me wince but she wrote so many great ones that I think we can allow her an off day :0)

  7. richmcd says:

    Well I only disagree on one point. I rather thought that this one DIDN’T have a good reputation, for precisely the reasons you mention!!

    But it looks like a lot of people like it after all. I think the idea is clever, but it’s an example of puzzle as pure abstract puzzle, forgetting that there is supposed to be at least a semblance of reality going on here.

    Sure, the hidden identity works from a “least likely” standpoint, if you just treat these characters as names, jobs and positions. But once you think of them as people, then it’s as you say: there’s no way she wouldn’t notice. Without putting too fine a point on it, just because these classic mysteries keep things above the waist, you still have to assume the characters are behaving like people between the lines… It’s just not a deception you can plausibly maintain!

  8. Pingback: The Puzzly – The ISOTCMN Book of the Month – September 2012 | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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