Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

Death Comes As The EndNext in “Original Sins” – an exploration of murder mysteries set in the Ancient World – we come to the original “Original Sin”. Written in 1945, and set in 2000 BC, Egypt, Death Comes As The End is Dame Agatha Christie’s only foray into the historical mystery genre.

You can make a good case for this being the first historical mystery novel – certainly for the first book written as a mystery novel in an historical setting. The Bride of Newgate from John Dickson Carr is still five years away, and The Daughter of Time from Josephine Tey comes after that – and probably doesn’t count anyway.

In this story, Imhotep, the leader of a family returns home with his new concubine, Nofret, who promptly starts annoying anyone and everyone who takes her fancy. When Imhotep leaves on business for a while, it isn’t long before Nofret apparently throws herself off a cliff. And then her ghost shows up to start killing people. And by golly, it gets through a lot of them before the end of the book…

I’m a bit conflicted on this one. As someone warned me recently, it is a bit slow to get going, but when it does, the bodies really pile up thick and fast. But also the setting takes a while to get going. The first part of the book could really be set anywhere and at any time. It’s only when people start taking the possibility that Nofret’s ghost could be the killer seriously, and the best way to deal with her is to invoke Imhotep’s dead wife to sort her out, that the differences between cultures become apparent. The set dressing is convincing throughout, but Christie takes a while before you feel that these could be people from the past.

As for the mystery, it’s well done and, unlike most of the “Original Sins” so far, it’s a proper mystery with clues and theories and surprises and suchlike. Unfortunately, Christie undermines it all by signposting the killer with a very clumsy bit of misdirection that wouldn’t fool anyone. Which is a shame, as it’s a well-layered plot and if that trick hadn’t convinced me of the killer’s identity, the rest of it might well have fooled me.

But it’s a good read, on the level of a good Marple, rather than the best Poirot, and it’s nice to see another author (apart from Paul Doherty) writing an out-and-out mystery set in the Ancient World.

ADDENDUM: Just thought I’d point out that the dating of 2000 BC is rather arbitrary as there is no reference to any events to tie it to that date. Basically, it’s generic “Ancient Egypt”.

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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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10 Responses to Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

  1. TracyK says:

    I am always interested in a review of a Christie book, since I am reading one a month now, and I don’t know which are the best ones. (I am reading roughly in order, but doesn’t matter if there is no series character.)

    I wasn’t sure I would like this one, and I was wondering how common historical mysteries were at the time she wrote this. Based on your review, I will enjoy this one when I get to it.

  2. I should probably give this another read. I picked this up back on my first Christie reading-jag (long ago and far away in late elementary/junior high) and just was not ready for a Christie that wasn’t Poirot and wasn’t Marple and wasn’t even set in the 20th Century. I don’t remember a whole lot about my reaction to it–other than, “This isn’t what I expected! I don’t like it.”

    Considering that I’ve got a couple of challenges that need me to reread things, this may go down on the list. You’ve got me interested to see what I’d think now.

  3. Patrick says:

    Steve, an excellent review. I honestly don’t remember much about this book except for a few minor elements, such as the grandmother’s death. The thing I remember most is that the names are so strange that it’s only when about 2/3 of the cast are eliminated that I finally started keeping track of who was who and related to who and what their relationship to the last victim was!

    But it certainly isn’t the first historical mystery. I can name at least one novel that beats it by a good decade or so, though I’ve never read it:

    http://www.ramblehouse.com/juliuscaesar.htm

    • Thanks for the info – although it sounds a bit cringeworthy – the synopsis doesn’t bode too well for it being an actual mystery, rather than a crime romp. I’ll keep one eye out for it though…

  4. Barry says:

    Just Curious Which Year was it written in

  5. Barry says:

    Sorry missed saying 1945

  6. Sarah says:

    i like this book and it’s one of my comfort reads. It seems to divide her readers but I think it is the only historic mystery Christie did and I would have liked some more to be honest.

  7. Pingback: The Puzzly – The ISOTCMN Book of the Month – January 2013 | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  8. Pingback: The Slayers of Seth by Paul Doherty | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  9. Pingback: An End To “Original Sins” | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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