Death On The Nile by Agatha Christie

Death On The NileEgypt in the 1930s, the Nile cruise boat Karnak. Newlyweds Simon and Linnet Doyle are honeymooning on the boat, but are being stalked by Simon’s ex-girlfriend Jacqueline De Bellefort, who is determined to extract some measure of justice for being passed over for Linnet. But there are other passengers who hold a grudge against Linnet – money, it seems, can attract many enemies.

Hercule Poirot is trying to have a holiday, but finds himself drawn into trying to resolve the love triangle. But when an unsuccessful attempt is made on Linnet’s life, followed by a successful one, it seems as if the holiday is over…

Ah, that’s better. The genuine article (as opposed to this).

One of Christie’s most famous and popular Poirot titles, partly because of the Peter Ustinov film. That was how I first came across it, which meant that it was in fact one of the last Poirot novels that I ever read. Which is a shame, as in many ways it’s one of Christie’s masterpieces.

One of Christie’s finest gifts was the creation of plots that were both complex and simple. The majority of her plots can be cracked wide open with a simple sentence – a sentence that the reader will hopefully only realise after the fact. This is something that was clearly missed with the labyrinthine mess of a plot in The Monogram Murders.

The line at the heart of this mystery is so simple – nothing to do with the murder itself. Of course it’s hard to hint at what I mean here, due to the old “no spoilers” idea. It’s to do with the drinks. That’s probably vague enough for the poor unhappy few who haven’t read this one.

The plot does a very good job of not falling into Christie’s most often repeated tricks. OK, arguably, one of her biggest tricks is at the centre of it, but she does a very good job of hiding it this time. There’s a lot to work out, but even if you guess the killer, explaining exactly what happened is not an easy task.

You may have noticed that I haven’t summarised the circumstances of the murder because it does take a while to happen – I think this is one of Christie’s longer books – but I didn’t get impatient waiting for the crime, as she keeps it ticking over nicely.

To be fair, it’s not without its faults. Some of the supporting characters are little more than cut-outs and at least one – Ferguson – who does get more development  is utterly unbelievable. This doesn’t detract from the main story, but it’s briefly annoying.

Very simply – if you haven’t read this, read it. Now. One of the finest Poirot mysteries that should be sitting on bookshop shelves instead of a certain other book. Highly Recommended.

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38 comments

    • Others like it less than me. Have a look at Curtis Evans’ review on The Passing Tramp blog.

      At the moment, I’m collating some thoughts on the need for that book to exist at all – either I’ll do another post or just stick them in my end of the month ramble.

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      • Have a look at Curtis Evans’ review on The Passing Tramp blog.

        I read it the other day. You’d have thought the Christie Estate, if they wanted to revive Poirot, could have found a writer who was a better match for Christie’s style.

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      • That’s an interesting question, but surely separate from realthog’s? Whatever their motive, isn’t it best served by producing a reasonable facsimile of a Poirot book?

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      • But in that case, you must ask why no one thought to read Monogram to see if that was the case.

        I’d imagine Hannah was commissioned to write it, so really the publisher would have been committed long before there was a manuscript to read.

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      • There must have been conditions as to the content

        I would imagine the Marketing Dept said, “This is a marriage made in heaven, Poirot + frontline modern female mystery writer = mega-sales” . . . and that would have been about the end of the editorial conversation.

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      • You’ve been having an interesting discussion on the merchandising aspect of Monogram Murders. I was recently told I should be supporting this book because it will revive interest in Golden Age mystery. Isn’t that what I want? Why am I making trouble?

        But why couldn’t they revive interest in Golden Age mystery with a book that was actually a real approximation of a Golden Age mystery–a good one, I mean (let alone Christie)?

        I think what gets me most is the endless press barrage we’ve been subjected in the print reviews, assuring us that TMM is indistinguishable from Christie. I just can’t accept this tosh. I know what I read and it’s a miss! I’m sure Hannah is sincere that she loves Christie, but her notion that she has this superior insight into her is off I’m afraid. If I want to read a good modern British detective novel with something of classical style I’ll be still be looking at someone like Peter Lovesey, not Sophie Hannah.

        As I understand TMM was commissioned based solely on Hannah’s pitching of the plot idea, about the murders of the three people on the three floors of the hotel. Hannah’s great at coming up with intriguing plot ideas, but she’s like a baker who ruins the cake with too much frosting: it just turns into a kind of unappetizing glop.

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  1. Totally agree. Death on the Nile must be Christie’s best “Christie” book. (There are maybe a few better ones, but they’re slightly atypical, like And Then There Were None.)

    It’s just a shame it goes a bit pear-shaped towards the end. That final murder must rank among the silliest things she ever wrote? But that’s a fairly minor issue in an otherwise brilliant mystery.

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  2. Like you, came to the book very late having loved the movie as a kid (I was 10 when it came out and it made a big impression – I still like it a lot, much more than the Suchet version) – but now I am tempted to re-read as I do tend to think of them together, perhaps too much so. Thanks Steve.

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  3. i agree that this is a masterpiece. A must reading for mystery fans. Despite its length, it is never dull. A welcome relief after the previous trash !
    The “Coming Next” novel is also brilliant and a favourite of mine.

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  4. “One of Christie’s finest gifts was the creation of plots that were both complex and simple. The majority of her plots can be cracked wide open with a simple sentence – a sentence that the reader will hopefully only realise after the fact. This is something that was clearly missed with the labyrinthine mess of a plot in The Monogram Murders.”

    So true!

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  5. Death on the Nile may very well be one of those close-to-perfect Golden Age mysteries, definitely one of Christie’s best and still a personal favorite of mine. Seldom do you see plot, characters, style, setting and atmosphere compliment each other as in Death on the Nile.

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  6. I think it a more gripping narrative as well. I was surprised when rereading these how much more compelling a read Nile was versus Express. The basic situation in Express is very dramatic (kidnapped/killed child), but Express feels very dominated by the (clever) puzzle mechanics. Nile has a beautiful puzzle plot but also a quite gripping central dramatic situation in the author’s beloved “triangle.”

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    • I first read Nile and Express when I was about 10, so it’s hard to be objective, but I’ve always thought Express was a rather poor book. The shape of the idea is clever, but Christie is so attached to the thematic side of things that everything else she’s usually good at falls by the wayside. Despite the wonderful setting, after the murder there’s hardly any tension. I don’t even think it’s a very good puzzle. The clue of the wounds is far too obvious, and there are so many clues about what’s going on I think it’s one of Christie’s easiest to solve.

      I remember solving Nile as well, but I felt pleased with myself and satisfied with the solution, which seems perfect. With Express I was just bored waiting for Poirot to catch up.

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      • I first saw the films in both cases so cannot fairly speculate on how easy or hard the puzzles are.

        Just remember Chandler’s complaint about Express, that only an idiot could guess the solution! So I’m guessing Chandler didn’t. Sour grapes!

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      • Meant to add, in neither case, in the case of the films, I would have been only 8 when I saw Express, 12 when I saw Nile. Didn’t get either one! Wish I had read the books first! I can say I think the Express puzzle feels more like a (brilliant) gimmick, where the puzzle in Nile seems more pleasing all round to me now. I believe Carr once picked Nile as his favorite Christie.

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      • Corrected version of previous reply!

        Meant to add that, in neither case, concerning the films (I would have been only 8 when I saw Express, 12 when I saw Nile) did I guess the solution. Wish I had read the books first! I can say I think the Express puzzle feels more like a (brilliant) gimmick, where the puzzle in Nile seems more pleasing all round to me now. I believe Carr once picked Nile as his favorite Christie.

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      • Maybe I solved Express so easily BECAUSE I was so young and hadn’t read many mysteries. The puzzle works because it plays on your assumptions about what kinds of solutions are possible. For most readers this will be based on evidence of reading other mysteries and what kinds of solutions they have. For megagrump Raymond Chandler this was obviously based on bizarre opinions about the importance of realism in fiction. But because this was the fourth or fifth mystery I’d ever read (one of them was Ackroyd, one of them was ABC), I didn’t have any preconceptions about what shape mystery solutions take, except that they should be surprising.

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  7. […] Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel: The line at the heart of this mystery is so simple – nothing to do with the murder itself. Of course it’s hard to hint at what I mean here, due to the old “no spoilers” idea. It’s to do with the drinks. That’s probably vague enough for the poor unhappy few who haven’t read this one. […]

    Like

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