by Agatha Christie
For my second post this week on the Hercule Poirot novels, I’ve chosen this novel from 1937, one of my favourites.
‘[Poirot’s] glance softened as it rested on one particular couple. A well-matched pair – tall broad-shouldered man, slender delicate girl. Two bodies that moved in a perfect rhythm of happiness. Happiness in the place, the hour, and in each other.’
The couple in question are Simon Doyle and Jacqueline de Bellefort. They are planning to marry and to go for their honeymoon to Egypt. However, when they do eventually visit the Nile and the Pyramids, it isn’t as husband and wife. Simon has married Jackie’s best friend, the fabulously wealth Linnet Ridgeway, and Jackie is their enraged and unwelcome ‘stalker’.
Of course, we are expecting a murder, and in Death on the Nile there will be one (or two, or three), but we have to wait more than 150 pages for it. Meantime, Christie focuses on developing the tension between the three principal characters. There are arguments. The new Mrs Doyle narrowly escapes death when a boulder crashes down a cliff and lands only a few feet from her. Eventually, in a pivotal scene in the saloon aboard the Nile steamer, Jackie shoots Simon in the leg with her ‘toy’ pistol.
” Jacqueline swung round in her chair and glared at Simon. ‘You damned fool,’ she said thickly, ‘do you think you can treat me as you have done and get away with it.? …… I told you that I’d kill you sooner than see you go to another woman.’ “
That same night, Linnet is murdered, shot in the head at close range while she sleeps. Who could have done it? Not Jackie – she has an alibi. Not Simon. He appears to have the best motive – money! – but is incapacitated by a leg wound. There are several other potential suspects: Pennington, Linnet’s American attorney, who has maybe been fiddling with her trust fund; the communist Ferguson, who despises wealth and hates the upper classes; Linnet’s French maid, who covets her diamonds. There is clearly a jewel thief on board, because Mrs Doyle’s diamonds DO disappear. Also among the passengers is an unidentified terrorist, pursued by Poirot’s old friend Colonel Race. Could he have done it?
“Race straightened himself first. ‘… She doesn’t look pretty, does she?’ ‘No.’ Poirot shook his head with a slight shudder. The dark feline face was convulsed as though with surprise and fury, the lips drawn back from the teeth.”
Poirot goes to work, following clues and interviewing his fellow passengers, two more of whom are ‘bumped off’ before he manages to work out the solution to what seems to be an impossible crime.
Like most of Christie’s novels, Death on the Nile has the feel of another, vanished age. Christie writes from her own life and from personal knowledge of the places she depicts; Egypt simply flows from her pen, as it were. She has taken some trouble with the characters of Linnet, Simon and Jackie and manages, I think, to make their situation – and the events that arise from it – rather more credible than is the case with Murder on the Orient Express. One feels that Linnet’s murder COULD happen in real life.
Christie is sometimes accused of writing ‘nice’ murder stories. However there is nothing ‘nice’ about murder and all those depicted in this book are especially revolting, as is the cold-bloodedness of it all.