Death on the Nile marks my fourth foray into the work of Agatha Christie and my second one starring the the brilliant Hercule Poirot. In this novel, the detective is on holiday in Egypt when he becomes involved in the affairs of a newly married couple and their stalker. Linnet Doyle, formerly Ridgeway, is a young heiress who has everything: money, beauty, and a new husband that she stole from her former best friend. The jilted fiancee, Jacqueline De Bellefort, now follows the Doyles everywhere they go in an attempt at emotional torture and is waiting for them on their honeymoon cruise down the Nile. However, Jacqueline is not Linnet’s only enemy. The other passengers on the cruise all hold a connection to the heiress in one way or another. As this is a Poirot novel, it is only a matter of time before the only destination for this cruise is murder.
Agatha Christie never fails to impress me with her meticulous ability to craft a perfect detective story. Death on the Nile is enthralling, combining exceptional plotting with a compelling cast of characters. The tragic love triangle between Linnet, Simon, and Jacqueline serves as a perfect emotional storm as a counter-balance to the peaceful ship languidly moving downstream. Since the first murder does not occur until halfway through the novel, Christie allows plenty of breathing space to not only build tension but to flesh out all of the characters.
Although the love triangle initially drives the story, all of the passengers have something to hide. Linnet’s financial advisor Andrew Pennington happens to be in Egypt on pure coincidence. Ferguson is an anarchist and self-proclaimed believer that the world is better off without certain people. The wealthy and cruel Miss Van Schuyler runs her nurse Miss Bowers and shy companion Cornelia ragged. Tim Allerton and his mother have a very limited income, yet can afford an expensive Egyptian holiday. Trashy novelist Salome Otterbourne divides her time degrading her daughter with masking a dark secret. As if matters weren’t complicated enough, Poirot’s friend Colonel Race arrives seeking another murderer under an assumed identity. Poirot will have to use all of his little gray cells in order to unravel so many complicated plots.
“Fey…a Scotch word…It means the kind of exalted happiness that comes before disaster. You know–it’s too good to be true.”
Based on Christie’s own time in Egypt, this novel stands apart from her other works due to the exotic location. Several early scenes involve exploring the ancient Egyptian landmarks which heighten the sense of dread when combined with the careful development of her characters. Similar to her classic Murder on the Orient Express, it is such a nice change of pace to have a British mystery takes place outside of England.
Another reason I loved this book is for the characterization of Poirot. As an expert on human psychology, the detective attempts to provide counseling to an unhappy young woman threatening to destroy her own life in a pointless quest for revenge. I loved this scene as Poirot pleads with the woman to not open her heart to evil. I took equal enjoyment in the scene where Poirot puts Linnet in her place for hurting her best friend by stealing her fiance. Although he tends to flaunt his superior intelligence, I can’t help but love the little Belgian detective. I also felt sorry for him because he can never seem to have a true vacation.
Death on the Nile is a must-read, a stunning achievement in a career that was already filled with brilliant masterpieces. The plotting is perfectly constructed with plenty of red herrings one comes to expect in an Agatha Christie mystery. The pieces to the puzzle fit together beautifully. As an added bonus, I actually figured out the identity of the murderer! However, I have no plans to quit my day job at this time.
“They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”