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Book: Death On The Nile

January 4, 2010
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Ah, the first book post of the year! Actually finished this New Year’s Day but am just now getting around to writing about it.

I definitely like Hercule Poirot mysteries. I haven’t tried any Miss Marple yet, but the oh-so-humble (said with tongue in cheek) Monsieur Poirot is delightful.

This is another international one (like my first Christie, Murder on the Orient Express). The beautiful English heiress is on her honeymoon with her unlikely groom, on a tour down the Nile in Egypt. Coincidentally, also on the tour is famed detective Hercule Poirot, a variety of amusing secondary cast characters, and… the groom’s ex-fiancee?!? This can’t be good, right? Right!

What follows is a dark and murderous journey down the Nile, with stops for temples and sphinxs, and lots of danger and mystery along the way.

What I loved about this one is the generous motley handful of clues (a velvet stole, a nail polish bottle and a pearl necklace?), the full cast of quirky characters (although there were a few too many for me and I kept getting the men all mixed up), and the rather sinister feel of the story, which was a welcome change after my last Christie, By The Pricking Of My Thumbs…, which I found kind of silly.

Some random thoughts:

Were Egypt and Nile tours popular as vacations and honeymoons back in 1930s? Many references are made to other people going to Egypt on their honeymoon, and most people on the boat are there for leisure. I’m trying to remember… was that when King Tut’s tomb was discovered? Maybe that was the 20s, in which case I suppose the Egypt craze might still be continuing. I also remember from my art history classes something about Egypt and Oriental art influencing Art Deco, which was 30s.

(which reminds me again that there is a King Tut exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco right now, and I really should go.)


Also, lots of talk from the characters about “the Orientals” and “the Oriental character.” Some other slightly derogatory chatter about “the natives” (as per usual from books of this era, or most English books pre-1960s…). I was annoyed by this but tried to keep it in perspective, i.e. the period during which this was written, and also that it was partly a commentary on the unhappy, ignorant, privileged lives of the rich.
One thing I’ve noticed about Agatha Christie mysteries is that you are given most of the clues, but not all of the clues, so I don’t feel quite so bad that I couldn’t figure out the main mystery (the whodunnit). There were certain key point that Poirot pulled out of his hat in order to demonstrate his theory, and they existed only in his head, nowhere else in the story. I can’t decide how I feel about that. I’m a mystery novice — I rarely read mysteries — but I sort of assume that it’s bad form to keep clues hidden from the reader, and then to pull them out at the last moment in order to keep the mystery a mystery. Isn’t part of the fun of mysteries to solve them yourself?
That said, you really do get most of the clues if you pay attention, so I was able to figure out a few of the side mysteries along the way, and the main one became clear enough right before Poirot reveals the murderer. It was a pretty satisfying solution, I suppose.
The charm of these books to me isn’t the murder mystery — mysteries aren’t really my thing. It’s more the era in which these are set, and all the quirky characters, and Mr. Poirot himself is pretty delightful as well. This one was perfectly cozy and engaging and a perfect way to bring in the new year. I will definitely be reading another Christie this year. Next time, perhaps Miss Marple? I also want to reread some Sherlock Holmes. I haven’t seen the new movie, but I read a ton of Sherlock stories in high school and they were so satsifying!
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