nile

The crocodile did it?

I’ve already mentioned that I am a Agatha Christie fanboy, so I won’t go into all of that again, but this one I knew a little better than the last. There is a very simple reason for that – I’d already seen it. About a year ago, I saw the stage adaptation of this novel, then titled Murder on the Nile. The book came first and was adapted by Christie when one of her friends insisted that it would make a good transition. It did. I recieved the book as a gift around the same time as going to see the show, and after debating which one I wanted to experience first, I settled for the show and left the book a year to let me forget things.

And so, while the UK was covered in rain and snow, I donned my sunglasses and SPF 30 and headed back to Egypt.

In Death on the Nile, we meet Linnet Ridgeway, a wealthy heiress who is used to everyone bowing down to her and doing exactly what she says. Money is a superpower, and it has given her the ability to behave exactly as she wants. As such, when she meets her best friend Jackie’s new man, Simon Doyle, she decides that she must have him too. She steals Simon from under Jackie’s nose and they are married within months, soon setting off on their honeymoon down the Nile.

However, things turn sour quickly. Everywhere the happy couple go on their honeymoon, Jackie is already there, one step ahead of them, making it impossible for them to enjoy their time. Linnet confides in a bald Belgian detective – none other than Hercule Poirot who is on holiday on the same ship – about the situation and asks if anything can be done. He says that there are no legal repercussions to Jackie’s behaviour if she is not threatening them. She is free to go where she pleases. Linnet is less than amused.

Also on board the ship are many other colourful characters: Tim Allerton and his mother, who have a very close relationship; Rosalie Otterbourne and her novelist mother, Salome; Linnet’s American trustee Pennington; Italian archaeologist Signor Richetti; the forthright and serious Doctor Bessner; a young socialist, Ferguson; American socialite Marie Van Schuyler and her put-upon companion Cornelia Robson, along with several other characters who may or may not know more than they let on.

This being Christie, you know the death is coming and before long, Linnet is dead and everyone is a suspect. Why would anyone want to do away with this beautiful, intelligent young woman with her whole life ahead of her? A crime of passion? Money? Family ties? The clues immediately point to Jackie, the only person with an obvious grudge against her, but Jackie’s alibi is watertight. So who did her in?

This is such a clever book with a beautiful setting and the usual bevy of Christie characters – the foreign doctor, the hot-headed femme fatale, the rich snob. Setting the action on a boat limits the number of suspects, and allows for more of a farcical story which requires a lot of people to be in the right place at the right time (or, indeed, the wrong place at the wrong time). The pay off is excellent though and if you’ve never read a Christie before, this might be a good place to start.

Maybe keep a list of characters on hand – I was still struggling three quarters of the way in with which one was Ferguson, Fanthorp or Fleetwood. The murder is slow in coming, but all the time beforehand is needed to set up the characters and let you begin to suspect them all. It’s well over halfway through the novel before you can begin to count anyone out for definite, but by then, the entire thing has begun to seem impossible. But who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Death on the Nile is one of those books that cements Dame Agatha’s position as Queen of Crime.

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