This month’s theme for Read Christie 2021 is ‘a story set on a mode of transport’. There are plenty of those to choose from and I’ve already read a few of them – Murder on the Orient Express, Death in the Clouds and The Mystery of the Blue Train – but I decided to read a book I’ve never read before, one of Christie’s most famous novels, the 1937 Poirot mystery Death on the Nile.
When Linnet Ridgeway, a beautiful heiress, is found shot dead in her cabin during a cruise along the Nile, there are two suspects with obvious motives. One is her husband, Simon Doyle, who will inherit her money on her death; the other is Simon’s former fiancée Jacqueline de Bellefort, who was left heartbroken by Simon and Linnet’s marriage and has followed them on to the steamer Karnak, threatening revenge. However, both Simon and Jacqueline have alibis, so Hercule Poirot, also touring the Nile on the same cruise, is forced to turn his attention to the other passengers – many of whom, it seems, are hiding secrets of their own and could also have reasons to want Linnet dead.
As it happens, another of Christie’s detectives, Colonel Race (whom I recently met in Sparkling Cyanide), soon arrives onboard the Karnak, on the trail of a man suspected of terrorism. Although it seems unlikely that this will be the same person who killed Linnet, Race joins Poirot in the search for the murderer. It was interesting to see them working together – this is Poirot’s book, of course, and he is the one who solves the mystery, but Race makes some useful contributions and his presence in the story means that Poirot can share some of his theories and thought processes with him (and therefore with the reader).
Knowing that this is one of Christie’s most popular books, I expected to love it but, although I did enjoy it, I don’t think it’s a favourite. That’s partly because I thought the characters, with only one or two exceptions, were a particularly unpleasant, privileged and entitled group, so I didn’t have much sympathy for either the victim or any of the people who found themselves under suspicion! Also, I guessed who had committed the crime almost immediately – before it happened, in fact – which took away some of the fun. I don’t think it was necessarily a particularly easy mystery to solve; I feel as though I’ve read another book recently (maybe not a Christie one) based on a similar idea and once I had that idea in my head, it seemed quite obvious who had done it. What I couldn’t work out was exactly how it was done, so I was still kept in suspense waiting for Poirot to explain it.
Next month’s Read Christie theme is ‘a story set after WWII’. This will mean any Christie novel published after 1945; I’ve already read a lot of them, but any suggestions are welcome!
Book 8 for R.I.P. XVI