Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Friday, 23 September 2011

"Death on the Nile" by Agatha Christie, (Harper Collins, 2006)

It was first published in 1937. I read a facsimile edition. It's the only Christie I've read, but since I've more than once used the whodunit format I thought I'd better read something of hers, and on holiday we saw the hotel where she stayed in Egypt. A few of her phrases are like Waugh's comic satire - " ... if any misfortunes happen to my friends I always drop them at once! They always want to borrow money off you, or else they start a dress-making business and you have to get the most terrible clothes from them. Or they paint lampshades, or do Batik scarves" (p.13), but mostly it's plot mechanics. I could have done with fewer mentions of hearing splashes and noises like a cork popping from a bottle.

It starts with Part 1, which has one chapter - 30 pages where each of the 10 sections features a new character. It's a glorified cast-list, which I found useful. On p.133 there's another info-dump - a diagram of the cruise boat's cabin layout (we only saw 2 on the move: one nearly mowed down our companion felucca, the other ghosted by one night. The rest were moored). On p.182 there's a summary of suspects, motives and clues constructed by Colonel Race.

There's very little local colour, barely a page altogether - strange, since she could have slipped a lot in - what was happening on the river-banks? Was it hot? We went in a group of 5 families when, according to the tourist magazines, only the most intrepid tourists did Nile tours - rather like in her day, I guess. The following still rings true

" You want ride donkey, sir? This very good donkey. This donkey Whiskey and Soda, sir. ..."
"You want to go granite quarries, sir? This very good donkey. Other donkey very bad, sir, that donkey fall down. ..."
"You want postcard - very cheap - very nice. ..."
(p.43) and so does this - "some one is always pestering for money, or offering you donkeys, or beads, or expeditions to native village, or duck shooting" (p.79) but the following is more surprising; I don't recall black rocks, though she went further south than I did - They looked down to the shining black rocks in the Nile. There was something fantastic about them in the moonlight" (p.53)

Luxor's mentioned (but not feluccas, though she went on one). Aswan (the view above) is mentioned (spelt "Assuan"). Some passages have contemporary echoes -

  • ""These Italians are really insupportable"" (p.114). On the Red Sea coast there were a lot of Russians ...
  • "We've had a good deal of trouble out here - one way and another. It isn't the people who ostensibly lead the rioters that we're after. It's the men who very cleverly put the match to the gunpowder" (p.116)

The only head we see inside of, though only occasionally and slightly, is Poirot's

  • "Yet there was a kind of sharp cunning apparent in her face which did not prepossess the two men favourably towards her" (p.153)
  • "" Hercule Poirot slowly nodded his head. But his eyes were grave." (p.192; end of chapter 18)

except in Mrs. Otterbourne's last scene - Yes, she was very happy - no doubt of it! This was her moment - her triumph ... Not too good, this, but she could think of something that sounded better before it came to telling the story in court." (p.226)

I didn't guess the plot. I thought Colonel Race was involved.

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