I've finished Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, my second Hercule Poirot mystery. So, are you curious to know whether I did indeed guess correctly? The key word here is guess, and I did guess the correct culprit. However, unlike Monsieur Poirot I can't put it down to my very astute intellectual prowess for solving murderous conundrums. It was more a matter of who I wanted it to be, and the character having a probable motive (but then don't they all), but opportunity was lacking, which threw me entirely off. I couldn't have told you how the crime was comitted and Christie threw in some complications which made me alter my suspicions every few pages. In the end it came down to the fact I read a lot of mysteries, and watch a lot of mystery shows, so know how the devious crime writer mind works. Or maybe just luck (or maybe everyone who reads it comes to the same conclusion I did). Had I not already come across a slightly similar situation in another story, I might have been at a complete loss. So in the end my first instinct was right, but I could never have explained how we got there. That's the beauty of Agatha Christie, I think. In her stories, the devil is most definitely in the details.
I've only read one other Agatha Christie novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which if you've read it, you know it shook the mystery reading world up when it was first published. I like Agatha Christie. I like her style and could probably just about read her novels one after another (though I won't gorge myself at the moment). Her mysteries are light, intellectual puzzles. They seem like very traditional mysteries, even this one with its exotic setting still had the feel of a drawing room mystery about it. There is a set cast of characters, each with something to hide, most with a connection to the victim or a reason to want her dead. All the clues are in plain sight so the clever reader (next time I'll take notes to back up my assumptions) can solve the mystery along with Poirot. I'm not sure if there is any validity to this statement, but there is an interesting theory in the wikipedia about her writing style:
"On an edition of Desert Island Discs (a British radio program), Brian Aldiss claimed Agatha Christie told him that she wrote her books up to the last chapter, and then decided who the most unlikely suspect was. She would then go back and make the necessary changes to 'frame' that person. The evidence of Christie's working methods, as described by successive biographers, contradicts this claim."
I'm not sure I buy that theory myself, as she would have a lot of changes to make for the mystery to work out. It seems to me it would only make the story more convoluted. I plan on reading a biography of Christie at some point so will see what they have to say about her writing style.
The first short section of Death on the Nile takes place in England and America. Each character is introduced in kind and there is an impressive cast of characters that I was afraid I might not be able to keep track of. Linnet Ridgeway is young and beautiful and very rich, otherwise known as The Girl Who Has Everything. What she doesn't have she simply takes, and at the beginning of the novel a friend remarks to her that she must have a lot of enemies. So the reader just knows something awful is going to happen to her right from the start. She promises her best friend Jacqueline de Bellefort that she'll consider offering Jacqueline's boyfriend, Simon Doyle, a job on her estate. Jacqueline and Simon are deeply in love but their financial situation is shaky and Simon needs a job before they can consider marrying.
Fast forward to Egypt. Enter the newly married Linnet and her husband Simon Doyle. The Doyles are enjoying their honeymoon in the beautiful, antique country of Egypt after a whirlwind romance and marriage. The only thing to darken their skies is an angry Jacqueline who dogs their steps and follows them to each new location making their honeymoon miserable. She's still in love with Simon, but now is angry with them both and throwing around all sorts of threats. The pair think they can lose Jacqueline by joining a cruise down the Nile from Assuan to Wadi Halfa. It's uncanny how Jacqueline always shows up at the last moment. Someone is going to be murdered, and it's pretty easy to see who. I won't give away anymore of the plot, as I don't want to ruin the story for anyone who hasn't read it yet.
The murder doesn't occur until halfway through the book so there are plenty of opportunities to see how everyone interacts and time to speculate on the most likely culprit. Everyone has their reason for coming to Egypt, some directly related to Linnet Doyle and others, like M. Poirot, find themselves part of the group only by chance. Poirot is joined by Colonel Race to solve the crime. Race has boarded the steamer looking for a criminal of a different sort--a political agitator. Then to complicate matters not only is there a murder but also a theft, so the possibilities of who did what are endless. Poirot has figured things out before the rest of us, but leaves the big questions and solutions until the end. Colonel Race is ready to move things along, but Poirot responds:
"You think I am just amusing myself with the side issues? And it annoys you? But it is not that. Once I went to an arachaeological expedition--and I learnt something there. In he course of an excavation, when something comes up out of the ground, everything is cleared away very carefully all around it. You take away the loose earth, and you scrape here and there with a knife until finally your object is there, all alone, ready to be drawn and photographed with no extraneous matter confusing it. That is what I have been seeking to do--clear away the extraneous matter so that we can see the truth--the naked truth."
Even though I had an inkling of who committed the crime early on (though I had my doubts over the course of the story), I still enjoyed the unravelling of the solution (which I was pretty clueless about). My only little quibble is that while the mystery ostensibly takes place on the Nile, it could almost as easily happened on the Thames. There wasn't as much local color as I would have liked, but I've checked out the film adaptation from the library, so I expect there to be lots of gorgeous scenic shots to make up for any visual shortcomings in the book. Death on the Nile was a wonderfully entertaining read--just the sort of mystery I was in the mood for. I'll be picking up more Agatha Christie (maybe a Miss Marple next), but I've already decided to read Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair, which I've heard only good things about! So many good mysteries to choose from. So little time!