Starting with a Classic

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

A dear friend surprised me recently by sending me a paperback copy of Death on the Nile. It’s been years since I read the book, and I loved re-reading it and finding all the things I missed the first time around. My friend and I were planning to read the book at the same time and compare notes, but we haven’t had a chance to do that yet. I thought I’d begin this new iteration of Reade and Write by offering my thoughts on this classic mystery.

In case you weren’t aware, 20th Century Studios has released a new adaptation of Death on the Nile starring Kenneth Branagh as the famous detective Hercule Poirot. I have not seen the new movie, but I have seen the 1978 version many times. In that star-studded homage to the book, Peter Ustinov played Poirot alongside co-stars ranging from Maggie Smith to David Niven to Bette Davis and many others.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you I like the book better.

To summarize briefly: A luxury cruise down the Nile River ends in murder. Three murders, to be precise.

The first murder, in which the victim is a beatiful and fabulously wealthy young woman, is the catalyst that sets off a chain of events culminating in the deaths of two other passengers. As luck would have it, Hercule Poirot, one of the world’s greatest detectives, is on board and is, of course, asked to investigate the crimes and unearth the culprit or culprits. Though most of the action takes place on board the boat, there is a signigicant amount of backstory which takes place on dry land. How fortunate that the intrepid Poirot is present for some of that backstory. As the mystery unfolds, of course, Poirot discovers there are more suspects than anyone realized. His job: solve the crime before the journey ends and a killer gets away.

In case you haven’t guessed it by now, I loved the book.

The most amazing thing about Agatha Christie is her ability to tell the reader something important without the reader ever knowing it. Even having read the book and seen the movie before, there were things I missed. Poirot’s logic is impeccable—and though he may start from the wrong assumption, he has the self-confidence to admit it and change course when necessary.

The pacing in this book is perfect. Christie doles out each juicy clue or piece of information at just the right time, and the action keeps the reader engaged and interested from the first page to the last. I found it a little challenging to keep track of all the characters, but eventually each one gels sufficiently to retain a grasp of who’s who.

If you haven’t read the book and haven’t seen the movie, allow me to suggest that you read the book first! Having seen the movie, I found it hard to separate the actors from the characters in the book. For example, I doubt I’ll ever be able to read the book again without hearing Angela Lansbury’s voice every time Mrs. Salome Otterbourne is speaking. Ditto with Mia Farrow as Jacqueline de Bellefort and Dame Maggie Smith as Miss Bowers.

If you love a great whodunit with a lush Egyptian backdrop, a touch of romance, and an added hint of geopolitical intrigue from the 1930s, grab a copy of this book and settle in for a great read.