Death on the Nile
by Agatha Christie

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a Hercule Poirot mystery

Collins: London, 1937
284 pages

Dodd, Mead: New York, 1938

326 pages

November 2010


Agatha Christie's famous and memorable mystery novel, Death on the Nile, after some premonitory scenes mostly in England, takes place on a River Nile excursion steamboat, with some sightseeing landfalls among ancient Egyptian monuments near the river banks. As with most of my favorite Christie novels, her famous detective Hercule Poirot is involved almost from the very beginning, so we see almost the whole sequence of events through his thoughtful eyes.

[A restaurant proprietor in London:] "You have grave affairs in hand?"

Poirot shook his head.

"I am, alas, a man of leisure," he said sadly. ...

"Yes, there is travel. Already I have done not so badly. This winter I shall visit Egypt, I think. The climate, they say, is superb! One will escape from the fogs, the greyness, the monotony of the constantly falling rain."

I want at once to differentiate this from several other Christie murder adventures set in the Near East: Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), also a Hercule Poirot mystery; Death Comes as the End (1945), set in ancient Egypt; and They Came to Baghdad (1951), an international-intrigue thriller. The plots of these are thoroughly embedded in their setting. All enjoyable, but far short of the one at hand.

In contrast, Death on the Nile requires for locale basically a tourist riverboat in a lonely stretch of river; and granting that, could be set most anywhere. Although there is some majestic background scenery from the Nile River and Pharaonic ruins, Christie holds these strictly in the background, devoting her attention and the reader's to her exquisite tangle of mystery and detection.

Agatha Christie's ability as a portrait miniaturist is nowhere shown more cleverly than here, with a good number of characters sketched concisely but clearly; and although quite various, even empathetically. This is particularly vital because the complex murder mystery and attendant detective work is brilliantly laid out and developed, with surprising twists and developments throughout.

Beautifully plotted, vividly developed. Death on the Nile is a masterpiece of detective fiction.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

Detection at Troynovant
solving mysteries; detective agencies

Notes to a Proofreader (ebook):

  • “She’s been crying.” “Poor thing! =>
    “She’s been crying.”
    “Poor thing!
  • Mr. and Mrs. Doyle are spending their holiday in Egypt. Rosalie said, “You’d like to move on to Egypt, Mother?”
    [detach the spoken question from the end of the italicized newspaper article] =>
    Mr. and Mrs. Doyle are spending their holiday in Egypt.
    Rosalie said, “You’d like to move on to Egypt, Mother?”
  • The others fell back and launched a fresh attack on the next corner. =>
    The others fell back and launched a fresh attack on the next comer.
    [not assaulting a redoubt, but importuning the next tourist]
  • “C’est de l’enfantillage,” agreed Poirot.
    [Poirot seems to be agreeing with his own preceding statement]
  • one of the Assuanshops =>
    one of the Assuan shops
    [not an error, but Assuan is commonly spelled Aswan today]
  • in his clinic And he’s =>
    in his clinic. And he’s
  • she makes her greedy bit =>
    she makes her greedy bid

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