Death on the Nile is a pre-Second World War novel, first published in 1937. It shows Agatha Christie’s interest in Egypt and archaeology and also reflects much of the flavour and social nuances of the pre-war period. In it she sets a puzzle to solve – who shot Linnet Doyle, the wealthy American heiress? Although the novel is set in Egypt, an exotic location, it is essentially a ‘locked room mystery’, as the characters are passengers on the river-steamer SS Karnak, cruising on the Nile. Amongst them is the famous Hercule Poirot, a short man dressed in a white silk suit, a panama hat and carrying a highly ornamental fly whisk with a sham amber handle – a funny little man (pages 37 –38). Linnet is the girl who has everything, good looks and wealth:
A girl with golden hair and straight autocratic features – a girl with a lovely shape … (page 3). She was used to being looked at, being admired, to being the centre of the stage wherever she went. (page 41)
Linnet has recently married Simon Doyle, who was previously engaged to her friend, Jacqueline. This sets in motion a series of events that results in Linnet’s death. When Jacqueline follows them on their trip down the Nile she is the obvious suspect, driven by her jealousy of Linnet. Also on board are an imperious American, Miss Van Schuyler, her niece Cornelia Robson and Miss Bowers, her companion; a novelist Mrs Salome Otterbourne and her daughter, Rosalie; Mrs Allerton and her son, Tim; Linnet’s American solicitor, an excitable Italian archaeologist, a radical English socialist and a young English solicitor.
Poirot is on holiday, but he finds himself discussing the nature of criminals and motives for murder with Mrs Allerton. He says the most frequent motive is money:
that is to say gain in its various ramifications. Then there is revenge, and love, and fear – and pure hate, and benefice –. (page 83)
The motive in this case seems straightforward, looking at who gains from Linnet’s death, but this is a complicated plot (when is one of Christie’s books not complicated?) and following on from Linnet’s murder, her maid is also found dead, Linnet’s pearls are missing, several characters are not what them seem and with the arrival of Colonel Race, a member of the British Secret Service, it seems there is also an international murderer and agitator on board. Poirot knew
that Race was a man of unadvertised goings and comings. He was usually to be found in one of the out-posts of Empire where trouble was brewing. (page 120)
It does seem a very unlikely plot, dependent on precise timing, but Poirot works his way through the significant facts and arrives at the truth. He tells Race that
This is a crime that need audacity, swift and faultless execution, courage, indifference to danger and a resourceful, calculating brain. … This crime wasn’t safe! It hung on a razor edge, It needed boldness. (page 272)
All in all, an enjoyable puzzle to solve, most of which I’d worked out along with Poirot.