Saturday, November 07, 2015

Agatha Christie. Death on the Nile

      Agatha Christie. Death on the Nile (1938) By the time she wrote this, Christie's interest had evidently shifted from mere puzzle construction towards character, and her always strong interest in romance began to trump her ruthless views on justice. Linnet Ridgeway, a very beautiful and very rich heiress, is the victim. Poirot happens to be present on the tour up the Nile because he has  has supposedly retired and is taking a holiday. (This is an early attempt by Christie to rid herself of the amusing Belgian. If he's retired, this could be his last bow.) The murder was carefully planned: Simon Doyle, the husband, and Jacqueline de Bellefort, his erstwhile fiancee, have arranged for Linnet to "take away" the man and marry him, then murder her, so that they could enjoy her lovely money. The murder depends on a double alibi, and a barely sufficient window of opportunity. Colonel Race (on the tour boat in his Secret Service capacity) and Poirot investigate, as the tour operators wish to have the affair settled before handing over the case to the Egyptian police.
    At first, Poirot is misled by the carefully staged alibi, but a couple of facts that don't fit arouse his suspicions, and he uses his usual method of looking at the facts from the opposite angle. Since he uses this method so often, and because Miss Marple does so too, I suspect this is Christie's comment on the best method for solving puzzles. Poirot also arranges for two couples to live happily ever after. The story ends with a murder suicide: Jacqueline has brought two pistols with her. Suicide as a way out becomes more common in Christie's later novels. Perhaps an unadmitted snobbishness (upper class people shouldn't be hanged), or a weakening of her pro-hanging views, or her sentimental attitude to true love (perhaps a wishful reaction to her own unsuccessful first marriage) produced this shift.
    The novel is one of Christie's masterpieces, no doubt the reason it was made into a film starring Peter Ustinov (1978). It  had a good success, but Ustinov is a bad Poirot. Despite his considerable acting skill he can't overcome the impression of general tattiness and rumpled disorder, greatly at odds with Poirot's neatness and precision. His clothes are always wrinkled – something Poirot would never permit himself, even in the humid heat of the Nile valley. The movie's simplified plot required significant changes, which IMO reduce the psychological complexity of the story. I suppose the producers couldn't afford the lengthy cast of the original story. Pity. ***

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