The best laid plans of murderers oft gang agley—especially when Hercule Poirot happens to be on the same Nile trip. Those little grey cells don’t rest, even when they’re supposed to be on vacation. In Death on the Nile, Poirot ends up investigating what turns into a series of murders. Christie’s novels are always interactive for me (in a strange kind of way) because I can’t help but try to compete with the venerable Golden Age detective. Whenever I read one of her books, I’m not just reading it to see what happens. I’m also gathering clues and evaluating witnesses just like Poirot is. I haven’t managed to beat him yet.
This novel is classic Christie. There are multiple suspects with multiple plausible motives. Timelines are important and the crime looks impossible until Poirot puts everything together for us. Little things he noticed or overheard (which aren’t always revealed in the text, so I think Christie is a bit of a cheat because her readers can’t ever figure it out before her detectives) turn out to be critical clues. Once it’s revealed whodunit, it makes so much sense that I can’t see any other possibility.
Death on the Nile takes some time to warm up. The book opens about a year before the main action of the plot. A number of characters (and their motives) are introduced to set things up. About a third of the way in, the plot settles down as Linnet Doyle and a variety of other characters all end up on a ship traveling south down the Nile. Linnet and her new husband, Simon, have been stalked by Jacqueline, Simon’s former love, all along their honeymoon. The strain is starting to show by the time Linnet and Simon bump into Poirot in Egypt. Linnet asks him to try and make Jacqueline go away, but she will not be dissuaded. After some conversations heavy with foreshadowing and after a little bit of sight-seeing, Linnet is murdered in her cabin, Simon is shot, and Poirot is on the case.
I can’t say any more, because the fun of Christie’s books is seeing the mystery get solved. I, like Poirot, don’t want to give anything away. I can say that I was surprised by the ending—though I shouldn’t have been after reading Murder on the Orient Express. Not only didn’t Christie fool me again, but I am surprised at Poirot’s attitude about a lot of the criminal activity taking place on the boat. I had forgotten about Poirot’s occasionally flexible morality. It seems that he is a sucker for a love-gone-wrong story.
While I enjoyed the mystery of Death on the Nile, I was constantly flinching at the casual sexism and racism. Murder on the Orient Express isn’t as bad as this one. Several characters in this book have not aged well. The things some of the men say would have been totally acceptable when this book was published in 1937; they are definitely not okay now. So, gentle readers, if you’d like a good, complicated mystery and are thinking about reading this book, be prepared.