When most think of Agatha Christie, a cheeky Belgium detective with an egg-shaped head or a sweet old lady who knits too much and has a knack for solving strange deaths comes to mind. The first book I read by Agatha Christie was Death on the Nile back when I was twelve or thirteen and I have read many books by her in the years following.
What I do not think of when I hear her name is a family mystery set in Ancient Egypt.
But that is exactly what this book is.
I was browsing through the library a couple weeks ago and was surprised to notice this novel among all of the Poirot and Miss Marple books. I had thought that all of Christie’s mysteries were set in the modern age (or modern for her, which was the 1920s to 1960s).
This book follows main protagonist Renisenb, a young woman who returns home to live with her father and three brothers after her husband dies. The house is filled with strife, from her two sisters-in-law fighting to her brothers trying to gain favor with their father. This intensifies when their father returns home with a young and beautiful but vindictive concubine Nofret, who immediately stirs up hatred among the family. Soon her body is found at the bottom of a cliff and thus the mystery begins.
The historical place and era in this book, as Christie states herself in the Forward, “are incidental to the story.” If you are looking for a book filled with lush historical detail of Ancient Egypt, this one is probably not for you. Many of the characters act as though they came from the 1930s, not two thousand years previously. Since Christie herself valued the era and place little, I will do the same and focus on plot and characters.
Before I start, I will give a soft Spoiler Alert just in case you don’t want to learn some details of the plot. However, I will not give away the ending solution to the mystery.
The characters, as all of Christie’s characters are, suffer from rather shallow character traits. Just as the historical era is second to the story, so too are the characters to the plot. In this book, the mystery and suspense shines through. Most of the characters are given simple character traits—like Renisenb is annoyingly sweet and Nofret is hateful and cruel. Because of this, many of the characters blend together. I could not remember which brother was which and who was who often times.
The one and only character I really admired from the beginning was Esa, Renisenb’s grandmother. I practically cried when she died, for although Renisenb is arguably the protagonist, it is Esa’s initiative which leads to the solving of the crime. Unfortunately, she is poisoned near the end of the book before she can reveal the killer.
I am pretty sure this book holds the award for most body count in all of Agatha Christie’s works. In fact, I stopped counting after the fifth body—there were at least seven, but I may be missing some.
As in many of Christie’s mysteries, there was an element of romance in this book. Namely, Renisenb’s. There are sparks that fly between her and Kameni—a solicitor-type person staying at the house. But, in the end, I was thrilled she ended up with Hori—a friend of the family who she was extremely close to. I noticed this in Death on the Nile as well, where one of the characters—Rosalie—ended up with the reliable man—Dr. Bessner—instead of the passionate but flighty man—Mr. Ferguson. Similarly, in this book Renisenb chooses the man who she can really rely on over the man who lights her passion. I personally loved this detail in the book.
Now we get to the plot.
As in most of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, I could not figure out who did it until the end. In fact, I was certain the murderer was Henet—the maid who kept knowing who was going to die next—until she died about twenty pages from the end of the book. I will not spoil who the murderer is, but let’s just say I was not expecting it.
The suspense builds well, and the ending was truly satisfying.
There are two small criticisms I have with the plot.
First, the fate of Imhotep—Renisenb’s father who is slowing using his mind at the end of the book—is never known. All his sons die by the end, so who will receive his house upon his death? Hori, as he plans to marry Renisenb? Or one of his grandchild? That wasn’t really explained.
Second, Renisenb’s decision to trust Henet’s message to go meet Hori up by the cliffs. She knew the servant hated her, and yet she trusted her. Renisenb at many times throughout the book made entirely stupid decisions. So, as the protagonist, I didn’t like her. She was sweet, but entirely useless, in my opinion.
Would you guys read this book? Have you read any of Agatha Christie’s books? If so, what are your thoughts on them? Let me know down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness, and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,