Friday, 12 March 2010

Agatha Christie - Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile (The Christie Collection) Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It is obviously quite difficult to review a book that has been commented upon so many times, and it is therefore challenging to come up with anything new that hasn't already been said or written by others before. Nevertheless, here is my opinion on "Death on the Nile": If you like murder mysteries and the quintessentially English "whodunnit", then this should certainly be a candidate on your "must-read" list. Christie's story is unputdownable and a perfectly crafted example of the genre. The author introduces a myriad of characters, which is quite often a guarantee for confusing your readers. This is not the case with "Death on the Nile" and due to the author's skill you will remain on top of the story and its various sub-plots at all times. As with all murder mysteries, it pays to have your attention on details revealed throughout the story, but in "Death on the Nile" it is difficult to guess in advance, who really was the perpetrator of the three murders. In the end I had to rely on the guidance of the ingenious Hercule Poirot.

In this context I have to admit, how glad I am only to have watched snippets of the Hercule Poirot film adaptations, which enabled me to imagine a Poirot that was rather different from the character in the films. Above all, by reading the Poirot books you are not constantly bothered by Poirot's stylised French (sorry, Beligian-French)accent. Instead, you get a chance of improving your rudimentary language skills when Poirot throws in a few remarks in French here in there. The same applies to the Teutonic character, Dr Bessner. The different nationalities of the characters lend themselves very well to stereotyping and Christie seems to thrive on this throughout the book.
Another interesting aspect permeating the whole story was Christie's rather subtle mockery of the upperclass protagonists.

Reading the book in 2008, I was quite shocked by the extremely racist references about "wretched Negro children" and various other derogatory remarks about the natives. Perhaps, this should not come as a surprise, bearing in mind that another of Christie's stories was originally published under the title "Ten Little Indians", only to be renamed "Ten Little Niggers", which was scrapped again. The story is now titled "And Then There Were None", which obviously fits better with a post-colonial audience. Nonetheless, the book is so interesting, especially because we have to see it in its historical context.

Another downside for me was the superficial characterisation of the protagonists. This is naturally not Christie's fault (and as stated above, I think she has done a good job) but a generic problem of murder mysteries, especially when these often only span around 250 pages. I personally prefer the somewhat deeper psychological analysis of authors such as a Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell). This criticism, however, only derives from personal preference and does not touch upon the author's skill. Without mentioning any details, I also think that the ending lets the book down a bit.

All in all, "Death on the Nile" was a page-turner and an enjoyable weekend-read, even though the denoument is a trifle disappointing. I will refrain from going into detail about this, but it felt a little rushed and unsatisfying to my mind. Despite this, the story is worth a read, and I guarantee you will get sucked into it, provided murder mysteries are your preferred genre.

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