This story opens with a series of events that show a number of people preparing to travel to Egypt, including the affianced Simon Doyle and Jacqueline de Bellefort who plan to honeymoon there.
Several months later Hercule Poirot is in Assuan as he planned but the newlyweds are now Simon and Linnet Doyle née Ridgeway who is both rich and beautiful and had been Jacqueline’s best friend. Jackie has not taken her loss lying down and has stalked the couple across Europe to Africa making their life very uncomfortable. When they start a cruise up the Nile they think they have finally got rid of her but she turns up once again.
Late one night Jackie drunkenly shoots Simon and while no long-term harm seems to have been done, someone else has used the confusion to commit murder and robbery as next morning Linnet is found shot dead by the same gun and her pearls are missing.
With Colonel Race in semi-official charge, Poirot is given carte blanche to carry out an investigation which he does in his usual fashion, unearthing all the dirty secrets of his fellow travellers which explain why they might be the killer (as well as playing matchmaker) until he begins to look at things the right way round and uncovers one of Christie’s most memorable solutions.
I originally saw the Peter Ustinov film version before reading the book and happened to re-watch it a little before this re-read. There are more sub-plots in the book but in the film one character is given a good motive when they don’t particularly have one in the book.
This is Christie at her best, using a common device to great effect and re-using an element from a previous work to a much better effect. Not in my Top 5 but definitely in my Top 10.
Recurring character development
Is an honoured guest at Chez Ma Tante for solving a crime involving a dead waiter.
Notes that detective stories are not always exact as to details.
Has a moustache.
Chief Inspector Japp
Has been working on some jewel robberies and has developed a particular theory which for once turns out to be correct.
Signs of the Times
The story is set a year after Cards on the Table which was set in 1937 (or 1936).
Pennington sails on the Normandie. This French ship entered service in 1935 and held the Blue Riband for crossing the Atlantic on several occasions. She was seized by the Americans in New York but whilst being converted to a troop ship in 1942 caught fire. Although initially salvaged she was scrapped in 1946.
Jackie hums “he was her man and he did her wrong…”This is from “Frankie and Johnny” a traditional American song of uncertain origins but possibly based on a real crime where a woman killed her cheating lover.
Race says that someone was “BF enough to write a big J on the wall”. Here I assume this stands for “bloody fool”.
Ferguson owns “Erewhon” and Pepys’ “Diary”. The former is an 1872 novel by Samuel Butler; the latter the diary of a naval administrator covering 1660-1669.
Tim Allerton has a tube of Seccotine amongst his belongings. This is an Irish brand of fish glue.
Linnet Doyle uses Nailex nail polish. I can find no such contemporary brand but it is now a product for dealing with ingrown toe nails.
The poem in French that Poirot quotes is by Belgian poet Léon de Montenaeken (1859-1950).
Ferguson sings “Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum” from “Treasure Island” (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Poirot notes that Fanthorp’s OE tie is the same as that worn by Captain Hastings. Here OE stands for Old Etonian.
References to previous works
Poirot refers to a crime that was brilliant and difficult to solve which was committed on the spur of the moment, which is most likely to be Cards on the Table. This book is definitely referred to when Poirot meets Colonel Race at Wadi Halfa.
Miss Van Schuyler has heard of Poirot from her friend Rufus Van Aldin who appeared in The Mystery of the Blue Train.
Poirot refers to the hiding place of a scarlet kimono from Murder on the Orient Express.
Poirot refers to his visit to an archaeological excavation from Murder in Mesopotamia.
Race refers to the South African rebellion from The Man in the Brown Suit.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “When – during a trip/vacation”.
The One Where The Man Who Couldn’t Do It Because He Had A Bullet In His Leg Did It And Then Shot Himself In The Leg.
The first murder coming at page 115 is probably the latest in a Christie novel but it fixes in our minds that Simon is now the devoted husband and that Jackie hates both him and Linnet and could easily kill either of them. Also there is the first murder attempt that she is definitely not involved with.
It is brilliant in that they both give each other alibis through a seemingly unpremeditated act and even if you started to question it, the extreme nature of shooting yourself in the knee would seem so ridiculous to be put immediately out of mind.
When asked before the murder by Mrs Allerton, Poirot notes that money is the most frequent motive for murder and that is the case here. By a rough analysis, in Christie’s novels this motive accounts for between a quarter to a third of all cases, and is four times more common than any other single motive.