The recently widowed Renisenb returns to her father’s home after eight years away and initially believes that everything will be as it was before.
However when Imhotep returns with his new young concubine Nofret the lives of the whole family change for the worse. It does not take long for previously feuding family members to unite in their hatred of Nofret and soon death visits the estate for the first,but definitely not the last, time.
In her introduction Christie says that “Both place and time are incidental to the story – any other place at any other time would have served as well” and this is definitely accurate. Although a lack of a police force and a strong belief in the supernatural are required, this would have been the prevailing case through much of history and would still apply in some places even today.
As I have read elsewhere, although set in the distance past, it is a classic country house mystery: an ageing father who still controls the purse-strings and by extention the lives of his children; two brothers of different temperaments who clash in how to run the business; their wives, one shrewish, the other wrapped up in her children; a spoiled younger brother from a second marriage who wants to make his mark in the world; a grandmother who takes her few pleasures where she can but can still make her grown son squirm; a handful of servants; and two incomers, poles apart, in the returning sister and the new wife who very much puts the cat amonst the pigeons.
Christie had never scared me before but on first reading this I can remember being genuinely frightened, especially of one particular death. I think this is also because there is no element of law and order here – Renisenb and her allies must rely on themselves alone to find the murderer.
An interesting story, mainly for its setting, but for me not an essential Christie. As I’m not particularly attached to it, I’m interested to see what the BBC will make of it in their forthcoming adaptation, especially as it hasn’t been televised before.
Signs of the Times
The story is set c.2000 BC so almost everything is a Sign of the Times so I won’t go into any of them.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “When – Set pre-1800”.
The characters belief in the supernatural is key to the mystery working – Satipy’s end is described as follows:
“And then, suddenly, Satipy stiffened in her tracks. She stood as though frozen, staring back along the path. Her arms went up as though at some dreadful sight or as though to ward off a blow. She cried out something, stumbled, swayed, and then, as Yahmose sprang towards her, she screamed, a scream of terror, and plunged forward off the edge, headlong to the rocks below…”
If Renisenb and Hori just believed the evidence of their eyes it would be clear that Yahmose was trying to kill Satipy and that she had fallen trying to evade him. However because they believe in “ghosts, spirits, and the devil” they give credence to Yahmose when he says:
“She looked past me – over my shoulder – as though she saw someone coming along the path – but there was no one – there was no one there.”
and that possible Satipy has been spooked by the shade of Nofret.
The clue from childhood is pure Christie when their mother tells Sobek that is dangerous to hit Yahmose. We believe this is because it is dangerous to Yahmose from being hit when actually it is danger to Sobek that is meant because of Yahmose’s possible reaction.