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An old-school mystery for leisurely reading

An old-school mystery for leisurely reading

For me mystery novels are summer. They are captivating, enjoyable and the perfect thing to read on a vacation.

With the warm weather approaching too slowly for my taste, I’ve found myself longing for the hotter days of free time. Since I can’t change the forecast, I can at least capture that feeling of peaceful leisure; and to do so, I grabbed a mystery novel from my shelf. However, time’s been tight and I wanted a reliable author I knew could dupe me so I went with “Death on the Nile” by Agatha Christie (William Morrow Paperbacks; Reissue Edition, 2011, 352 pages). 

For those who may not be as familiar with Christie’s works, her mysteries often feature either Hercule Poirot, an eclectic, French detective or Miss Marple, an elderly spinster with savvy sleuthing capabilities. Some of her books have neither, but “Death on the Nile” is a Poirot mystery.

But before the reader knows he’s there, Christie introduces a host of other characters who are seemingly random and unrelated. And indeed, that’s what they are until they find themselves riding on the same steamer, the Karnak, touring the Nile River.

Among the passengers there are many, but to name a few: the French detective, a famous British socialite and her husband, an Italian archaeologist, a young, outspoken communist, a German doctor, an aging romance novelist stuck in the past and a haughty, rich American woman along with her entourage.

The steamer’s goal is pure holiday and even Poirot is off-duty in this book — until he finds himself caught up in a web of drama, intrigue and foreshadowing. Of course, his reputation precedes him, which is a natural opening to his involvement. A fellow passenger, Linnet Doyle, is known by the papers as the “wealthiest woman in England” and she has come with her new husband, Simon, on their honeymoon. However, they are not alone. Behind them follow his spurned lover and her ex-best friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort. Linnet approaches Poirot with the request that he deter Jacqueline. Poirot refuses to take the commission but nevertheless attempts to talk sense into Jacqueline and convince her to drop whatever plans she may have and to leave the past in the past. Unfortunately, he is unsuccessful and Jacqueline continues to trail the newlyweds.

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At the outset, it seems that Jacqueline’s only goal is to bother them by her mere presence. It works out very well, as they are irritated and unruffled by her enough to barely be able to enjoy their time together. In their attempts to shake her, they decide to last-minute stay on the Karnak (along with Poirot), contrary to their initial plans to get off for another destination. Nevertheless, Jacqueline somehow ends up remaining on the steamer too.

That’s when things heat up. Colonel Race, an old friend of Poirot, joins the group and confides in Poirot that he on the trail of a murderer who he knows is onboard the ship. Confrontations and violence ensue, casting the whole set of passengers into the realm of suspicion. Unexpected alibis battle unexpected motives, leaving the reader to wonder what’s really going on. Poirot himself can’t seem to solve the murder mystery before bodies begin to pile up and expensive jewelry is stolen. Suddenly, histories of jealousy and motives of revenge emerge from the passengers’ quarters and it appears that nearly everyone on board has some semblance of a motive for the first death.

As a teenager, I was always a big fan of Christie’s works, but the intricacy of her style eluded me then. She manages to weave an abundance of characters and their backstories together without once being confusing or losing the sense of simplicity that keeps the plot straightforward.

Personally, I enjoy trying to figure out the mystery as I’m reading so I appreciate this book in particular because all the characters are stuck on a ship. There is no unseen murderer who I have not yet encountered in the story.

I had forgotten the power of good mystery novel. Since a young age, I ate up anything of the mystery genre: Boxcar Children to Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie. Now I’m an even more appreciative reader of Christie. Her style has a fascinating efficiency that is unpredictable, keeps you hooked and is wrapped up in an unexpected bow. The best thing about her repertoire is that there doesn’t seem to be an end of new mysteries I’ll be filling my summer with!

(Anna Barren teaches fifth grade and is a lifelong lover of books. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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