Death on the Nile
A celebration is underway at the official Agatha Christie website — January 2022 marks 100 years since the Queen of Crime embarked on a ten-month voyage around the world.
She wrote detailed weekly letters to her mother, describing everywhere and everything, including learning how to surf in South Africa. So it should come as no surprise that her 1937 travel mystery should continue to fascinate readers. A new movie adaptation of Death on the Nile, featuring Hercule Poirot and his moustache, releases in time for Valentine’s Day.
Mrs. Allerton shivered. ‘Love can be a very frightening thing.’
‘That is why most great love stories are tragedies,’ [said Hercule Poirot].”
Rereading this mystery was, for me, like taking a journey through the perspective of every person on the doomed boat. Each one has more going on than is first apparent. It might be a secret; it might be a sorrow. Judging by the movie’s cast list, the movie cuts out several of them, which is a sin.
On the chop list are two fellows who bookend the story, and neither one is whodunnit. (I promise.) They never even leave England. One is Mr. Burnaby, the landlord of a pub, and the other is an unnamed bloke at the bar. Their purpose is not only to tell us who Linnet Ridgeway is but also who we are.
In the beginning of chapter 1 the two men gawk at the beautiful, wealthy, famous, smart Linnet in her scarlet Rolls Royce. Then, at the end of chapter 31, they read about her in the papers. They briefly discuss her, and then they move on to talking about a horse race.
Life is a horse race, and we, like Mr. Burnaby and his friend, are forever discussing it, posting it, tweeting it, podcasting it, YouTube-ing it. It’s all about Linnet — until it’s not.
We like celebrity, whether it’s the triad of wealth, fame, and beauty (represented by Linnet) or whether it’s the accidental celebrity of a trio of cats who held their owners’ brand-new Vitamix hostage. What does the poor blender think, trapped in its box, unable to live the life it was born for: to blend — with deftness and near-lethality — our squashes and cashews.
There is no blender in Death on the Nile, but if there were, it would be significant. Agatha Christie doesn’t put in a detail without a purpose. In that way she’s like a poet. And like a good poet, she uses voice to connote character.
Mr. Bunaby is a simple fellow, working and living near where Linnet is fixing up an estate. He’ll never see it, unless it’s turned into an HGTV series. He may never even leave England. And if he did, do you think he would he go all the way to Egypt with a bunch of hoity-toity socialites? He doesn’t strike me as that kind of fellow. He seems to be the kind who gets all the travel he needs by conversing with other guys down at the pub.
1. Agatha Christie wrote sixty-six novels. Do you have a favorite?
2. If an object from Death on the Nile were to speak, surely it would be Linnet’s pearls. Write a poem from their perspective.
3. Share your January pages. Sliced, started, and abandoned are all fair game.
Picture Books and Early Readers
Hiawatha (selections), by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illus. Susan Jeffers
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illus. Christopher Bing
The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans, by Barbara E. Walsh, illus. Layne Johnson
Middle Grade and YA
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (from His Dark Materials, book 1)
The Divine Comedy, by Dante Aligheri, trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (finished “Purgatorio”)
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I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro