In this novel, Poirot goes on a holiday in Egypt to escape dreadful British winter and has a nice relaxing cruise down the Nile, enjoying sunshine, tranquil balmy evenings and the ancient Egyptian temples. At least, that was the idea before he ends up investigating a murder onboard the river ship. Don’t you hate it when your job keeps following you around?
The atmosphere on the steamer is tense from the start, with a stormy love triangle involving a rich heiress, her new husband, and her former best friend who could have had Dolly Parton’s Jolene as her personal song. Linnet Ridgeway is a girl who has everything, but it’s not enough to be young, beautiful, smart, obscenely wealthy and sophisticated – she has to go and steal a man from her friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort, who didn’t stand a chance once Linnet showed an interest in her fiancé. Devastated and vengeful, Jacqueline follows the newlyweds on their honeymoon in Egypt, making sure to be in their way as much as possible. Ruining a holiday and taking pleasure in your enemy’ discomfort is one thing, but when Linnet is found shot in her cabin, the first natural suspicion is that Jacqueline’s grudge went way further. Inevitably, all is not as it seems, and the investigation turns up a slew of possible murderers and motives.
Inspired by Christie’s own travels in Egypt, Death on the Nile is without a doubt one of the best and most essential Poirot mysteries, with a meticulously crafted plot that ticks away with the precision of a Swiss watch. It’s also one of the longer Christie novels I’ve re-read so far; the first murder takes place about 150 pages into the story and the preceding chapters take time to carefully set up the scene and all the various supporting players/potential suspects. Among other things, the exotic locations are probably a big reason for why it’s getting another cinematic adaptation in 2020.
Poirot is at his brilliant best in the book, and gets to display his sentimental streak where young people in love are concerned, as well as his self-confessed giant ego: I like an audience, I must confess. I am vain, you see. I am puffed up with conceit. I like to say, “See how clever is Hercule Poirot!” Speaking of love, there’s a lot of romancing in the book amid the murder and mayhem. With all due respect to Dame Agatha, while she always excelled at using romantic love to shed light on the darker aspects of human nature, happy couples were never her forte and most of the romances here feel rather stiff and unconvincing. Still love the book though.