Thanks to Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise for hosting a blog tour to celebrate Christie Week 2009 and for allowing me to participate. I feel quite privileged to be in the company of such an array of blogging Christie fans.
By the time I hit 10 years of age I had run out of the meagre offerings of children’s books our local library had to offer. My mother decreed that, among a few select authors, Agatha Christie’s novels would be suitable for my young eyes. At the time I thought it was a comment on my advanced maturity but in retrospect I think she hoped Christie would have enough published content to stop, for a while at least, my endless cries of “Muuuuuuum…what can I read?”. The first Christie book I was allowed to borrow (with my very own adult library card) was Death on the Nile and reading it, not to be overly dramatic, changed my life.
It was the first time I had read a book that wasn’t just a story. Of course there is a great story (more of that later) but what I remember most vividly is the way it introduced me to a whole world I’d been unaware of up until that point. At the beginning of the book, when all the characters are being introduced, they are all palpably excited by the prospect of an impending trip to exotic Egypt. The way that Christie depicted her characters’ anticipation and their subsequent adventures made me want to visit the places she talked about. From then on I became obsessed with two things: Egypt and travelling. I devoured more books, wrote my own stories, trawled encyclopedias and became a regular visitor to the Egyptian room at our State museum.
During my childhood our family took its limited holidays in places no more than an hour or two’s drive from home but reading this book opened my eyes to the possibility that people could travel further afield than Moana beach. After a couple of other trips to more traditional destinations I finally visited Egypt when I was in my mid-20’s. Happily, it was as exotic, mysterious and wonderful as I’d imagined. I didn’t travel in quite the same style as the people in Christie’s adventure (no staterooms on our boat) but it was a magical, memorable experience all the same.
To this day I approach each new book with a dual anticipation: that I might be entertained by the story inside and learn something new and interesting about people or places beyond my teeny suburb at the bottom (or top depending on your map) of the world. Aren’t I lucky? A hundred or more times each year I get that tingly feeling and I have Agatha Christie to thank for it. Because not just any old writer can be that inspirational.
For those who, inexplicably, haven’t read the book the story concerns Linnet Doyle, one of the richest women in England, who travels to Egypt with her husband Simon for their honeymoon. The couple’s trip is marred by constantly running into Simon’s former fiancée Jacqueline De Bellefort, who was also Linnet’s best friend but now appears to be stalking the newlyweds. The three cruise down the Nile on the Karnak: the passenger list filled out by an array of socialites, servants, mysterious strangers and, of course, the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. There is, as the title suggests, a death (followed by several more) and various minor mysteries for Poirot and his old friend Colonel Race (who is there on the trail of a spy) to unravel.
The story is intricately plotted with its beauty contained in the to-the-second timing of everyone’s movements. Like a great magician, Christie is a master of distraction and keeps all but Poirot’s little grey cells busy pondering jewel thefts and legal shenanigans while the real murderer goes undetected. The characters, all of them, are vividly depicted, leaping from the page in rich imagery that might seem like a cliché until you realise Christie is the original who countless others have imitated. And of course there is the marvellous sense of place and the exotic atmosphere that the book exudes.
Over the years I have re-read the book, watched the film ’til the tape broke (which is why I was the sole person to nominate Peter Ustinov as favourite Hercule Poirot), badgered my theatre group to stage the play (which Christie also wrote), wasted far too many hours on the hidden puzzle game and paid homage to Death on the Nile in a dozen other ways. In preparation for this blog tour I listened to a version narrated by everyone else’s favourite M Poirot, David Suchet. Although the book was first published in 1937 and despite the fact I know the story backwards it was as gripping, timeless and immersive as ever.
Thank you Agatha, it’s been a magical trip so far; as always I can’t wait for the next chapter.