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Death on the Nile (novel)

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Death on the Nile First Edition Cover 1937

Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition

Death on the Nile is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on November 1, 1937 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the following year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.

The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The action takes place in Egypt, mostly on the Nile River.

Plot summary Edit

The SetupEdit

While dining out in London one evening, Hercule Poirot notices a young woman, Jacqueline de Bellefort, dining and dancing with her fiancé, Simon Doyle. Poirot also notices that Jackie (a nickname given to her and used by intimates; short for Jacqueline) is very much smitten and is in love with Simon. The next day, Jacqueline takes Simon to meet her best friend, wealthy young heiress Linnet Ridgeway, in the hopes that Linnet will offer Simon a job. Three months later, Simon has broken off his engagement to Jacqueline and married Linnet.

Poirot happens to encounter the couple on their honeymoon to Egypt, where he himself is on holiday. At their shared hotel in Cairo, Poirot sees an apparent chance meeting between the Doyles and Jacqueline. Afterwards, Linnet approaches Poirot and confides that Jacqueline has been stalking them since they were married, which is antagonizing both of them. Poirot says the Doyles have no legal recourse, but tries to reason with Jacqueline in private, urging her to let go of her attachment to Simon and not "open [her] heart to evil." Jacqueline refuses to listen, confiding that she has been dreaming of killing Linnet.

Attempting to give Jacqueline the slip, the Doyles plan an extended stay in Cairo, while secretly booking passage on the same Nile river cruise as Poirot. To their rage, Jacqueline learns their plans and appears on board with them. Other passengers include:

  • American erotica novelist Salome Otterbourne and her daughter, Rosalie;
  • Mrs. Allerton and her son, Tim;
  • Linnet's American trustee, Andrew Pennington, who happened to run into her in Egypt;
  • Linnet's maid, Louise Bourget;
  • American socialite Marie Van Schuyler and her younger cousin, Cornelia Robson;
  • Miss Van Schuyler's nurse, Miss Bowers;
  • A young traveler named, Mr. Ferguson, an outspoken Socialist;
  • Archaeologist, Signor Richetti;
  • A diffident young man named James Fanthorp;
  • An Austrian physician named Dr. Bessner.
  • A husband of an Egyptian native Fleetwood;

While taking a tour of some ancient ruins, a boulder falls from a cliff, narrowly missing Linnet and Simon. They suspect Jacqueline at first, but find out she was on the boat the whole time and could not have done it.

Poirot meets his friend Colonel Race, who is joining everyone on the boat for the return trip. Race tells Poirot that one of the passengers is a deadly criminal who has murdered several other people, only Race has not yet identified him.

That night on the boat, Jacqueline gets into a drunken rage, takes out a pistol, and shoots Simon in the leg, then breaks down in a hysterical state of remorse. At Simon's insistence, the two other persons present, Cornelia and Mr. Fanthorp, help Jacqueline back to her cabin, and then fetch Dr. Bessner to see to Simon's wound. Nurse Bowers stays in Jacqueline's room all night. Later, Fanthorp tells Bessner the gun is missing.

The CrimeEdit

The next day, Linnet is found dead with a bullet in her head. Race takes charge of the situation and asks Poirot to handle the investigation. Several clues seem to incriminate Jacqueline – a "J" written in blood on the wall above Linnet's head, for instance – but Miss Bowers assures Poirot that Jacqueline never left her cabin that night. Dr. Bessner also assures Poirot that Simon's leg wound completely incapacitated him, and so he could not have moved from his bed, even if he wanted to.

Race and Poirot theorize that Linnet had some other enemy among the passengers, who took advantage of the scene in the lounge to murder her and implicate Jacqueline. Poirot also notices that Linnet's pearl necklace is missing from her room.

Poirot then interviews all the passengers. Several of them heard a splash shortly after midnight, and Miss Van Schuyler claims that she looked out her window and saw Rosalie Otterbourne throw something overboard. But Rosalie denies this. A short time later, the murder weapon is recovered from the Nile – Jacqueline's pistol, wrapped in Miss Van Schuyler's missing velvet stole. To Poirot this makes no sense, when someone wanting to incriminate Jacqueline would have left her pistol behind to incriminate her.

Louise Bourget is interviewed in Dr. Bessner's cabin, while Bessner is ministering to Simon. She says she saw nothing on the night of the murder, but would have done "if" she had left her cabin. This choice of words sounds strange to Poirot.

When Race announces that the cabins will be searched for the missing pearls, Miss Bowers returns them, confiding that Miss Van Schuyler took them from Linnet's cabin, being a secret kleptomaniac. But Poirot examines the string and finds it is a fake, meaning the real necklace was stolen sometime earlier.

Poirot eventually realizes that Salome Otterbourne is a secret alcoholic, and what Rosalie was throwing overboard was her mother's hidden cache of spirits. Rosalie admits this, but firmly denies seeing anyone leaving Linnet's cabin on the night of the murder.

When Louise Bourget is found murdered in her cabin, clutching a large-denomination banknote, Race and Poirot deduce that she had seen the real murderer leave Linnet's cabin, and was trying to blackmail him or her.

Poirot and Race enter Dr. Bessner's cabin and tell the doctor and Simon what happened. Salome Otterbourne enters and says she knows who killed Linnet and Louise, because she saw that person enter and leave Louise's cabin. Simon yells at her to tell him. Before she can finish her story, a shot is fired from the deck outside, killing her. Before Poirot and Race can get outside, the shooter is gone, having dropped a gun that Poirot recognizes from Andrew Pennington's luggage.

Poirot announces that he has solved the case; for him the most salient clues were:

  • the fact that Poirot only drinks wine with dinner, while his two usual dinner companions, the Allertons, drink something else;
  • two bottles of nail polish in Linnet's room, one labelled "Cardinal" (a deep, dark red) and the other "Rose" (pale pink), but both of which contain red coloring;
  • the fact that Jacqueline's gun was thrown overboard; and
  • the circumstances of Louise and Mrs. Otterbourne's deaths.

The SolutionEdit

Before explaining his solution to the crime, Poirot decides to clear away some of the lesser mysteries first, by interviewing several of the passengers in turn:

  • Andrew Pennington admits that he has speculated, illegally, with Linnet's holdings; he was hoping to replace the funds before she came of age, but upon her marriage she gained full control of her estate; on learning of her marriage, Pennington rushed to Egypt to stage a "chance" encounter with Linnet and dupe her into signing legal documents that would exculpate him; he abandoned the plan when he found that Linnet was a shrewd woman who read anything she was asked to sign in detail; in desperation, he tried to kill her by dropping the boulder on her, but that is as far as he went, and he swears that he did not murder her;
  • Fanthorp is revealed to be a young attorney with Linnet's British solicitors, who sent him to Egypt to spy on Pennington, suspicious of his intentions;
  • Tim is exposed as a society jewel thief, working in partnership with his cousin, a down-on-her-luck socialite. Tim stole the pearls from Linnet's cabin that night and substituted the fake string for them, but, likewise, swears he didn't kill her; he does not know if Linnet was already dead when he entered her cabin; Rosalie admits that she saw Tim enter and leave Linnet's cabin, but she has come to love Tim, and was trying to protect him; Poirot clears Tim of the murder and agrees not to report his thievery to the police; Tim promises to reform and happily asks Rosalie to marry him, to the delight of his mother.
  • Signor Richetti is exposed as the foreign agent and criminal Race is after, after Race hears of a telegram Richetti received, using a code that Race recognizes;

Poirot finally explains the real mystery to Race, Miss Robson, and Dr. Bessner. Their first idea, that the murder was conceived on the spur of the moment after the scene in the lounge, was mistaken; in fact, the murder was planned months in advance – by Jacqueline and Simon.

Jacqueline used Cornelia Robson as a witness and pretended to shoot Simon in the leg. Simon faked being wounded with red ink, hidden in Linnet's nail polish bottle. While Cornelia Robson left to get Jacqueline back to her cabin and Jim Fanthorp called Dr. Bessner, Simon picked up the gun, ran to Linnet's cabin, shot her, and then came back to the lounge and shot himself in the leg, using the velvet stole as a muffler. He reloaded two bullets back into the gun, wrapped it in the stole and threw the bundle overboard before anyone came back. Dr. Bessner then examined him and confirmed that his wound left him unable to have left the lounge.

Before the murder, Jacqueline or Simon drugged Poirot's usual bottle of wine, ensuring that he would sleep through the night so he will not participate in the event.

All is not well, for Louise Bourget, the maid, saw Simon enter and leave Linnet's cabin. She blackmailed Simon and demanded money for hushing her up. But Simon told Jacqueline about it privately. Jacqueline entered Louise's cabin and stabbed her. However, Mrs. Otterbourne saw Jacqueline entering the maid's door. She came to Simon and Poirot to tell what she saw, but Simon yelled at Mrs. Otterbourne in a voice loud enough for Jacqueline to hear it – who acted quickly and shot Mrs. Otterbourne.

Confronted, Simon and Jacqueline confess to the plot. Jacqueline says that she and Simon have always been in love, and Simon never cared for Linnet, even when she tried to steal him away from Jacqueline. Jacqueline tells Poirot that the idea of murdering Linnet for her money was Simon's, but she planned it, knowing Simon was not smart enough to pull it off by himself.

As the passengers are disembarking, Jacqueline reveals a second pistol, which she hid in Rosalie Otterbourne's cabin, and kills both Simon and herself, sparing them both from more gruesome and humiliating deaths. Poirot confesses that he knew about the second pistol, and wanted to give Jacqueline the chance to take a more humane way out.

In addition to Tim and Rosalie, there is another unexpected love match: Cornelia Robson accepts Dr. Bessner's proposal, to the stupefaction of Mr. Ferguson, who had been courting her, in his own uncouth way, during the whole trip.

Literary significance and reception Edit

The Times Literary Supplement's short review of November 20, 1937 by Caldwell Harpur concluded, "Hercule Poirot, as usual, digs out a truth so unforeseen that it would be unfair for a reviewer to hint at it".

In The New York Times Book Review for February 6, 1938, Isaac Anderson concluded after summarising the set-up of the plot that, "You have the right to expect great things of such a combination [of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot] and you will not be disappointed.".

In The Observer's issue of November 14, 1937, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) started off by saying, "First this week comes Agatha Christie. She scored, I contend, two outers in her last three shots; but she is back on the very centre of the bull with Death on the Nile." He summarised the set-up of the plot and then continued, "Terrible things happen and, without the formality of breaking off her narrative to issue a challenge, the author allows Poirot to summarise his clues in one compressed paragraph sixty pages from the end. It is after that, until the retired but by no means retiring little Belgian chooses to tell us the truth, that we are very angry with ourselves indeed. When he does so, anger is swallowed up in admiration. The appearance of corpse after corse [sic!] in the feast of death is entirely logical, and the main alibi, unshakeable except for Poirot, is of the first brilliance. It is no less likely than the run of such things in fiction, and is built not with many preliminary falsifications but almost in a single carefully premeditated flash of movement." He concluded, "Though less than secondary, the descriptive work is adequate and hits, as it were, the Nile on the head."

The Scotsman of November 11, 1937 said, "An Agatha Christie story, and especially one with Hercule Poirot applying his 'little grey cells,' is always an event. It is a matter of opinion whether this author has a superior in giving an unexpected twist to concluding chapters, but it is arguable that she has none. In Death on the Nile, however, the solution of the mystery does not come with all that sudden shock of surprise to which Agatha Christie 'fans' are accustomed. At least it should not, providing that one carefully reads a certain chapter and is willing to pursue to their ultimate implications certain hints dropped by Poirot. Whether or not the reader will succeed in naming the murderer, by which is meant discovering how the crime was committed, and not just guessing at one of the least likely persons, is another matter. In any case, here is a problem eminently worth trying to solve." The review finished by saying that, "the author has again constructed the neatest of plots, wrapped it round with distracting circumstances, and presented it to what should be an appreciative public.

E.R. Punshon of The Guardian in his review of December 10, 1937 began by saying, "To decide whether a writer of fiction possesses the true novelist's gift it is often a good plan to consider whether the minor characters in his or her book, those to whose creation the author has probably given little thought, stand out in the narrative in their own right as living personalities. This test is one Mrs. Christie always passes successfully, and never more so than in her new book." He went on to summarise the more outlandish traits of some of the characters and then said, "each and all of these, as well their more normal fellow-passengers, are firmly and clearly sketched, even if they are all a little too much types rather than characters and so miss that full rotundity of life a Dickens or a Thackeray can give." He finished by saying that, "M. Poirot's little grey cells had indeed been obliged to work at full pressure to unravel a mystery which includes one of those carefully worked out alibis that seem alike to fascinate Mrs. Christie and to provide her with the best opportunities for displaying her own skill. A fault-finding critic may, however, wonder whether M. Poirot is not growing just a little too fond of keeping to himself such important facts as the bullet-hole in the table. If he is to enjoy all, a reader should also know all."

Mary Dell in the Daily Mirror of November 11, 1937 said, "Agatha Christie is just grand. Usually if you get a good plot there is something wrong with the writing or the characters. But with her – you have everything that makes a first-class book."

Robert Barnard: "One of the top ten, in spite of an overcomplex solution. The familiar marital triangle, set on a Nile steamer. Comparatively little local colour, but some good grotesques among the passengers – of which the film took advantage. Spies and agitators are beginning to invade the pure Christie detective story at this period, as the slide towards war begins."

References to other works Edit

  • Death on the Nile is also the title of a short story by Christie published in 1934 in the volume Parker Pyne Investigates. Apart from the setting and title, the stories are not similar.
  • In Chapter 12, Miss Van Schuyler mentions to Poirot a common acquaintance, Mr Rufus Van Aldin, who is known from The Mystery of the Blue Train.
  • In Part II, Chapter 21 of the novel, Poirot mentions having found a scarlet kimono in his luggage. This refers to the plot in Murder on the Orient Express.
  • When Poirot meets Race, Christie writes: "Hercule Poirot had come across Colonel Race a year previously in London. They had been fellow-guests at a very strange dinner party--a dinner party that had ended in death for that strange man, their host." It is a reference to the novel Cards on the Table.
  • In Chapter 27, Race said that names of vegetables were first used as codes in South African rebellion. It may be a reference to the novel The Man in the Brown Suit.

Film, TV and theatrical adaptations Edit

Murder on the Nile Edit

Main article: Murder on the Nile/Hidden Horizon

Agatha Christie adapted the novel into a stage play which opened at the Dundee Repertory Theatre on January 17, 1944 under the title of Hidden Horizon and opened in the West End on March 19, 1946 under the title Murder on the Nile and on Broadway on September 19, 1946 under the same title.

Kraft Television Theatre Edit

A live television version of the novel under the name of Murder on the Nile was presented on July 12, 1950 in the US in a one-hour play as part of the series Kraft Television Theatre. The stars were Guy Spaull and Patricia Wheel.

Death on the Nile (1978 film) Edit

Main article: Death on the Nile (1978 film)

The novel was adapted into a highly-successful feature film, released in 1978 and starring Peter Ustinov for the first of his six appearances as Poirot. Others in the all-star cast included Bette Davis (Mrs. Van Schuyler), Mia Farrow (Jacqueline de Bellefort), Maggie Smith (Miss Bowers), Lois Chiles (Linnet Doyle), Simon MacCorkindale (Simon Doyle), Jon Finch (Mr. Ferguson), Olivia Hussey (Rosalie Otterbourne), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Otterbourne), George Kennedy (Mr. Pennington) Jack Warden (Dr. Bessner) and David Niven (Colonel Race). Slight plot changes were made to the sceenplay, deleting several characters, including Cornelia Robson, the Allertons and Mr. Fanthorp. Tim Allerton is replaced as Rosalie's love interest by Ferguson.

BBC Radio 4 adaptation Edit

The novel was adapted as a five part serial for BBC Radio 4 in 1997. John Moffatt reprised his role of Poirot. The serial was broadcast weekly from Thursday, January 2 to Thursday, January 30 at 10.00am to 10.30pm. All five episodes were recorded on Friday, July 12, 1996 at Broadcasting House.

Adaptor: Michael Bakewell
Producer: Enyd Williams

Cast:
John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot
Donald Sinden as Colonel Race
Amanda Barton-Chapple as Jacqueline de Bellefort
Robert Daws as Simon Doyle
Elaine Pyke as Linnet Ridgeway
Rosemary Leach as Mrs Allerton
Nicholas Boulton as Tim Allerton
Shirley Dixon as Mrs Otterbourne
Irene Sutcliffe as Mrs Van Schuyler
Teresa Gallagher as Cornelia
Stratford Johns as Pennington
Joanna Monro as Joanna Southwood
Sean Baker as Monsieur Blondin
Ed Bishop as Rockford
Roger May as Fanthorp
Keith Drinkel as Dr. Bessner
Robert Portal as Ferguson
Ioan Meredith as Richetti
Janet Maw as Miss Bowers
with Timothy Bateson, Chris Palvo, Christopher Scott and Ben Thomas

Agatha Christie's Poirot Edit

Death on the Nile, a television adaptation shown in 2004 in the series Agatha Christie's Poirot, starred David Suchet as Poirot. This version remained largely faithful to the novel. However, some characters were omitted, such as Miss Bowers, Mr. Fanthorp and the Italian archaeologist; A significant change is the ending of the romance between Tim and Rosalie: instead of ending up happily in love, Tim gently refuses Rosalie and the film implies ambiguously that Tim is either gay or in a relationship with the woman who may or may not actually be his mother. Another change: Louise Bourget's body being found in her wardrobe instead of under her bed.

PC adaptation Edit

Death on the Nile was turned into a "hidden object" PC game, Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile, in 2007 by Flood Light Games, and published as a joint venture between Oberon Games and Big Fish Games. The player takes the role of Hercule Poirot as he searches various cabins of the Karnak for clues, and then questions suspects based on information he finds.

Graphic novel adaptation Edit

Death on the Nile was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on July 16, 2007, adapted by François Rivière and Solidor (Jean-François Miniac) (ISBN 0-00-725058-4). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2003 under the title of Mort sur le Nil.

Publication history Edit

  • 1937, Collins Crime Club (London), November 1, 1937, Hardback, 288 pp
  • 1938, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1938, Hardback, 326 pp
  • 1944, Avon Books, Paperback, 262 pp (Avon number 46)
  • 1949, Pan Books, Paperback, 255 pp (Pan number 87)
  • 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 927), 249 pp
  • 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 253 pp
  • 1963, Bantam Books, Paperback, 214 pp
  • 1969, Greenway edition of collected works (William Collins), Hardcover, 318 pp
  • 1970, Greenway edition of collected works (Dodd Mead), Hardcover, 318 pp
  • 1971, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 466 pp ISBN 0-85456-671-6
  • 1978, William Collins (Film tie-in), Hardback, 320 pp
  • 2006, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1937 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, September 4, 2006, Hardback, ISBN 0-00-723447-3

The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in eight instalments from May 15 (Volume 209, Number 46) to July 3, 1937 (Volume 210, Number 1) with illustrations by Henry Raleigh.

International titlesEdit

  • Czech: Smrt na Nilu (Death on the Nile)
  • Croatian: Smrt na Nilu (Death on the Nile)
  • Dutch: Moord op de Nijl (Murder on the Nile)
  • Finnish: "Kuolema Niilillä" (Death on the Nile)
  • French: Mort sur le Nil (Death on the Nile)
  • German: Der Tod auf dem Nil (The Death on the Nile)
  • Hungarian: Poirot kéjutazáson (Poirot on a Pleasure Trip), Halál a Níluson (Death on the Nile)
  • Italian: Poirot sul Nilo (Poirot on the Nile)
  • Japanese: ナイルに死す (Death on the Nile)
  • Norwegian: "Hun fulgte etter" (She followed after), later renamed "Mord på Nilen" (Murder on the Nile), since the first title almost revealed the plot.
  • Polish: Śmierć na Nilu (Death on the Nile)
  • Portuguese: Morte no Nilo (Death on the Nile)
  • Russian: "Убийство на пароходе <<Карнак>>" (=Ubiystvo na parokhode Karnak, Murder on the steamer Karnak), "Смерть на Ниле" (=Smert' na Nile, Death on the Nile)
  • Serbian: Смрт на Нилу (Death on the Nile)
  • Spanish: Muerte en el Nilo (Death on the Nile) or Poirot en Egipto (Poirot in Egypt)
  • Swedish: Döden på Nilen (Death on the Nile)
  • Turkish: Nil'de Ölüm (Death on the Nile)

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