Death on the Nile
|Cover artist||Robin Macartney|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|1 November 1937|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||288 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||Dumb Witness|
|Followed by||Appointment with Death|
Death on the Nile is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 1 November 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 full length novel was preceded in 1937 by a short story with the same title, but with Parker Pyne as the detective. The details of the short story plot are substantially different, though the settings and some of the characters are similar.
While on holiday in Aswan to board the steamer Karnak, set to tour along the Nile River from Shellal to Wadi Halfa, Hercule Poirot is approached by successful socialite Linnet Doyle [previously Linnet Ridgeway]. She wants to commission him to deter her former friend Jacqueline de Bellefort from hounding and stalking her: Linnet had recently married Jacqueline's fiancé, Simon Doyle, which has made Jacqueline bitterly resentful. Poirot refuses the commission, but attempts unsuccessfully to dissuade Jacqueline from pursuing her plans. Simon and Linnet secretly follow Poirot to escape Jacqueline, but find she had learned of their plans and boarded ahead of them. The other Karnak passengers include Linnet's maid (Louise Bourget) and trustee (Andrew Pennington), romance novelist Salome Otterbourne (a thinly disguised portrayal of Elinor Glyn), and her daughter Rosalie, Tim Allerton and his mother, American socialite Marie Van Schuyler, her cousin Cornelia Robson and her nurse Miss Bowers, outspoken communist Mr. Ferguson, Italian archaeologist Guido Richetti, solicitor Jim Fanthorp, and Austrian physician Dr. Bessner.
While visiting Abu Simbel when the Karnak stops there, Linnet narrowly avoids being crushed to death by a large boulder that falls from a cliff. Jacqueline is suspected of pushing the boulder off the cliff, but she is found to have been aboard the steamer at the time of the incident. At Wadi Halfa, Poirot's friend Colonel Race boards the steamer for the return trip. Race tells Poirot that he seeks a murderer among the passengers. The following night in the steamer's lounge, Jacqueline expresses her bitterness toward Simon and shoots him in the leg with a pistol, but immediately breaks down with remorse and kicks her pistol away. She is taken to her cabin by the two other people present, Fanthorp and Cornelia. Simon is shortly brought to Dr. Bessner's cabin for treatment for his injury. Fanthorp looks for Jacqueline's pistol but reports that it has disappeared. The following morning, Linnet is found dead, having been shot in the head, while her valuable string of pearls has disappeared. The pearls are worth roughly £1,000,000 in today's pounds. Jacqueline's pistol is recovered from the Nile; it was wrapped in a velvet stole belonging to Miss Van Schuyler, which she says was stolen the previous day. Two shots had been fired from the pistol.
When interviewing Louise in the cabin in which Simon is resting, Poirot notes an oddness in the words she uses. Miss Bowers returns Linnet's pearl necklace, which was stolen by Miss Van Schuyler, a kleptomaniac. However, Poirot realizes it is merely an imitation of Linnet's real necklace. He notes two bottles of nail polish in the victim's room, one of which intrigues him. Louise is then found stabbed to death in her cabin. Mrs. Otterbourne later meets with Poirot and Race in Simon's cabin, claiming she saw who killed the maid, to which Simon loudly declares his surprise. Before she can reveal who it is, she is shot dead from outside the cabin. Poirot soon confronts Pennington over his attempted murder of Linnet by pushing the boulder off the cliff – Pennington had speculated unsuccessfully with her inheritance, and came to Egypt upon learning of her marriage to Simon to trick her into signing documents that would exonerate him. However, he claims he did not murder anyone, despite his revolver having been used in Mrs. Otterbourne's murder. Poirot recovers Linnet's genuine pearls from Tim, who had substituted an imitation string of pearls for the real necklace. Race realizes Richetti is the man he is looking for.
Poirot reveals to Race, Bessner, and Cornelia that Simon killed Linnet. The murder was planned by Jacqueline; the pair are still lovers. Simon married Linnet as part of their scheme to get Linnet's money. On the night of the murder, Jacqueline deliberately missed Simon, who faked his leg injury with red ink. While Fanthorp and Cornelia were distracted by Jacqueline, Simon took her pistol that she had deliberately discarded, went to Linnet's cabin, and shot her. He placed the nail polish bottle which had contained the red ink on Linnet's washstand, then returned to the lounge and shot his own leg. Simon used the stole to try to silence the pistol, loaded a spare cartridge to make it seem that only two shots were fired, and threw the pistol overboard. Louise and Mrs. Otterbourne were murdered by Jacqueline, who was warned by Simon when the plan was going awry – Louise witnessed Simon entering Linnet's cabin that night, and hinted at this to Simon when Poirot was interviewing her in an attempt at blackmail; Mrs. Otterbourne witnessed Jacqueline entering Louise's cabin before stabbing her. Poirot confronts Simon, who confesses. He is arrested, as are Jacqueline and Richetti. As the steamer arrives back in Shellal and the passengers disembark, Jacqueline shoots Simon and herself with another pistol she possessed, so they may escape the gallows. When pressed, Poirot reveals he had known she had a second pistol, but had sympathetically chosen to allow her to take her own life.
Contemporary reviews of the book were primarily positive. The Times Literary Supplement's short review concluded by saying "Hercule Poirot, as usual, digs out a truth so unforeseen that it would be unfair for a reviewer to hint at it."
The Scotsman review of 11 November 1937 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 10 December 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."
In a later review, Robert Barnard wrote that this novel is "One of the top ten, in spite of an overcomplex solution. The familiar marital triangle, set on a Nile steamer." The weakness is that there is "Comparatively little local colour, but some good grotesques among the passengers – of which the film took advantage." He notes a change in Christie's novels with this plot published in 1937, as "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
- 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.
- About to reveal the identity of the murderer, Poirot credits the experience recounted in Murder in Mesopotamia with developing his methods in detection. He muses: "Once I went professionally to an archaeological expedition—and I learnt something there. In the course of an excavation, when something comes up out of the ground, everything is cleared away very carefully all around it. You take away the loose earth, and you scrape here and there with a knife until finally your object is there, all alone, ready to be drawn and photographed with no extraneous matter confusing it. This is what I have been seeking to do—clear away the extraneous matter so that we can see the truth..."
Film, TV and theatrical adaptations
Murder on the Nile
Agatha Christie adapted the novel into a stage play which opened at the Dundee Repertory Theatre on 17 January 1944 under the title of Hidden Horizon and opened in the West End on 19 March 1946 under the title Murder on the Nile and on Broadway on 19 September 1946 under the same title.
Kraft Television Theatre
A live television version of the novel under the name of Murder on the Nile was presented on 12 July 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)
The novel was adapted into a 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 (Miss 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), Jane Birkin (Louise), George Kennedy (Mr. Pennington), Jack Warden (Dr. Bessner), I. S. Johar (Mr. Choudhury) and David Niven (Colonel Race). The screenplay differs slightly from the book, deleting several characters, including Cornelia Robson, Signor Richetti, Joanna Southwood, the Allertons and Mr. Fanthorp. Tim Allerton is replaced as Rosalie's love interest by Ferguson.
BBC Radio 4 adaptation
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, 2 January to Thursday, 30 January at 10.00am to 10.30pm. All five episodes were recorded on Friday, 12 July 1996 at Broadcasting House. It was adapted by Michael Bakewell and directed by Enyd Williams.
Agatha Christie's Poirot
An adaptation for the ITV television series, Agatha Christie's Poirot, was made for the show's ninth series. It starred David Suchet as Poirot, and guest stars included Emily Blunt as Linnet, JJ Feild as Simon Doyle, Emma Griffiths Malin as Jacqueline, James Fox as Colonel Race, Frances de la Tour as Mrs. Otterbourne, Zoe Telford as Rosalie Otterbourne and David Soul as Andrew Pennington. The episode was filmed in Egypt, with many of the scenes filmed on the steamer PS Sudan.
This version remained largely faithful to the novel, with some minor changes:
- The characters of Miss Bowers, Jim Fanthorp and Guido Richetti are omitted from the adaptation.
- Due to the omission of Richetti, Race's reason for boarding the boat was changed. In the adaptation, he meets with Poirot after having been on a diplomatic mission, and decides to journey back with him, rather than travel on a government vessel.
- Poirot does not encounter Jacqueline and Simon in London, but while on holiday in Egypt, when the former taunts and torments the latter and his wife Linnet.
- Tim and Rosalie do not fall happily in love with each other at the end of the adaptation. Instead, he gently refuses her advances, on the ambiguous implication that he is gay which is implied to be a questionable fact by the adaptation.
- Louise's body is found in her wardrobe during the search of the ship, and not under her bed.
- The adaptation changes various elements of the scene regarding the first attempt on Linnet's life by Pennington. In the revised scene, the incident takes place at an old temple, in which a piece of the roof falls and nearly misses Linnet and Simon. Poirot confronts Pennington about this, knowing he was not in the temple but on the roof at the time, to which he reveals that he had knocked it off by accident, not in desperation or with intent to kill. Jacqueline is not on the boat when this happens, nor on the temple's roof, but near Linnet and Simon, taunting them with knowledge about an Egyptian goddess with the features of a cow.
References to real life events appear to set this episode in late 1932, though the SS Normandie only entered service in 1935, but there is some confusion here: Ferguson refers to "a lunatic about to take power in Germany", suggesting a pre-1933 setting, but a later shot of Pennington's luggage label shows the date of his sailing on the Normandie as "January 1936".
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.
Death on the Nile was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 16 July 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.
Death on the Nile (2022 film)
In Connie Willis' short story Death on the Nile, a group of American tourists are en route to a vacation in Egypt. The protagonist reads Agatha Christie's book and in talking with the others makes various comments about its plot and the film made on its base. A series of increasingly strange and inexplicable events makes her understand that she and the others have died and entered the Ancient Egyptian afterlife. Her copy of Christie's book is transformed into the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and she is about the face the judgement of Anubis. However, this is not exactly the same afterlife which the Ancient Egyptians believed in. In the revised version, Hercule Poirot is a powerful demigod, and calling upon him can provide an embattled soul with some protection.
Partial publication history
The book was first serialized in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in eight installments from 15 May (Volume 209, Number 46) to 3 July 1937 (Volume 210, Number 1) with illustrations by Henry Raleigh.
- 1937, Collins Crime Club (London), 1 November 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, 4 September 2006, Hardback, ISBN 0-00-723447-3
- 2007, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, e-book ISBN 978-1-57-912689-6
- 2011, HarperCollins, e-book ISBN 978-0-06-176017-4
- The Observer 31 October 1937 (Page 6)
- John Cooper and B.A. Pyke. Detective Fiction – the collector's guide: Second Edition (Pages 82 and 86) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- The Times Literary Supplement 20 November 1937 (Page 890)
- The Scotsman 11 November 1937 (Page 15)
- The Guardian 10 December 1937 (Page 6)
- Barnard, Robert (1990). A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie (Revised ed.). Fontana Books. p. 192. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- University of Glasgow page on play
- Bigfishgames.com Archived 5 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- Published in "The Year's Best Science Fiction - Eleventh Annual Collection", Edited by Gardner Dozois, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994