Murder in Mesopotamia
Dust-jacket illustration of the first UK edition
|Cover artist||Robin Macartney|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|6 July 1936|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||The A.B.C. Murders|
|Followed by||Cards on the Table|
Murder in Mesopotamia is a work of detective fiction by British writer Agatha Christie, first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 6 July 1936 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00. The cover was designed by Robin McCartney.
The book features Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The novel is set at an archaeological excavation in Iraq, and descriptive details derive from the author's visit to the Royal Cemetery at Ur where she met her husband, Sir Max Mallowan, and other British archaeologists. It was adapted for television in 2002.
Nurse Amy Leatheran arrives at an archaeological dig near Hassanieh, Iraq, to assist Swedish archaeologist, Dr Erich Leidner, in caring for his wife Louise. During her initial days, Amy learns that Louise was married before to a German named Frederick Bosner. Fifteen years ago, during the Great War, Bosner was arrested for being a spy within the US State Department, and sentenced to death; he escaped his sentence, but died later in a train crash. Louise reveals that Bosner had a younger brother-in-law, and that she received letters from him whenever she became attracted to other men; these stopped when she married Leidner three years ago, until recently. A week later, Louise is found dead in the bedroom of a house near her husband's dig site that the couple are using. She had been struck on the head with a large blunt object, per Dr Giles Reilly's examination of the body.
The initial investigation by the police, led by Captain Maitland, is unable to find the murder weapon, yet he assumes the murder was committed by someone on the dig. Reilly learns that his friend Hercule Poirot is travelling in Iraq, and so contacts him for help. When Poirot arrives, he notes that the bedroom has only one point of entry, that the only window in the room was shut and barred, and that a rug near a washstand has blood on it. Anne Johnson, a colleague of Leider, claims she heard a cry, yet is unsure about it. Reilly's daughter Sheila remarks that the victim had the attention of every man, yet no obvious subject emerges from among the team. Poirot takes interest in the story Louise told Nurse Leatheran about her first husband; he wonders if Bosner or his brother-in-law are among the team. Poirot is also intrigued to find that the letters Louise received were in her handwriting.
Following Louise's funeral, Nurse Leatheran meets with Miss Johnson on the house's roof, who claims she knows how someone could have entered unseen; she does not elaborate on this further. That night, Miss Johnson unwittingly drinks a glass of hydrochloric acid. It had been substituted for her usual glass of water on her nightstand. Amy comes across her, and hears her mention "window" before she dies. The nurse does not believe Miss Johnson has committed suicide, and wonders if she was hinting to how the acid was switched for the water. After spending a day sending telegrams, Poirot brings everyone together and reveals that both women were murdered by Dr Erich Leidner, who is in reality Frederick Bosner. The real Leidner died in the train crash 15 years ago - when Bosner came across his body and found his face disfigured, he switched their identities so as to escape the authorities.
Bosner was deeply possessive of Louise. To discourage her from forming relationships with other men, he sent her letters which he carefully wrote out in her handwriting. The letters stopped after he married her twelve years later, when she no longer recognised him. When Louise became attracted to his friend Richard Carey, Bosner decided to murder her to ensure no-one else could have her. On the day of the murder, Bosner, on the rooftop, attracted her to the window with a mask he had used to scare her on previous nights. Once she stuck her head out to investigate, he dropped a quern on her, which he then pulled back to the roof via a rope he had tied to it. On the pretence of checking on her, he shut the bedroom window, while moving the body and the rug beneath it to where they were later found. He then used Amy as part of his alibi to divert suspicion from himself. Miss Johnson was murdered because she realised how Louise was killed.
In the aftermath of his investigations, the police arrest two men at Beyrouth, whom Poirot discovered had been stealing precious artifacts from the dig: Raoul Menier, disguised as Father Lavigny, a well-reputed epigraphist who was not well known by the archaeologists; and Ali Yusuf, a known associate of Menier. Menier was replacing the stolen artifacts with near-perfect copies. Sheila marries David Emmott, while Nurse Leatheran returns to England.
- Hercule Poirot – one-time Belgian policeman now living in England as a private detective, on a trip to the Middle East.
- Nurse Amy Leatheran – professional nurse, age 32, narrator of the story.
- Dr Giles Reilly – civil doctor in Hassanieh, a longtime friend of Poirot, who suggests the Leidner job to Amy Leatheran while she is in Baghdad finishing another job.
- Sheila Reilly – outspoken daughter of Dr Reilly, about 20 years old, the only girl her age among many young Englishman in Baghdad and environs.
- Louise Leidner – beautiful, intelligent American woman, married two years earlier to Dr Erich Leidner, in her thirties. Widowed from a brief marriage in the Great War, 15 years earlier.
- Erich Leidner – archaeologist of some repute, head of the dig at Tell Yarimjah near Hassanieh, sponsored by the (fictional) University of Pittstown (US) for the last five years.
- Richard Carey – longtime colleague of Dr. Leidner, handsome man near 40, alleged by Sheila Reilly to be having an affair with Mrs. Leidner.
- Miss Anne Johnson – longtime colleague of Dr Leidner, grey haired, near 50, native of Yorkshire.
- Mrs Marie Mercado – young devoted wife, about 25, at times strangely hostile to Mrs. Leidner, Nurse Leatheran and Hercule Poirot.
- Mr Joseph Mercado – colleague at the dig for two years, often fatigued and subject to violent shaking of the hands.
- David Emmott – quiet young American man, second year with dig team, calm and self-possessed.
- Bill Coleman – young man at his first dig with no particular interest in archaeology and a self-professed skill for forgery.
- Carl Reiter – young man of 28 from Chicago, first year at dig as photographer; frequently subjected to ridicule by Mrs. Leidner.
- Captain Maitland – British policeman in charge of the murder investigation.
- Father Lavigny (Raoul Menier) – French cleric, new to the team, specialist in epigraphy, old languages.
Literary significance and reception
The Times Literary Supplement of 18 July 1936, summarised in its review by Harry Pirie-Gordon the setup of the plot and concluded, "The plot is ingenious and the first murder very cleverly contrived but some will doubt whether Mrs Leidner, as described, could have been so forgetful and unobservant as to render the principal preliminary conditions of the story possible."
In The New York Times Book Review (20 September 1936), Kay Irvin wrote: "Agatha Christie is a past master, as every one knows, in presenting us with a full assortment of clues which we cannot read. And there are mysteries within mysteries among this quiet yet oddly troubled group of scientific workers, one of whom must have been the murderer; it is part of the author's skill to make us feel that every human character is a little mysterious, and that when crimes are committed among a group of apparently well-bred and cultivated people every one of them may be suspect. Agatha Christie's expertness in building up her detective stories, as such, to astonishing (though sometimes very far-fetched) conclusions has more or less over-shadowed her amazing versatility, not only in background and incident, but in character-drawing and actual style. The story here is told by a trained nurse – as has been done by other eminent mystery novelists. Nurse Leatheran holds her own with them all. This latest Christie opus is a smooth, highly original and completely absorbing tale".
In The Observer 12 July 1936 issue, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) wrote that "Agatha Christie has a humorous, well-observed story amongst the ruins of Tell Yarimjah, and her latest method of murder, which got me guessing fruitlessly, has, as usual, more simplicity of a miracle than the complication of a conjuring trick. Poirot as a man is quite as delightful as ever, and Poirot as a detective not only perplexes the pleasant and not too intelligent hospital nurse, whose duty it is to tell the story, but, again as usual, the intelligent reader as well. The trouble is that he also perplexes the unprejudiced in a way most unusual to him: I for one cannot understand why he has allowed Agatha Christie to make him party to a crime whose integrity stands or falls by a central situation which, though most ingenious, is next door to impossible. The point at issue, which it would be grossly unfair to specify, between Mrs Christie and the reader is one which would provide a really interesting silly season correspondence." He concluded that "usually Poirot is to be toasted in anything handy, and no heel-taps; this time I drink to him a rather sorrowful glass of Lachryma Christie."
The Daily Mirror (9 July 1936) wrote: "Don't start reading this if you've got something to do or want a book just for a quarter of an hour or so. Because you simply won't put it down til you've reached the last sentence." The review finished by saying, "Agatha Christie's grand. In this tale of peculiarly placed murder she's given us another rattling good tale."
Robert Barnard: "Archaeological dig provides unusual setting, expertly and entertainingly presented. Wife-victim surely based on Katherine Woolley, and very well done. Narrated by nurse, a temporary Hastings-substitute—soon she found she could do without such a figure altogether. Marred by an ending which goes beyond the improbable to the inconceivable."
References or Allusions
Christie reportedly based the character of Louise Leidner on Katharine Woolley, the wife of archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley. Christie's husband Max Mallowan had worked on Woolley's excavation at Ur.
References to other works
- Although this novel was published in 1936, the events described are stated to have taken place three years earlier. It is when he returns from Mesopotamia that Poirot travels on the Orient Express and solves the murder that takes place aboard it.
- In Chapter XII, Dr Leidner recalls hearing a "Mr Van Aldin" speak highly of Poirot. Rufus Van Aldin was a prominent character in Christie's earlier work The Mystery of the Blue Train.
- In one chapter Nurse Leatheran is said to have spent the afternoon reading the detective novel The Nursing Home Murder, which is the name of a well-known novel by Ngaio Marsh, but the ending of Nurse Leatheran's book differs from the ending of Marsh's.
References in other works
- In Death on the Nile, Poirot credits his experience on the expedition 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..."
Murder in Mesopotamia was adapted as an episode for the series Agatha Christie's Poirot on 2 June 2002. It starred David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, and was filmed partly on location at the Uthina Archaeological site in Tunisia. While it remained faithful to the main plot elements of the novel, including the murder, the motive, and the denouement, the adaptation made a number of changes:
- The characters of Dr Giles Reilly, Mr Reiter and David Emmott, are omitted.
- Two characters are given minor changes: Bill Coleman's first name is changed to William; Sheila Reilly becomes Captain Maitland's daughter - her surname is changed as a result, while her character is more pleasant.
- The character of Captain Hastings is added - apart from being Poirot's assistant in the case, relegating Amy Leatheran to being another suspect in the case, he is also the uncle of William Coleman, whom he is visiting.
- Poirot is in Iraq mainly to meet with Countess Vera Rossakoff, after receiving a telegram from her asking for his help; she has already left by the time he arrives, and he is only made aware of this via a telegram he receives when the case is solved.
- Poirot visits the archaeological dig when he arrives, and so meets with Louise when she is alive - as a result, he learns about her first marriage and the letters she received from her directly, and not through Amy.
- Joseph Mercado's drug addiction is much stronger in tone - he murders his supplier before Poirot arrives to see the dig site, and later commits suicide out of guilt.
- Raoul Menier and Ali Yusuf are not identified when the theft of artefacts is exposed. Both men are also not arrested; Poirot mainly informs Captain Maitland to have the border posts keep a look out for them.
Murder in Mesopotamia was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 1 July 2008, adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by "Chandre" (ISBN 0-00-727530-7). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of Meurtre en Mésopotamie.
- 1936, Collins Crime Club (London), 6 July 1936, Hardcover, 288 pp
- 1936, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 298 pp
- 1944, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 145 [mapback]), 223 pp
- 1952, Pan Books, Paperback, (Pan number 200)
- 1955, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 1099), 219 pp
- 1962, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 190 pp
- 1969, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 367 pp; ISBN 0-85456-667-8
- 2007, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1936 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, 5 February 2007, Hardcover; ISBN 0-00-723444-9
The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in six instalments from 9 November (Volume 208, Number 19) to 14 December 1935 (Volume 208, Number 24) with illustrations by F. R. Gruger.
In the UK, the novel was serialised as an abridged version in the weekly Women's Pictorial magazine in eight instalments from 8 February (Volume 31, Number 787) to 28 March 1936 (Volume 31, Number 794) under the title No Other Love. There were no chapter divisions and all of the instalments carried illustrations by Clive Uptton. Several character names were different from the eventual published novel: Amy Leatheran became Amy Seymour while Mr. and Mrs. Leidner were surnamed Trevor.
- "Review of Murder in Mesopotamia". The Observer. 5 July 1936. p. 6.
- Cooper, John; Pyke, B. A. (1994). Detective Fiction – the collector's guide (2nd ed.). Scholar Press. pp. 82, 86. ISBN 0-85967-991-8.
- "American Tribute to Agatha Christie,". First edition covers. Home.insightbb.com. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
- Peers, Chris; Spurrier, Ralph; Sturgeon, Jamie (1987). Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions (2nd ed.). Dragonby Press. p. 15.
- Curran 2011, "El caso de los anónimos: Agatha Christie en la mesa de trabajo".
- "Review of Murder in Mesopotamia". The Times Literary Supplement. 18 July 1936. p. 599.
- "Review of Murder in Mesopotamia". The New York Times Book Review. 20 September 1936. p. 24.
- "Review of Murder in Mesopotamia". The Observer. 12 July 1936. p. 7.
- "Review of Murder in Mesopotamia". Daily Mirror. 9 July 1936. p. 21.
- Barnard, Robert (1980). A talent to deceive: an appreciation of Agatha Christie. Dodd, Mead. p. 198. ISBN 0-00-637474-3.
- "Katharine Elizabeth (Menke) (Keeling) Woolley". UrOnline. The British Museum and Penn Museum. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
- "Agatha Christie: Poirot. Asesinato en Mesopotamia". El Mundo (in Spanish). Paramount Channel. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
- "Taken at the Flood". BBC Radio 4. 24 October 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
- Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers – Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON TB12.