[The book is set largely on a boat cruising down the Nile, and the characters have gathered for dinner on the first night]
Mrs. Allerton set herself to produce a pleasant atmosphere. As they drank their soup, she picked up the passenger list which had been placed beside her plate.
"Let's try and identify everybody," she said cheerfully. "I always think that's rather fun… Mr. and Mrs. Doyle. Yes, indeed, the lions of this trip. She really is very beautiful and what a perfectly lovely frock she is wearing."
Tim turned round in his chair. ..Linnet was wearing a white dress and pearls.
"It looks frightfully simple to me," said Tim. "Just a length of stuff with a kind of cord round the middle."
"Yes, darling," said his mother. "A very nice manly description of an eighty-guinea model."
Tim said: "I can't think why women pay so much for their clothes. It seems absurd to me."
Mrs. Allerton proceeded with her study of her fellow-passengers.
observations: In a discussion of this book with the distinguished crime fiction blogger Margot Kinberg (Confessions of a Mystery Novelist is her highly-recommended blog) we agreed on two things – one, that a book with a nice hot setting makes good reading at the height of winter (read her post on the topic here), and two, that the relation between Poirot and the murderer in this book is exceptionally well done. It’s hard to discuss without spoilering, but there is a depth and sadness to the ending of the story that hits home and lingers in the memory. The murder is good, an unguessable plot and good clueing, but it’s the psychology of the main characters (who at first glance might seem like total stock figures from central casting) that is striking. At the end the murderer, a good loser, says to Poirot ‘don’t mind so much about me … you do mind don’t you?’ and he says Yes. (A rare thing – both Poirot and Marple disapprove strongly of murder and usually have no sympathy whatsoever with the killers).
And there is a very compelling use of the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite – it is one of the most heart-stopping moments in the Old Testament (‘You are the man!’) and the effect is very similar here. ‘Do not open your heart to evil’, indeed.
Linnet Doyle, in the white dress, is very rich and very beautiful, and the 80 guinea dress would be more than £3000 ($5000) at today’s prices.
With thanks to Margot, a most generous blogging friend. And also for Jackie, staunch blog supporter, who made it to a cruise on the Nile.
Links on the blog: Agatha Christie has featured many times – click on the label below. A different kind of trouble on board ship here. Egyptmania swept England in the 1920s – there’s a themed party in this entry. King David and his wives featured here.
The picture is from the State Library of New South Wales.