Title: Death on the Nile
Author: Agatha Christie
Year written: 1937
Publisher and year: Penguin Books, 1953
ISBN Number: Pre-dates ISBN numbers, later versions will have them but there are so many I can’t list them all
I have always loved watching Agatha Christie books that have been turned into TV shows or movies, especially the David Suchet Poirots, but I have never seemed to get on with reading her books. I don’t know if it was that I picked bad ones to try as a first by her or there was another reason but I’ve tried a few times to read them and given up part way through. This summer I decided to read some of the ones we have in our bookshelf and, as I know this story well though I couldn’t remember who did it to start with, I thought it was a good place to start as I knew I enjoyed the story and knew Poirot as a character. It is hard to read these without imagining David Suchet’s Poirot speaking in my head and walking around the boat.
This copy of the book pre-dates the ISBN system but it’s been published so many times in a lot of languages so I think you should be able to find it somewhere near you in a second hand book shop or online, I’ve found this exact copy for around £4 despite being the first print of the first penguin release, so they’re around and cheap if you want to pick it up or your library should be able to get it I’d expect, it may depend on how popular she is as an author in your country.
I think most people in the UK will be familiar with the Penguin books, they’re a classic and simple look and there isn’t all that much to comment on the cover as they’ve become so recognisable in British publishing and are copied in a lot of other things, art especially. I like how simplistic they are and that they all go together. I think that they have the different colour bands for different genres, as this is a crime and detective novel it’s green but I’ve seen others with orange or purple I think so it may be a colour coding that way. The back of this one has information on the author rather than the book, I think it’s because of the age of it, but inside the front cover a small synopsis is included.
The print inside the book is fairly small but I’d say probably average for these books, they’re great for travel as they’re paperback and small enough to fit into a bag easily so the font seems to vary from book to book to keep them a nice travel size. Or maybe it’s just the ones we have that vary. It has held together well considering it’s 63 years old and has been well loved and read and I’d recommend any old Penguin books as good for this, we have quite a few and none of them are at the point where they’re falling apart though we are more careful with them as they’re obviously aging. This one was bought second hand and in pretty much this condition when bought over 20 years ago.
I think this is probably one of Agatha Christie’s most famous books, it’s definitely the one I’ve seen the most remakes of on TV and I think in computer games there are a couple of versions too. Poirot is probably her most famous character, the Belgian private detective who seems to have a habit of going to events where murders happen. He has a similar method to Sherlock Holmes in that he’s very much thinking rather than action ‘using the little grey cells’, even less so than Holmes, and he always finds the answers when the police get things wrong, so basically like a lot of these amateur detectives and private investigators on TV and in books.
Death on the Nile is a good murder mystery, it seems an impossible crime with a limited pool of suspects given that they were on a boat when it happened and no one boarded or left. There are plenty of twists and false clues and if I hadn’t recognised the storyline part way through I don’t know if I’d have guessed at how it was done. Once the story gets going it’s pretty much non stop, there are hints of things happening all the time and the interactions between the characters are always there in the story even when Poirot isn’t involved so you see glimpses of what’s going on when he isn’t there and more in the story that leads you down different ideas on who did it.
I did enjoy the storyline, even if I hadn’t already known it I would have found it interesting as there’s a nice group of characters, each has their positives and negatives and none of them are really stock characters or boring. They each have a part to play in the story and the last few chapters do bring them all together nicely in a way that has a happy ending for most of them, obviously not the dead or the guilty but the general cast has a satisfying end. It may just be my memory but I don’t remember the end of the book, after Poirot has told them who did it, being quite so final. If you’ve read it you may know what I mean, I don’t want to include a spoiler, I think I’m going to have to watch a couple of them again to see.
One thing with this book is it does take a while to get going with the actual plot of the story with the story being in Egypt. There are about 70 or 80 of the pages that are building up the scene. It does help give some background to the story and, although it’s slower than the part which involves Poirot, it’s not too slowly paced. There do seem to be some parts where it lags but I think it’s more that the characters themselves don’t have the most interesting lives until they get taken on the trip, which makes them seem more relatable in a way. You see their everyday lives before they go on the trip and that makes their reactions more understandable.
The language in the book is pretty dated, the characters are definitely ‘of their time’ in the way they interact and I don’t think you’d have the same conversations in a modern book and there are a lot of words which aren’t used now though it’s fairly obvious what they mean so they don’t stop you from enjoying the book. As the book was originally printed in 1937 some of the language used to describe some of the Egyptian crew may be offensive to some but I’m not sure how much of this has been changed in later editions. It may be that they’re still considered PC enough but I’d expect some changes to have been made, I might be wrong though and it depends how true they stick to the original and which publication you have.
I think that any fan of detective and crime novels should read this, it’s an older book so it’s not got the guts and gore that some more recent ones have and it’s got a gentle pace in parts but it’s got a good plot with characters and a great lead detective in Poirot. It’s definitely one that does show its age but that’s part of Agatha Christie’s charm, it’s going back in time through a story to the thirties, at least I would guess the thirties as I don’t remember a date in the storyline. It isn’t the longest read, it’s 240 – 280 pages in most publications, but it’s one that I kept picking up and reading for longer than I meant to before putting it down. Once it gets going the chapters do well to lead into each other and make you want to read more.
Age wise I’m not sure with this one, I know that the first time I was recommended reading her books was around 9 and I’d think that would be an ok age to read this. As I said there’s nothing too descriptive in it with the murders and it’s mainly thinking and interviewing rather than blood and guts. The words aren’t long or hard, there’s nothing that goes into too much scientific detail or anything and it’s a pretty gentle read.
Overall I’d recommend this to anyone who likes quiet detective novels or TV shows, I think there are quite a few on TV in the UK at the moment like Father Brown, the Dorothy L Sayers ones and even fans of Midsomer Murders type shows would probably enjoy it. Though if you watch them you’ve probably already seen a Poirot given how often they’re on TV, especially ITV 3, and if you haven’t seen them then I definitely recommend the David Suchet ones and you may have read this. It’s definitely made me want to read more of her books, I’ve started By the Pricking of My Thumbs as we have that in our bookshelves too.
In the back of this book there are a range of other books listed including ones by Freeman Wills Croft, have any of you guys read his books? I’ve got a bit hooked on these classic crime ones now so looking for any other good authors besides Christie to give a go too so any suggestions would be appreciated.