I am a big Agatha Christie fan, as regular readers of the blog will know, and this week I read a slightly different offering from her. Still a detective story – I haven’t ever come across the mythical dark romances – but set in Ancient Egypt. Very exciting.
Agatha Christie’s husband was an archaeologist and she travelled round the Middle East with him so I guess it isn’t the wildest departure. I’m pretty confident from my own thoughts that this was the first detective story set in Ancient Egypt and I don’t wish to be contradicted. Despite the obvious differences between England in the 1920s and Egypt way back when, her regular formula transposes very very well. There is still the family, the big house, the murder with a finite number of suspects. Not the servants, obviously. It is all very natural, and doesn’t jar in the slightest.
The basic plot is seen through the eyes of Renisenb, a young Egyptian widow who has returned to live with her father, her three brothers and their families and her grandmother. Her father is away on business as the novel opens, and he brings back with him a concubine named Nofret who swiftly starts causing trouble around the house, sowing divisions between family members. Inevitably her chickens come home to roost, and this starts an avalanche of murders.
The fact that the book seems so natural says two things, I think. First, how stupendously skilled Agatha Christie was as a writer. Second, how human nature really doesn’t change. Obviously we don’t know for sure how Ancient Egyptians behave, but the fact that it is so believable gives credence to the idea.
I would have loved a series set in Ancient Egypt, but perhaps it wouldn’t be feasible. Both Poirot and Miss Marple get to travel a lot, and there wasn’t really the means or the opportunity in Ancient Egypt. I strongly recommend this book though. Great fun.
P.S. I just learned that the original ending to this book was completely different and Christie regretted changing it! I can’t find what the original ending was though; if anyone knows I would love to find out. Also, turns out my thoughts were right. It was in fact the first historical detective novel. Hurray!