Notes On Death On The Nile

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1937

Motive for Murder: Wealth and Identity

Plot:

On a Nile steamer a honeymoon couple are among other passengers; she is The Girl Who Has Everything and he simply the luckiest man. As a matter of fact, their marriage has become a sensation in the media. For everybody thought she would have married a suitor.  Not even her best friend, Jacqueline Bellefort, who introduced Linnet to her ex-fiancee, Simon Doyle. As far as Bellefort is concerned, Linnet has taken away Doyle from her.

Furthermore, Bellefort appears to have followed them since they started from England, turning up at every place. Needless to say, Mrs. Doyle is infuriated, particularly when the other is spotted on the boat despite her husband’s attempt to have registered them for the cruise under an assumed name.

One night, a row breaks between Bellefort and Doyle. Minutes to midnight, a shot is fired. Simon’s leg is injured. The next day Linnet’s maid finds the lifeless body of her mistress in the cabin. She has died from a bullet in the head. The doctor estimates that the time of death is between midnight and two am.

No doubt either Bellefort nor Linnet’s husband could have murdered her. Nonetheless, Bellefort shot him before midnight and afterwards was sedated and attended by a nurse. As for Doyle, he would not have been able to walk with a wounded leg to the deceased’s cabin and killed her. Thus, is there anyone else who has the motive to kill the deceased?

On the night before the cruise, she tells Poirot about Bellefort’s threat to finish her and Simon off. On the other hand, the sleuth asks Bellefort to stop her act. ‘Go home, Mademoiselle. You are young; you have brains, the world is before you.’

A few days afterwards the second body is found: the maid has been strangled and there are bundles of Franc notes on her body.

Would there be the third one before the boat berth at Wadi Halfa?

Highlights:

Aswan, South Egypt

The characters: An alcoholic, a communist and sinister young man, a woman who plots a murder to the minute details, a doctor, a haughty but kleptomaniac aristocrat, an heiress, a greedy maid, an archaeologist, an Austrian doctor, a haughty American woman, a young lord in disguise, another young man who steals for fun, a witty elderly woman and an accomplice to the murderer. Do I list them all?

The subplots: a jewellery forgery, the mystery of the missing velvet scarf of Van Schuyler’s and the deceased’s diamond, the unmasking of a provocateur, the blackmailing, the embezzlement of trust funds and the other triangle of romance to match the claim of ‘a very elaborately worked out plot.’ I see.

Perhaps it is only me who feel inundated by the sheer number of them – not to mention the other details of the ancient Egypt sites along the way.

To begin with, the characters remind me of their resemblances in the other Christie’s novels.  The mother and son Allertons remind me of the Chesters (Problem At Pollensa Bay). Mrs. Allerton is Mr. Satterthwaite in dress, Poirot’s female sidekick whom is as composed as Jane Plenderdeith (Murder In The Mews) but with an agreeable sense of fashion. The protagonist Linnet Doyle (nee Ridgeway) has a touch of Arlene Marshall about her attitude while her husband Simon and Jacqueline Bellefort can be likened to the Redferns (Evil Under The Sun). Miss Van Schuyler is Mrs. Upward (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead) and her cousin Cornelia Robson is as kind and as vague as Mrs. Summerhayes. Mr. Ferguson is the spiteful young scientist Alec Legge (Dead Man’s Folly) and Oliver Manders (Three-Act Tragedy). Signor Guido Richetti is Father Lavigny (Murder In Mesopotamia). Please tell me if this is not confusing enough.

Furthermore, the subplots are tangled affairs, which two or three of them could have been omitted without making the whole plot less satisfactory. The reunion between Colonel Race and Poirot trigger my asking if there was a need for these men to have been in another collaboration again (as they have been in the previous Cards On The Table). For Mrs. Allerton is sufficient as another brain to the case. In addition of her worrying about her son being attracted to a wrong girl, she is inevitably involved in the matter of the alcoholic Mrs. Otterbourne. And, if there was not a

Abu Simbel Temples was built by Pharaoh Ramses II in 1257 BCE; two temples carved out of solid rocks. It is on the west bank of the Nile in Aswan.

In the later book of Christie’s published a few years afterwards, much similarities are noticed in spite of different setting, names and the making of a convincing alibi. The victim is carefully chosen, the killers have a sound alibi and Poirot is also featured. The only difference is that the killer and her accomplice have run the plot before and succeeded. On the other hand, Linnet Doyle’s killer is a first-time plotter and bound for mistakes.

What makes the plot exciting is the witness accounts of having heard two different shots. Besides, the assumption that the murder weapon was thrown into the sea afterwards.  Yet, during the search Poirot finds a small revolver in Rosalie Otterbourne’s handbag, which is the same type of the murder weapon but later on it disappears.

Be that as it may, Christie marvels at her depiction of Linnet Doyle (see Clues for her profile). There is so much about her, just like Simeon Lee (see Notes On Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) expressed by a number of minor characters of admiration, jealousy and concerns about her confidence and ruthlessness. On the one hand, she is used to the idea of getting everything she wants, which includes a man in particular. On the other, despite the envy, there is little about an orphan lonely girl who has ruined the live of the only friend she had. Thus, what punishment can it be than an ‘execution’ to redeem her sin of ‘taking a poor man’s one ewe lamb’ as Poirot put it?

Moreover is the authoress’s deliberation on the part of the other two protagonists Jacqueline Bellefort and Simon Doyle. The dynamics among the three of them are well executed and the triangle of love is stronger than Triangle at Rhodesia (see Notes On Murder In The Mews) and Sad Cypress.

The most fascinating thing discussed here is the authoress’s notion that genes may play part in making someone a murderer. For studies show that emotions such as fear can be passed down to children and grandchildren in the genes rather than simply by witnessing and copying behaviour. Nonetheless, can the thesis also be applied for a ‘crime gene’?

Anyhow, it seems to me that she has delivered her promise for readers to ‘escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crimes in the confines of an armchair.’ In this not so-winter-wonderland weather in the UK I dream of the smell of warm air, the sun glinting on the Nile, the bobbing of the boat on the calm river and an excursion to Abu Simbel Temples and Temple of Kom Ombo. I would not have minded the heat in the least!

Hercule Poirot visit Elephantine island before going on the cruise heading for Wadi Halfa.

The Twists:

–         The small revolver Jacqueline Bellefort used for shooting Simon Doyle has gone missing

–         Linnet Doyle mistakenly reads a telegram for Signor Richetti with some vegetable words in it.

–         Mrs. Otterbourne recognises the person who came into Louise Borgeout’s cabin

–         Borgeout happens to have woken up on the night of the murder and looked out of the cabin, during which she saw the person who entered her mistress’s cabin and left shortly afterwards

–         Rosalie Otterbourne denies having had a .22 mm revolver.

Cast of Characters:

Mrs. Allerton (Timothy’s mother)

Andrew Pennington (Linnet’s US lawyer)

Dr. Bessner (an Austrian doctor, a bachelor who attends Simon after being shot)

Miss Bowers (Miss Van Schuyler’s nurse)

Mr. Burnaby (the landlord of Three Crowns, a local who observes about an heiress’s appearance Linnet Ridgeway in Malton-under-Wode).

Charles Windesham (a suitor for Linnet)

Cornelia Robson (Miss Van Schuyler’s poor cousin)

Monsieur Gaston Blondin (the proprietor of Chez Ma Tante, where Poirot sees Jacqueline and Simon together as they sit at the next table)

Mr. Ferguson (a.k.a. Lord Dawlish)

Fleetwood (the ex-boyfriend of Linnet’s former maid, who is prevented from having married the maid. He happens to be one of the crews in the boat)

Hercule Poirot

The 1978’s film starring Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth, sitting between Colonel Race (David Niven) and Maria Van Schuyler (Bette Davis).

Jacqueline de Bellefort (Linnet’s old friend and the ex-fiancee of Simon)

James Fanthorp (the lawyer who is assigned to shadow Linnet on board of the steamer)

The Honorary Joanna Southwood (Linnet’s friend)

Signor Guido Richetti (an Italian archaeologist)

Linnet Doyle (nee Ridgeway, half American who has inherited huge wealth from her mother)

Louise Borgeout (Linnet’s French maid)

Marie Van Schuyler (Cornelia’s rich and snob cousin who takes her to a trip to Europe and Egypt)

Mrs. Salome Otterbourne (Rosalie’s mother, a ‘chick-lit’ novel author)

Simon Doyle (Linnet’s husband, Jacqueline’s ex-fiance)

Sterndale Rockford (Pennington’s partner at the solicitor office)

Timothy Allerton (Joanna’s cousin)

Colonel Race (Poirot’s sidekick, who appears in Cards On The table and The Man In The Brown Suit)

Rosalie Otterbourne (the daughter of Mrs. Otterbourne)

William Carmichael (James’s uncle who orders him to take a trip to Egypt to keep an eye on Linnet Doyle)

The Most Fascinating Character: Mr. Ferguson/Lord Dawlish

Alastair Mackenzie stars as Ferguson in 2004’s adaptation of the novel. Ferguson character does not appear in 1978’s film nonetheless.

First noticed by Poirot, he is described as ‘ a tall, dark-haired young man, with a thin face and a pugnacious chin. He was wearing an extremely dirty pair of grey flannel trousers and a high-necked polo jumper singularly unsuited to the climate.’ To Mrs. Allerton he is ‘our anti-capitalist friend.’

When he talks, his remarks are quite cynical to some people. Linnet Doyle is a person ought to be shot and Dr. Bessner is an old pompous bore. Yet, he is genuinely frustrated towards Cornelia Robson’s submission to her domineering cousin growing fondness to the doctor.

Not until a search by Poirot and Colonel Race into each passenger cabin does his true identity come into light. The young Lord Dawlish sounds to be on a mission to be a commoner. Although he fails in his attempt to be one with Poirot’s wincing at his sartorial choice and a signet ring found in his drawer. An Oxford graduate, he is drawn to communism. It is suggestive that he might have been one of the idealistic young people who joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in the thirties. Needless to say, he is a symbol of rebellion.

As any other young man, he finds love unexpectedly in a seemingly meek woman, Robson. She is riled by his criticism to the doctor, which actually means well. Soon he understands that the other is a competitor to win her heart and it confuses him a lot. Just like Mrs. Doyle, he believes that his way of thinking is better than others. This kind of arrogance does not recognise failure.

Towards the end of the book, he knows he is losing the battle and therefore is resigned to ask her hand in marriage to Maria Van Schuyler. Yet he has neither strategy nor tactic to make the haughty woman accept him. Her response to his proposal is a foregone conclusion. ‘There is such a thing as social position, Mr. Ferguson.’

Robson’s sudden presence in the scene puts things into perspective. ‘If-if I liked you, I’d marry you no matter who you were,’ she says to Ferguson. ‘But you don’t like me?’ he replies. ‘I-I think you’re just outrageous. The way you say things…The things you say…I-I’ve never met anyone the least like you. I –‘

(Readers, this is one of my favourite scenes in the book. Robson stands up to him and her cousin, showing the courage that she never thought she had).

Poor Ferguson. I hope he has learnt that the old doctor has a sporting spirit in him; a man of experience who understands the game he is in.

Nevertheless, I wonder if Van Schuyler would have changed her mind about Ferguson after Poirot had told tells her about his vast fortune and upbringing.

 

Clues:

On Jacqueline Bellefort:

Linnet Ridgeway (to Joanna Southwood):

‘…We were together at a convent in Paris. She’s had the most terrible bad luck Her father was a French Count, her mother was American – a Southerner. The father went off with some woman, and her mother lost all her money in the Wall Street crash. Jackie was left absolutely broke. I don’t know how she’s managed to get along the last two years.’

Hercule Poirot:

‘…You have chosen, Mademoiselle, the dangerous course… As we here in this boat have embarked on a journey, so you too have embarked on your own private journey – a journey on a swift moving river, between dangerous rocks, and heading for who knows what currents of disaster…’

On Linnet Doyle:

Simon MacCorkindale as Simon Doyle and Lois Chiles as Linnet Doyle in the 1978’s film.

A local man (to Mr. Burnaby):

‘It seems all wrong to me – her looking like that. Money and looks –it’s too much!If a girl’s as rich as that she’s no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker….Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair…’

Mrs. Allerton (in response to Poirot’s remark: ‘That would be like the Queen in your Alice in Wonderland, “Off with her head.”’)

‘Of course. The divine right of monarchy! Just a little bit of the Naboth’s vineyard touch…’

Jacqueline Bellefort:

‘But you are a queen, Linnet! You always were. Sa Majeste, la reine Linnette. Linette la blonde! And I-I’m the Queen’s confidante! The trusted Maid of Honour.’

to Poirot: ‘…I loved Linnet…I trusted her. She was my best friend. All her life Linnet has been able to buy everything she wanted. She’s never denied herself anything. When she saw Simon she wanted him- and she just took him.’

Joanna Southwood:

‘You know, Linnet, I really do envy you. You’ve simply got everything. Here you are at twenty, your own mistress, with any amount of money, looks, superb health. You’ve even got brains!…’

Rosalie Otterbourne (to Poirot):

‘I’m odious. I’m quite odious. I’m just a beast through and through. I’d like to tear the clothes off her back and stamp on her lovely, arrogant, self-confident face. I’m just a jealous cat- but that’s what I feel like. She’s so horribly successful and poised and assured.’

Simon Doyle (to Poirot):

‘My dear Monsieur Poirot, how can I put it? It’s like the moon when the sun comes out. You don’t know it’s there any more. When once I’d met Linnet – Jackie didn’t exist.’

On Simon Doyle:

Jacqueline Bellefort:

To Miss Ridgeway: ‘…He’s big and square an incredibly simple and boyish ad utterly adorable! He’s poor – got no money. He’s what you call “county” all right –but very impoverished county- a younger son and all that. His people come from Devonshire. He loves the country and country things. And for the last five years he’s been in the City in a stuffy office. And now they’re cutting down and he’s out of a job. Linnet, I shall die if I can’t marry him! I shall die! I shall die! I shall die…’

To Poirot: ‘Simon didn’t care a damn about her (Linnet)! I talked a lot to you about glamour, but of course that wasn’t true. He didn’t want Linnet. He thought of her good-looking but terribly bossy, and he hated bossy women! The whole thing embarrassed him frightfully. But he did like the thought of her money.’

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