DEATH COMES AS THE END by Agatha Christie (Review)

Death Comes As The End is set in Egypt during the XIth Dynasty, around 2000 BC – I think at the very beginning of that dynasty for although the story is not exactly dated there are references to Egypt as being split up into petty kingdoms but in the process of being reunited under one powerful pharaoh.

All the action takes place in a country house and estate by the Nile, the home of a rich and pompous middle-aged man called Imhotep. Which, it is true, could as easily be the country house and estate by the Thames or the Severn of a rich pompous Englishman, but there all similarity to the Hercule Poirot stories ends.

At the beginning of the book we meet Imhotep’s daughter, Renisenb, who after eight years of marriage has returned to her family home as a widow. She believes that nothing has changed. She wants everything to be just the same, wants to revert to being a little girl again – she is still very young.

But everything is not the same, as soon becomes clear when Imhotep himself returns from a business trip in the north with an exotically beautiful young concubine.

Everyone’s real character emerges, and soon the murders start, the first being Nofret the gorgeous concubine, whom everyone hates – most especially, the wives of Imhotep’s sons!

Apart from Renisenb, my favourite character here is Esa, Imhotep’s elderly mother, a kind of ancient Egyptian Miss Marple but with absolutely none of Miss Marple’s respectability.

So far as I know, Agatha Christie wrote only this one historical mystery. It is perhaps her best book. The background detail is perfect. But when you consider that her second husband was the Egyptologist Sir Max Mallowan, that their friend Stephen Glanville, another Egyptologist played a part in planning the book, and that she herself spent many years in Egypt accompanying her husband on digs, that is not surprising.

Many people these days dismiss Agatha Christie with contempt, as though being the world’s best-selling author of all time is something to be ashamed of. Read this. You may be surprised.