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The Book Club

Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile

1. Death On The Nile. This piece of detective fiction, fronted by detective-protagonist Hercule Poirot, is one of Agatha Christie’s most popular works. As the events unfold, the elements of the text – from the characters and relationships (a messy love triangle) to the setting (a closed “room” scenario where every individual can be the murderer) – are seemingly traditional. Subtle foreshadowing is employed in the beginning before the main characters gather upon the Nile River cruise; but things do get interesting as soon as Linnet Ridgeway is murdered, and Poirot is called upon to unravel the mysteries. Instead of shifting settings, the enclosed environment of the cruise adds to the sense of entrapment, forcing the reader to pay closer attention to the actions and mannerisms of the assortment of characters. Human interactions and exchanges are of vital importance.

2. The proliferation of red herrings. Christie cleverly employs the use of red herrings to distract the reader from the actual murderers; and by jumbling the assortment of clues together it confuses the reader and opens up various possibilities. In terms of the characterisation, the myriad of individuals – such as Andrew Pennington and Signor Richetti – with their past and actions – renders it a plausible notion that anyone and everyone (expect Poirot) could have been responsible. Further, clues such as the pistol and gunshots, something or someone being thrown overboard, and even the “injuries” sustained by Jacqueline De Bellefort and Simon Doyle et cetera; all these complexities complicate the situation, and inadvertently our reliance on Poirot increases (though, the reader is always assured that Poirot would be the one who figures the intricacies of the case). Red herrings, when used masterfully, are glorious elements of detective fiction.

3. Going round the merry-go-round. Hercule Poirot to Colonel Race: “We know almost all there is to know. Except that what we know seems incredible. Impossible”.

4. The “guaranteed” conclusion. Although Poirot might appear unsure momentarily, the progression of the plot – largely defined by the fluidity of the sequence of their processes – would ensure an eventual conclusion. The reader is subtly assured that no matter how heinous the murder has been, a satisfactory resolution is guaranteed. This contention is certainly valid, for throughout “Death on the Nile”, Poirot shows a keen awareness when dealing with the clues of the handguns, telegram-documents, and the usages of the “Cardinal” and “Rose” nail-polishes. Given the uncertainty of the events, reliance on Poirot’s mastery (especially for ardent reader) is assured right from the beginning.

5. Poirot as the psychological detective (I). Unlike Sherlock Holmes’s approaches to investigation, there are no painstaking examinations conducted in the victim’s (Linnet Doyle’s) cabin; Poirot is defined as a psychological detective who focuses on enquiring into the nature of the victim and potential suspects. Confronted with Linnet’s death, he turns his attention initially to Jacqueline de Bellefort – Linnet’s love rival – and proceeds to use his “little grey cells” and “order and method” to systematically deduce the murderer’s identity through logic and reasoning. Poirot’s methods are argued as a “doctrinaire empiricist positivism”, such that he is focused upon haphazard bits of physical clues, for he perceives a semiotic significance in the objects around him that eludes less rigorous observers.

6. Poirot as the psychological detective (II). Nonetheless, Poirot’s interrogative technique and his methods of psychological and invocative probing are often overlooked; even though this means that he is able to bring about unconscious impulses from possible suspects. This, coupled with his nifty application of clues, establishes a rational pattern underlying seemingly random events. His careful conjecture, tested patiently against Simon Doyle, breaks the latter down; as Jacqueline de Bellefort ultimately concedes “you were too clever for us … you sprang it all on Simon, and he went down like a ninepin … lost his head utterly, poor lamb, and admitted everything”. He is particularly adept in his interactions with the other characters (little surprise that he is frequently questioning the suspected few upon the cruise); and the ability to pick up subtleties to assist him.

7. A tinge of smugness and arrogance? From his lassiez-faire “un qui aime et un qui se laisse aimer” comment on Simon Doyle and Jacqueline de Bellefort, his promise to Linnet Doyle “in the interests of humanity”, and his perpetual refusal to fill Colonel Race in on his progress; Poirot exhibits a mild level of smugness. But then again, what is a detective without a certain level of self-confidence to convince the reader of his abilities?

8. Narrative style as a “whodunit” and “howcatchem”. Poirot is the sanctioned outsider, whose intrusive enquiry and incessant questioning is somewhat tolerated because of his reputation as a successful Belgian investigator. After Linnet Doyle had been murdered, Poirot proceeds to interrogate everybody on the boat, and finds out that many of the passengers interviewed had heard a splash, as well as someone running during the night. This also presents Poirot as a coagulant through his involvement, which provides order and progression in an otherwise random setting and haphazard gathering of strangers. In the end, the crime is resolved with his perceptive observation of the demeanours of Jacqueline de Bellefort and Simon Doyle after much deliberation. This shows that his “outsider” viewpoint allows him to perceive what is ignored by the other characters, and leads the reader to the conclusion of the case.

9. Desire and greed. The themes of desire and greed are expounded upon when Jacqueline de Bellefort reveals that she had conspired with Simon Doyle because Linnet Doyle had “went all out to get Simon away from me … she just went bald-headed”. Even though the raison d’être for the murder is love, the theme of revenge is much more subdued, because the central motives are money, fear of exposure and sexual jealously. Jacqueline had every intention to lay her hands on Linnet’s fortune; even with her suicide at the end, it does not redeem her manipulative and cunning plotting. Christie proves that there is no good end for evil-doers. Other than Jacqueline’s murder-plot: Andrew Pennington, Linnet’s lawyer and trustee, had stolen money, and was trying to absolve himself from guilt by setting Simon to bail him out of his “financial quandary … on Wall Street”; Tim Allerton, at the same time, had stolen Linnet’s pearls to help his cousin, Joanna Southwood.

10. Case closed. Hercule Poirot to Cornelia Robson: “You are wrong. They didn’t allow for Hercule Poirot”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Agatha Christie’s Death On The Nile

  1. You might like to submit this post for the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival
    See http://acrccarnival.blogspot.com/ for information

    Posted by Kerrie | February 6, 2011, 7:00 am

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  1. Pingback: Agatha Christie’s “Crooked House” | guanyinmiao's musings - October 13, 2016

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