by Agatha Christie
This is one of Christie’s better-known mysteries, but is not (again) a particular favorite of mine. There is simply too much going on: a murderer, a jewel thief, and an international spy all on board the same pleasure cruise on the Nile??? However, setting aside the mystery, I think that this book does have some depth to offer in the way that Christie reflects on how our actions impact others, and how a choice can change a great deal of the future.
Overall, this book is a 3/5, but for some more in-depth thoughts on this story, I will have to include some spoilers…
The first part of the book sets up the various characters who will be traveling on board the pleasure cruise on the Nile, and the rest of the book is the cruise itself.
The basic premise of this story: Linnet is wealthy and beautiful and newly-married to a man named Simon Doyle. Doyle, however, used to be engaged to one of Linnet’s closest (but poor) friends, Jackie. Linnet and Doyle head off on their honeymoon to Egypt, but are followed everywhere by the persistent Jackie, who simply sits and watches them, enjoying the fact that she is making Linnet’s life miserable. To others, Jackie mentions how much she hates Linnet and wishes she was dead.
Eventually, Linnet is murdered, but at a time when Jackie has a perfect alibi. In the end, Poirot discovers that Doyle killed Linnet; his entire marriage was a plot between himself and Jackie, with the death of Linnet (and Doyle’s inheritance of her immense wealth) as the end-goal.
But there are a few lines of this story that really get to me and make me think.
The first is towards the beginning of the story. Before Linnet is killed, she comes to Poirot to ask him if he can force Jackie to leave her (Linnet) alone. She tells Poirot the bare bones of their story, and Poirot responds by reminding Linnet of a tale from the Old Testament.
“You have heard of King David and of the rich man who had many flocks and herds and the poor man who had one ewe lamb–and of how the rich man took the poor man’s one ewe lamb. That was something that happened, Madam.”
Linnet sat up. Her eyes flashed angrily.
“I see perfectly what you are driving at, Monsieur Poirot. You think, to put it vulgarly, that I stole my friend’s young man. Looking at the matter sentimentally … that is possibly true. But the real hard truth is different … Look at it clearly … Simon discovers that it is I he loves, not Jackie. What is he to do? Be heroically noble and marry a woman he does not care for? … I admit that it was very hard on Jackie, and I’m terribly sorry about it–but there it is. It was inevitable.”
“I wonder … It is all very sensible, very logical–all that you say! But it does not explain … your own attitude. … To you this persecution is intolerable–and why? It can be for one reason only–that you feel a sense of guilt. … I suggest to you that, although you may have endeavoured to gloss over the fact to yourself, you did deliberately set about taking your husband from your friend. I suggest that you felt strongly attracted to him at once. But I suggest that there was a moment when you hesitated, when you realized that there was a choice–that you could refrain or go on. I suggest that the initiative rested with you–not with Monsieur Doyle. … You had everything, Madame, that life can offer. Your friend’s life was bound up in one person. You knew that, but, though you hesitated, you did not hold your hand. You stretched it out and, like the rich man in the Bible, you took the poor man’s one ewe lamb.”
I have given you this rather over-long quote to express to you one idea that came through in this book quite strongly: we choose to do right or wrong. Evil is not thrust upon us an inevitable action. There comes a moment when we stand a crossroads, and know which turning is wrong, and which turning is right. And then we choose. Later, we deny that we had a choice. We like to see ourselves as victims of a domino effect that forced us into a corner. But the truth of the matter is that so often, though we hesitate, we do not hold our hand.
In this next scene, still before the actual murder, Poirot is speaking with Jackie. Jackie has told him how her life was destroyed by Simon’s marriage to Linnet, and how she (Jackie) originally planned to kill them both. But now she is enjoying holding Linnet in her power, by following her about and tormenting her. Still, Jackie imagines killing Linnet; she even carries a small pistol.
“And then I thought I’d–wait [to kill Linnet]! That appealed to me more and more. After all, I could do it any time; it would be more fun to wait and–think about it! And then this idea came to my mind–to follow them! Whenever they arrived at some faraway spot and were together and happy, they should see Me! And it worked! It got Linnet badly–in a way nothing else could have done! It got right under her skin. that was when I began to enjoy myself–And there is nothing she can do about it! I’m always perfectly pleasant and polite! there’s not a word they can take hold of! It’s poisoning everything–everything–for them.”
Her laugh rang out, clear and silvery.
Poirot grasped her arm.
“Be quiet. Quiet, I tell you.”
Jacqueline looked at him.
“Well?” she asked. Her smile was definitely challenging.
“Mademoiselle, I beseech you, do not do what you are doing.”
“Leave dear Linnet alone, you mean?”
“It is deeper than that. Do not open your heart to evil. … Because–if you do–evil will come…yes, very surely evil will come… it will enter in and make its home within you, and after a little while it will no longer be possible to drive it out.”
Usually, though Poirot is wise and insightful, he does not play this almost priest-like role of pre-murder counseling. But here, as with Linnet, Poirot’s advice is quite Biblical. He warned Jackie of the level deeper than mere action–he knows that just as actions so often reflect what is in our hearts, our actions can change what is in our hearts. Evil never ignores the invitation of an open heart. And once it is established, it entangles and bewilders us.
These two passages impressed me deeply. While I did not particularly enjoy this story overall, I found these two conversations to be insightful and thought-provoking, a reminder that our Enemy does indeed prowl about us constantly, looking for an unwary soul to devour.