Goodreads: Death Comes As the End
In this startling historical mystery, unique in the author’s canon, Agatha Christie investigates a deadly mystery at the heart of a dissonant family in ancient Egypt. Imhotep, wealthy landowner and priest of Thebes, has outraged his sons and daughters by bringing a beautiful concubine into their fold. And the manipulative Nofret has already set about a plan to usurp her rivals’ rightful legacies. When her lifeless body is discovered at the foot of a cliff, Imhotep’s own flesh and blood become the apparent conspirators in her shocking murder. But vengeance and greed may not be the only motives…
Last year it was announced that the BBC would be adapting Agatha Christie’s Death Comes As the End for a TV miniseries, so of course I had to read the book (even though I am unlikely to actually watch the miniseries….). I enjoyed both Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None, so I was excited to see what Christie would do with a very different setting–Egypt in 2000 BC. Christie says in in introduction to the novel that the setting is fairly irrelevant and the mystery could take place anyway (and, to a degree, sure), but I actually think the setting adds a lot in terms of atmosphere and in even in contributing to facets of the mystery. Death Comes As the End is not necessarily the best Christie book I’ve read so far, but it certainly got me thinking about both who the culprit is and about life and death in general, which I call a success.
The one aspect I didn’t love about the book is that the characters are annoying, with about two of them as an exception. The “main” character Renisenb isn’t given an exact age, but she says she was married for eight years before recently becoming widowed, though she was close to a child when she was married. Presumably, this makes her about 22. Yet she acts and thinks as if she’s 12. She’s the one character everyone likes, the one everything thinks must be safe because, well, everyone likes her, but she drove me nuts with her simplistic thoughts and dialogue. Though she left home, married, had a child, and lived her own life, she seems baffled by obvious facts of life like “people change” and “not everyone is what they seem.” She’s immature, and frankly not believable as a character in her young twenties. I’d say she’s so initialized that it’s almost insulting to women, but Christie can and does write more mature and complex female characters, so presumably she just wanted the main character here to be wildly naive.
Most of the other characters are equally irritating–often, intentionally, it’s true. For example, Renisenb’s father is a pompous old man who like to talk about his own importance, hoard authority for himself, and constantly remind his children how much they depend on him. Bringing home a concubine younger than his own daughter, the impetus for the plot, is indicative of his character. In a book where I suspected a bunch of people were going to die, I was sort of hoping that some of them would, so I wouldn’t have to read about them anymore. A sharp-witted grandmother and a perceptive family employee helped make the cast of characters more bearable, however.
I also did like the setting, and while Christie is perhaps correct that the mystery did not have to take place in Ancient Egypt, I think it helped. This setting allows for things like the complex relationship between life and death related to the Egyptian culture, as well as for the specific family dynamics of an estate where multiple generations live together and for the complicated role of women, who don’t have obvious power but must grasp and wield it where they can. All these things allow for various suspects and various motives related to the mystery.
As for the mystery itself, I did not solve it. I think there are adequate clues that a reader who wanted to probably could (I’ve seen other reviews where people said they did). I must personally not be great at being a detective, but I had a fun time trying to parse out what was happening and why.
Altogether, this is definitely worth a read for any Christie fan or mystery fans