Monday, October 24, 2011

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Following on from my first foray into the world Agatha Christie's Poirot earlier this year, I couldn't resist picking up another novel from the collection. Similarly to last time, I selected a novel set in the Middle East, this time in the British Protectorate of Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq.

Published in 1936, and set prior to Poirot's most famous case, Murder on the Orient Express, this novel is centred around a group of scientists on the site of an archeological dig - something close to the author's heart as her second husband, Max Mallowan, was himself an archeologist. Most of the action doesn't take place at the dig though, but rather focuses around the claustrophobic confines of the staff compound.

The narrative starts with a preface by Dr Giles Reilly, who goes about introducing us to our narrator, Nurse Amy Leatheran. Nurse Leatheran assumes the narrative, retelling the story of what happened subsequent to her employment by Dr Leidner, one of the archeologists, to look after his wife; the rather jumpy and increasingly unbalanced Mrs Leidner. 

In a typically Agatha Christie way, we have a group of characters so disparate in their personalities, that they actually become believable. In addition to the nurse and the Leidners, we have: a lover, a drug user, an angry lady, a Bertie Wooster sound-a-like, a stroppy daughter, a French priest, and for good measure, a dead first husband.

When Mrs Leidner gets killed after having seen strange apparitions at the windows, and after a local Arab man is seen peering into the compound, it seems that any number of suspects could be responsible. Cue our favourite Belgian detective to come and sort out the situation, but not before another murder can be committed.

Nevertheless, this novel contains as many surprises as you would expect from this writer and this genre. Poirot is typically masterful in discovering the truth, despite having no real proof. The tension within the walls of the compound is unbearable, the murders ingenious and plot is not what you would expect.

Poirot starts his revelation of the truth with, "Bismillahi ar rahman ar rahim". Telling us that it is, "the Arab phrase used before starting out on a journey," and this storyline is quite a journey.

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