Agatha Christie engineered nearly every mind-blowing mystery twist conceivable (except, to her credit, “the butler did it” and “it was all a dream”). She also casually invented a sub-genre with 1944’s “Death Comes as the End”: the historical whodunit. In a one-off experiment, Christie transposed a plot typical of her cozies into Ancient Egypt. English vicarage or Egyptian temple: murder is murder.
“Death Comes as the End” takes place in Thebes near 2000 B.C, not too long after the era of William Golding’s “The Scorpion King,” to which it is very comparable, even (surprisingly) in style. Christie’s novel contains no incest, but other than that it’s about as accurate historically as Golding’s… and far more enjoyable.
Ok, so William was a wordsmith and Agatha wasn’t. The finer aspect aspects of story-telling are secondary to page-turning. If the page doesn’t get turned, the brightest turns of phrase stay locked in an unraided tomb. The following early passage from “Death Comes As the End” may not exactly sparkle:
“She thought again, gratefully: “I have come home.” Nothing was changed here. All was as it had been. Here life was constant, unchanging. The framework, the essence of things, was unchanged.”
That’s FIVE reiterations of the exact same concept. It would get a C- in a creative writing class (appended, a red angry comment: “REDUNDANT!”) But after an initial murder-free slog with questionable passages like the one quoted above, “Death Comes as the End” picks up, the bodies pile up pyramid-high, and you’ll sit there turning pages because the fact is that the woman knew story-telling better than just about anybody.
Christie was fond of digging up graves in ways both literal and literary: in fact she met her second husband, noted archaeologist Max Mallowan, during a Mesopotamian dig. Those times spent with shovels among ancient ruins served the Dame well. See also “Death on the Nile,” “Death in Mesopotamia,” and “Appointment with Death” (set in Jerusalem.)