Quick word of explanation/quasi-apology before I start this review.

A few months ago, when I embarked on my personal quest of reading all the Agatha Christie novels in chronological order, I foolishly didn’t factor in one thing…my recent month-long climbing expedition in the Indian Himalayas.

With no connectivity but a fully-loaded Kindle, I proceeded to read and read Ms Christie. Lovely long acclimatisation days and rest days went by with me lolling around in my tent, racing through Ms Christie’s books.

The result?

I am obviously WAY behind on posting my reviews here.

I aim to catch up, pukka, but it’ll be very piecemeal. Which is why this review is totally out of sync, in case you were wondering.

Right, back to Mesopotamia.

I enjoyed this book, and knowing that Ms Christie met her second husband on an archeological dig in Iraq just added to the interest.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say, by way of background:

“The novel is set at an archaeological excavation in Iraq, and descriptive details derive from the author’s visit to the Royal Cemetery at Ur where she met her husband, Sir Max Mallowan, and other British archaeologists.”

Hercule Poirot is the detective in charge of this double murder mystery, but he only makes his appearance after the first victim’s death, and the story is narrated by an English woman, Nurse Amy Leatheran, who has recently joined the archeological dig. We see the group of archeologists and scholars through her cool, sensible eyes, and when the first death occurs, just a week after her arrival, she is a calming, sensible presence with no complicated emotional baggage to compromise her judgement.

What I very much enjoyed was Nurse Leatheran’s first impression of Hercule Poirot.

We are so used to seeing the Belgian detective through the eyes of the faithful, affectionate Captain Hastings, that this new perspective is amusing:

”I don‘t think I shall ever forget my first sight of Hercule Poirot. Of corse, I got used to him later on, but to begin with it was a shock, and I think everyone else must have felt the same!

I don‘t know what I’d imagined – something rather like Sherlock Homes – long and lean with a keen, clever face. Of course, I knew he was a foreigner, but I hadn’t expected him to be quite as foreign as he was, if you know what I mean.

When you saw him you just wanted to laugh! He was like something on the stage or at the pictures. To begin with, he wasn’t above five-foot five, I should think – an odd, plump little man, quite old, with an enormous moustache, and a head like an egg. He looked like a hairdresser in a comic play!”

This seems almost as though Agatha Christie having a little joke at the expense of her most famous character. Even though we know from previous books that M. Poirot is inordinately proud of his moustache, and we do hear mention of his egg-like head, seeing him like this through Nurse Leatheran’s is a fun moment.

I enjoyed this whodunnit – and yet again, no, I didn’t guess who in fact did the deed – and the “local” background is just enough there to be part of the fabric of the story, without diverting our attention from the plot, namely who amongst the otherwise tight-knit group of professional colleagues had reason to commit 2 murders.

I am in awe of Ms Christie’s writing skills, and how, seemingly, in every book she introduces a new theme or a new area of expertise. This time it is Iraq and the world of archeology and her enthusiasm shines through.


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