Literature / Death Comes as the End

Death Comes as the End is a 1944 work of Historical Detective Fiction by Agatha Christie, set in Ancient Egypt. It is the only one of its kind, all other works of Christie being set in the 20th century, and she drew inspiration from her work with her archaeologist husband Sir Max Mallowan. It was at least partly written on a dare by family friend and Egyptologist Stephen Glanville.

The story takes place in Thebes in 2000 BC, and is told from the perspective of young widow Renisenb. Her family's lives are turned upside-down when her father, Imhotep, brings home a new concubine Nofret, a wicked young woman who begins to exert undue power over the family, much to the chagrin of Imhotep's three sons, Yahmose, Sobek and Ipy and their wives. Everyone seems to have a motive to kill Nofret after she goes too far, so when she is found to have fallen to her death from a cliff, an accident seems unlikely. When more deaths occur, rumours arise of a curse on the house, or of Nofret's vengeful ghost.

In August 2016, BBC announced that an adaptation would be screening in 2017; however, as of August 2017, no screening date or further information has been released.

The story contains examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: The murderer becomes this after tasting power and violence for the first time after years of being submissive and repressed.
  • Based on a True Story: The Heqanakte papyri are a sequence of letters from the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt exchanged between the head of a Big, Screwed-Up Family and his long suffering eldest son which describe a domestic situation similar to that of the Imhotep family. As far as we know it did not lead to murder in Real Life.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Averted, unusually for Christie. The handsome scribe Kameni is a good (although not faultless) man who falls in love with Renisenb; after some soul searching, she ultimately chooses Hori instead. Out of Imhotep's sons, the murderer is the only one not described as handsome, although the other two are jerks.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Hori saves Renisenb from becoming Yahmose's next victim by shooting him dead.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Becoming even more so when Nofret starts to bring out their dysfunctional sides.
  • Black Comedy: In one scene, the undertaker offers volume discount on enbalming.
  • Black Sheep: Sobek, the second son, is a hard-drinking womanizer who wastes money on expensive dancing girls.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Renisenb and Hori at the end of the story.
  • The Corrupter: Nofret is this. Subverted, however, because as Hori explains, rather than bringing the darkness in from outside, she merely brought out the repressed darkness that was already there in the family members.
  • Death by Irony: In the linen storeroom, Henet taunts the spirit of Imhotep's dead wife: "I'm the mistress here now and I'm telling you that your linen will bandage yet another body. And whose body is that, do you think?" - moments before the killer sneaks up behind her and mummifies her alive in linen.
  • Foreshadowing: It rustles in the bushes when Henet is washing. Oh, it's just Yahmose. Nothing happens. Well, next time he kills her.
  • Happily Married: Renisenb was this with her dead husband; however, she also acknowledges that they were still in the honeymoon phase of their marriage. One of the reasons Renisenb chooses Hori in the end is that she believes that his wisdom and strength, and her increased maturity will enable their marriage to stay strong after many years, after the shiny glow has worn off.
  • He Knows Too Much: Imhotep's mother Esa had to die after the murderer became aware that she was onto him. Henet was also killed for this reason.
  • Hourglass Plot: Condensed in the first half of the book, wherein the domineering Satipy becomes meek, and her submissive husband more assertive.
  • I Have No Son: Imhotep does this to all three of his sons after one of their wives retaliated against Nofret. Ironically, by the end of the novel, all three sons are dead - but it is expected that Hori will become his son-in-law.
  • Official Couple: Renisenb and Hori by the end of the story.
  • Oh, Crap!: At one point, the narrative switches to the perspective of old Esa waking up cold and paralyzed, with the realization that she has been murdered. Despite her cautiousness in having all her food and drink tasted beforehand, the murderer poisoned her massage ointment.
  • Self-Poisoning Gambit The killer intentionally drinks poisoned wine in order to kill his brother. The killer is careful to only drink enough to make himself sick. Because he is known as a man of moderation, while his brother tends towards excess, no one is surprised that the killer has only consumed a little of the wine and survives, while his brother consumes a lot and dies. And because he was the first to drink the wine, this also sets up the killer's alibi, since it makes it appear that he was the target and the brother was collateral damage.
  • Start to Corpse: Quite a long one. The first corpse appears well over a third of the way through the novel, following a slow-paced heightening of ominous tension.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Yahmose was only momentarily this as he killed Nofret in a rage after being pushed to the bounds of endurance and snapping. However, the trope promptly dissolves as he discovers a newfound sense of power from committing murder, and becomes outright evil.
  • Theme Naming: the chapter titles are all taken from the Egyptian agricultural calendar, which also provides a timeline of events.
  • Triang Relations: A Type 7 between Renisenb, her father's advisor Hori, and handsome scribe Kameni. She chooses Hori in the final paragraphs.
  • Ur-Example: this was the first full-length novel to combine historical fiction with a detective story, a genre now commonly known as the 'historical whodunnit'.
  • Vorpal Pillow: A variation is used on the last victim, Henet - she is smothered with sheets rather than a pillow. More specifically, she is mummified alive.