Literature: Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile is a 1937 mystery novel by Agatha Christie.

Hercule Poirot is on holiday in Egypt, on a Nile River cruise. Among the other passengers is Linnet Ridgeway, a rich, beautiful heiress, honeymooning with her husband Simon Doyle. Doyle was engaged to Linnet’s best friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort, before he met Linnet, and broke it off. Heartbroken and wanting revenge on her former friend for stealing her fiancé, Jacqueline started following them everywhere they go. When Linnet gets killed, Jacqueline is the obvious suspect. But is that really the case?

The story was adapted for the screen twice, as a 1978 film and as a 2004 episode of the television series Poirot. It was also adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 1997, with John Moffatt playing Poirot.

This book and its adaptions provide examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: With nothing more than her obsession with "bloodlust and the sex instinct" to justify her, Salome Otterbourne drunkenly suggests to Poirot the name of first Jackie and then Simon as the killer. She's right. Both times.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The 1978 film version simplified the plot and removed several superfluous characters.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Downplayed with Simon Doyle in the 1978 film version, but only in small details that do not change the plot in any way. For example, he is initially reluctant to go through with the killing of Louise, preferring to pay her, and in the final summation he is presented a bit more sympathetically than his counterpart in the book.
    • Jim Ferguson comes across a bit more sympathetically in this version too. This is partly because he replaces Tim Allerton as Rosalie's love interest.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Similarly, downplayed with Jacqueline de Bellefort in the 1978 version. Much of her exposition to Poirot at the end is omitted, and replaced by a denial act.
  • Affably Evil: Both Andrew Pennington and Simon Doyle.
  • The Alcoholic: Mrs. Otterbourne.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Mrs. Otterbourne.
  • Asshole Victim: Linnet isn't one of the worst Christie examples, but stealing her best friend's fiancé makes her easy to dislike.
    • In the beginning of the book, she mentions to Jackie that she's having a number of houses on her property knocked down and the people moved, because they make her property look unsightly. It's slightly zigzagged in that she says that she's having new and better houses built for them, and that most of the people agreed, but she mentions too that some of the residents don't want to move, and she just can't fathom why. Essentially, she comes off as spoiled and thoughtless but not really deserving of death particularly since she turns out to have been the victim of a rather ruthless and meticulously planned murder.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Jacqueline kills herself and Simon rather than being executed for Linnet's murder.
  • Blackmail: Louise. It gets her killed.
  • Broken Bird: Poor Rosalie Otterbourne.
  • Busman's Holiday: Once again, Poirot must solve a murder while on vacation.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Jacqueline to Simon. At least, that's the act she puts on. Linnet is actually the one Simon viewed as fitting this trope in regards to him.
  • Composite Character: Rosalie Otterbourne in the 1978 film is a composite of three separate characters from the book: Rosalie, Cornelia Robson, and Tim Allerton. However, Ms Bowers is given Cornelia's backstory regarding her history with the Ridgeways.
    • The 2004 version combines the roles of Cornelia Robson and Miss Bowers.
    • Both versions remove the character of Fanthorp, having Mr. Ferguson take over the role he played the night of the murder. The 1978 film also makes Ferguson into Rosalie's love interest since Tim Allerton does not appear.
    • Linnet's maids, Marie and Louise, are combined into the same character in both film versions.
  • Cool Old Guy: Poirot, as always. Mrs Allerton and Colonel Race too.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: The killer uses the victim's blood to trace a letter on the wall, presumably on the assumption that the police will assume the victim used her own blood to try to write the name of her killer. This doesn't work because Poirot, Race, and Dr. Bessner are all smart enough to know the victim would have died instantly and couldn't have written anything after being shot. The only reaction it produces is a snarky comment from Poirot that killer is apparently a fan of old-fashioned melodramas. In a double-twist on this trope, it was written to implicate one of the people actually directly involved in the murder, in an attempt to make it look like another party was trying to frame her.
  • Dead Man Writing: Subverted: The initial written by Linnet in her own blood is quickly discovered to actually have been written by the murderer (Linnet died instantly, leaving no time to write a message), seemingly to throw suspicion on Jackie. It later turns out that Jackie was actively involved in the planning of the murder and the message served to direct suspicion away from her.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mrs Van Schyler and Miss Bowers in the 1978 film.
    • Colonel Race as well.
  • Driven to Suicide / Leave Behind a Pistol: In the novel, there's a second pistol which Jacqueline uses to kill Simon and herself rather than face execution for murder. Poirot says he knew of the second gun and allowed them the choice for the "honorable" way out. In the film, Jackie simply steals the original gun and does the double suicide, to Poirot's shock.
  • Dying Clue: The J written in blood on the wall would seem to be Linnet's way of naming Jackie as the killer. Unlike most examples of this trope, this is never taken seriously as a possible clue, because it's obvious Linnet died instantly and wouldn't have had time to write anything on the wall. It's actually considered evidence in Jackie's favor, since the killer must have been the one who wrote the "J" and Jackie obviously wouldn't have done that. This was exactly what the killer was counting on—Simon did the J to make it look like someone was trying to frame Jackie.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Jacqueline de Bellefort
  • Exotic Backdrop Setting: The murder could have taken place on a ship in England, for all that native Egyptians or Egyptian culture affect the plot.
  • Foreshadowing:
    Colonel Race: (talking about Mrs. Otterbourne) What a poisonous woman! Whew! Why didn't somebody murder her!
    Poirot: It may yet happen.
  • Genre Savvy: With a touch of Medium Awareness, where some of the clues are meant to deflect suspicion away from the people they target.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason that Louise Bourget and Salome Otterbourne were killed.
  • Herr Doktor: Dr. Bessner.
  • His Name Is...: Mrs Otterbourne is shot in the head mere seconds before she names the culprit.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: The murderer aka Simon Doyle has bright blue eyes.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: After The Reveal, Jaqueline tells Poirot that she encouraged Simon to dump her for Linnet so that he could have Linnet's money if that was what he really wanted. However, Simon refused because he loved Jaqueline while Linnet was not his type.
  • Lady Drunk: Mrs. Otterbourne.
  • Large Ham: In the BBC Radio adaptation, Sir Donald Sinden as Colonel Race.
  • Last Minute Hook Up: Cornelia Robson and Dr. Bessner, Rosalie Otterbourne and Tim Allerton. Agatha Christie tends often to do this, with Poirot as The Matchmaker.
  • Little Useless Gun: Jacqueline's pearl-handled pistol is referred to several times as "a toy," but it's also made clear that it's a lethal weapon.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Jacqueline De Bellefort. The only reason she helped Simon in murdering Linnet is that she wanted to protect him; she knew that he'll try it alone if she doesn't help, and he'll certainly screw it up and get caught.
  • Mad Love: Jacqueline for Simon. Lampshaded by Poirot at the end.
  • Momma's Boy: Tim Allerton is very close with Mrs Allerton, who is a very nice woman.
  • Mood Whiplash: Done very effectively in the 1978 adaptation. A rather humorous scene with Mrs. Otterbourne ends abruptly with her being shot in the head.
  • Murder-Suicide: Jacqueline shoots Simon and then herself.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Simon Doyle claims this as the reason that he broke off his relationship with his fiancee Jacqueline and married Jackie's best friend Linnet. He said he was put off by the fact that Jackie loved him more than he loved her, and that "a man wants to own his woman. He doesn't want to feel that she owns him." Simon was being honest about his feelings about possessive women, but it was Linnet he thought was trying to own him, not Jackie.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Simon Doyle is ruled out because he had just been shot in the foot shortly before the murder, and the idea that he would have decided to still carry out a murder plot despite being only barely able to walk, and did it so stealthily that no one saw him do it, strains plausibility too much to consider. But Simon was, in fact, the killer; he faked being shot, rushed off to kill the victim and ran back, then shot his own foot for real to keep up the ruse.
  • One Tract Mind: Mr. Ferguson, who regards any activity not tending towards the Communist utopia as fiddling while Rome burns.
  • Pretty in Mink: At least in an adaptation, a fur stole is used as part of the murder, specifically to muffle a second gunshot.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Jacqueline. But not so much ex.
  • Rich Bitch: Miss Van Schuyler and Joanna Southwood
    • Linnet herself is a bit of a deconstruction. She has been rich all her life and can tend to be a bit callous because of it, the most obvious example being her behavior towards Simon and Jackie. But she is also portrayed as a generally kind and generous person who is uncomfortable with Joanna Southwood's behavior, and is implied to feel guilty over how she treated her former best friend. Poirot, though not approving her actions, pities her even before the murder.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Linnet and Jacqueline.
    • Also Ferguson and Dr. Bessner for Cornelia Robson. Though in something of a twist, it turns out that Dr. Bessner was the poor one, at least as compared to Ferguson a.k.a. Lord Dawlish.
  • Rustproof Blood: Poirot finds the murder weapon (which has been chucked into the titular river) wrapped inside a cloth. The mysterious pink stain on the cloth leads Poirot to suspect that one of the passengers faked a bloody injury (using red ink hidden in a nail polish bottle) in order to create an alibi for himself.
  • Scenery Porn: Oh dear God, yes. Legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff and Egypt are a match made in heaven.
  • Shout-Out: The 2004 version films Jackie stabbing Louise as a homage to Psycho complete with screeching violin music.
  • Staged Shooting: Jackie fakes shooting Simon to give him an alibi for Linnet's murder.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jacqueline on Simon. Turns out she was pretending, and actually in cahoots with Simon.
  • Stealing from the Till: Andrew Pennington has been doing this to Linnet, which is what provides his motive for her murder. It's also implied that Simon Doyle was doing the same thing to his previous employers, which is why he was "out of a job" when the book started.
  • Sticky Fingers: Miss Van Schuyler and Tim Allerton.
  • Summation Gathering: In the 1978 film (but not in the book), all the suspects were present at this, making for a suspenseful show-down scene.
  • Surprisingly Similar Stories: A man ambitiously decides to commit murder for power and wealth, and his significant other aids him by planning how to carry it out. He pretends to be a loving protector of the victim (who is threatened by other enemies) and then kills them in their sleep, leaving a bloody mark to direct suspicion away from himself and his partner in crime. The plan starts to go wrong and the pair commit more murders to try (unsuccessfully) to get away with the first one. Macbeth, anyone?
  • Sympathetic Murderer: The combination of Linnet trying to steal Simon from Jaqueline, Jaqueline's willingness to let Simon go if that was what he really wanted, and the fact that she only got involved to protect Simon, makes Jackie an extremely sympathetic figure to Poirot, Race, the other characters on the boat, and the reader. Poirot allows her to kill herself and avoid the gallows.
  • The Summation
  • Too Dumb to Live: Pretty much everyone who is killed. And the murderer himself, Simon Doyle. His lover Jacqueline de Bellefort knew this and decided to help him to kill Linnet.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: If Simon had just let the rock fall on Linnet, he and Jackie would have lived happily ever after. This would have kept the maid Louise and Mrs. Otterbourne alive, and Pennington would have gotten Simon to sign papers to fix his crooked accounting. However, Simon was afraid that Jackie was the one who pushed the rock, and he didn't want her to go down for the murder, so he saved Linnet to be killed later.
    • Also, a subversion: The entire crime appears to be this, based on the assumption that someone overheard what happened between Jackie and Simon and took advantage of the situation to steal the pistol and kill Linnet. Actually, the entire crime was planned down to the last detail.
  • Triang Relations: Type 4. A = Jacqueline, B = Simon, C = Linnet Actually, this is an act, and the real triangle is A = Linnet, B = Simon, C = Jacqueline, but Linnet does not know this.
  • Tsundere: Rosalie Otterbourne, so much.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: In the 1978 film, as Salome Otterbourne is saying "I was talking to one of the crew, who was showing me a most intriguing sight, a buffalo and a cow yoked together tilling the soil", a flashback is shown in which she is in fact secretly buying alcohol from said crew member.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Until you try to steal your best friend's fiancé. Linnet, you bitch.
  • Woman Scorned: Jacqueline or at least that's what she wanted everyone to believe.
  • Yandere: Jacqueline. Subverted Trope as we find out it was it was all a cover to hide her complicity with Simon. In fact, she was even ready to set her love free to marry her best friend.
  • You Watch Too Much X: When they find an initial over the bed written in the victim's blood, Poirot points out that this has been done so often as to be a Dead Horse Trope and essentially says that the murderer has been watching too many old-fashioned melodramas.

Alternative Title(s):

Death On The Nile