Literature / Death on the Nile

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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?

Christie adapted the story as a stage play titled Murder on the Nile in 1944. The story was later adapted as a 1978 film boasting an All-Star Cast that included Peter Ustinov (the first of six times Ustinov played Poirot in film or television), Maggie Smith, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, and Angela Lansbury. It was directed by John Guillermin. The story was also adapted for BBC Radio 4 in 1997, with John Moffatt playing Poirot. In 2004 it was adapted for the ninth season of the television series Poirot; tropes for the adaptation are listed on the series page.

The original book provides 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.
  • Affably Evil: Both Andrew Pennington and Simon Doyle.
  • The Alcoholic: Mrs. Otterbourne.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Mrs. Otterbourne.
  • Artistic License – Geography: During questioning, Cornelia Robson gives her address as the name of her family home, followed by the name of the town. You can get away with this in British small towns where everyone, including the postman, knows exactly which house is which (or at least you could have in Christie's day) — but Cornelia is American, and would properly have felt this to be inadequate without the actual street address.
  • 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.
  • Bookends: The story begins and ends with people talking about Linnet in a pub.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Simon Doyle has bright blue eyes, but is definitely not innocent.
  • It's All About Me: Jim Fergusson, despite his proclaimed views, is a self-centered jerk who has nothing but contempt for anyone and anything apart from himself and his own values. He spends most of the book talking loudly about how the murder victims all deserved to die for being useless, then can't figure out why Cornelia doesn't want to marry him.
  • 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.
  • 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'd try it alone if she doesn't help, and he'd 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.
  • Murder-Suicide: Jacqueline shoots Simon and then herself at the end.
  • 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.
  • Old Money: Miss Van Schuyler and Cornelia Robson, although only Miss Van Schuyler exhibits the stereotypical snobbishness of the upper crust. Poirot blows Miss Van Schuyler's mind by revealing to her that Mr. Ferguson, for whom she has developed a distinct dislike, is actually a Blue Blood who won't use his title or rely on his family's money because he's a communist.
  • One Tract Mind:
    • Mr. Ferguson, who regards any activity not tending towards the Communist utopia as fiddling while Rome burns.
    • Mrs. Otterbourne. As a "transgressive" author (transgressive for the Thirties, anyway), she turns out to be sexually obsessed; all her theories regarding Linnet's murder paint the perpetrator as driven by sexual jealousy. Her instinct leads her, ironically, to point the finger at both Jackie and Simon, but for totally wrong reasons.
  • Poirot Speak: Amusingly, Mrs. Otterbourne engages in this before getting shot.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Jacqueline. But not so much ex, and the "psycho" part is staged.
  • 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 of 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
    • Two lovers having the man pretend to jilt her for a rich woman was also the plot of Christie's Evil Under the Sun.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. This is a 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.

The BBC radio adaptation has examples of:

  • Large Ham: Sir Donald Sinden as Colonel Race.

The 1978 film adaptation has examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The film simplified the plot of the novel and removed several superfluous characters.
  • Adaptational Badass: Simon puts up far stronger resistance and a more convincing denial than in the book; Poirot and Race have to resort to a bluff in order to cause him (and Jackie) to confess. Some of his lines during this passage are drawn from Christie's stage play, as is the bluff of the moulage test. In the original book, all it takes to break Simon down is the shock of Poirot hitting him with all that he knows.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Mr. Ferguson comes across more sympathetically, since his character replaces Tim Allerton from the novel as Rosalie's love interest, becoming engaged to her in the final scene.
    • Simon Doyle comes out looking slightly better, 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 (before Jackie convinces him otherwise), and in the final summation his backstory is given slightly more sympathy than in the book.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Downplayed with Jacqueline de Bellefort. It is she, not Simon, who advocates for killing Louise instead of paying her, and a large part of her exposition to Poirot at the end is omitted and replaced by a denial act in conjunction with Simon's. The latter of these points is drawn from the final scene in Christie's stage play.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Downplayed with Poirot, in that he does not deliberately allow Jackie to kill herself, but instead she simply steals the original gun and performs the double suicide right in front of him, to his shock. His response: "Quelle tragédie".
  • Adapted Out: The film omits Cornelia Robson, the Allertons, Mr Fanthorp, Joanna Southwood, Lord Windlesham, Signor Richetti, and Linnet's maid Marie. Murder on the Nile omits all of these except Cornelia Robson (renamed Christina Grant), as well as Miss Bowers and Salome and Rosalie Otterbourne (Salome's death scene, being shot from off-screen, is given instead to Louise.)
  • Animal Assassin: As Poirot's investigation progresses, the culprit tries to get rid of him by leaving a cobra inside his cabin.
  • Composite Character: Rosalie Otterbourne 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. Louise takes Marie's role, and Jim Ferguson is a composite of Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Fanthorp, and Tim Allerton (in the latter, being Rosalie Ottorbourne's love interest).
  • His Name Is...: Mrs. Otterbourne, being typically drunk, takes her time telling who was behind Jacqueline De Bellefort's death, only to be shot while saying "and I saw that it was—".
  • Mood Whiplash: Done very effectively. A rather humorous scene with Mrs. Otterbourne ends abruptly with her being shot in the head.
  • Mooning: Mrs. Van Schuyler sees some boys do this at the steamer as they run alongside it on the riverside. She isn't very pleased about it.
  • Pretty in Mink: A fur stole is used as part of the murder, specifically to muffle a second gunshot.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: The killer does this after Poirot finishes his summation near the end, believing that Poirot has no evidence to back it up.
  • Scenery Porn: Oh dear God, yes. Legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff and Egypt are a match made in heaven for the film.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Linnet's costly white dress.
  • Summation Gathering: All the suspects were present at this, making for a suspenseful scene in which all the characters are looking at each other nervously. In the book, only Colonel Race, Dr. Bessner, and Cornelia Robson are present for Poirot's summation. Averted in the stage play, in which only Jackie is onstage for Canon Pennyfather's final summation.
  • Sword Cane: Colonel Race saves Poirot from the Cobra left inside his cabin by bursting in with his sword from within his cane, and kills the snake with it.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: 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 a crew member.

Murder on the Nile has examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The play simplified the plot of the novel and removed several superfluous characters.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Simon Doyle becomes Simon Mostyn, Jacqueline de Bellefort is Jacqueline de Severac, Linnet is renamed Kay, Cornelia becomes Christina Grant, Mr. Ferguson becomes William Smith, Mrs. van Schyler becomes Helen ffoliot-ffoulkes, and Poirot is replaced by a composite character in Canon Ambrose Pennyfather.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Poirot's replacement, Canon Pennyfather, attempts to school Jackie on why she must not take her own life, and instead live on "until the appointed end" and endure the punishment for murder, for the sake of her soul. He hands her back her gun, to allow her to make the choice herself - and after considering, she puts the gun back down and surrenders herself.
  • Composite Character: Canon Ambrose Pennyfather is a combination of Poirot, Race and Pennington.
  • Compressed Adaptation: There are significantly fewer characters than in the book counterpart. Names of some characters have also been changed, while others were completely taken out of the cast. Poirot is also removed, as he frequently was in Christie's adaptations of Poirot novels, owing to her dissatisfaction with any actor cast to play him in plays or movies during her lifetime.
  • Fate Drives Us Together: Brought up between William Smith and Christina Grant. He continuously courts her and at last asks to marry her. She refuses at first but it is hinted and later revealed that they do get married.
  • It's Personal: This element is added to Canon Pennyfather's (the Poirot equivalent's) investigation of the murder of Kay (the Linnet equivalent) as a result of his being her honorary uncle, her deceased father's best friend.
  • Maybe Ever After: The play ends with this possibility open for William Smith and Christina Grant (the equivalents of Mr. Ferguson and Cornelia Robson); this was not the case in the book.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The play omits the double suicide, ending instead with Canon Pennyfather pursuading Jackie not to shoot herself. The trope applies only in a sense, however, in that while she and Simon are still alive by the end of the play, they will both most certainly be executed for the murders at some point afterwards.


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