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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. A second feature adaptation, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, is set to be released in February 2022.


The original book provides examples of:

  • Alcoholic Parent: Rosalie's mother, romance novelist Mrs. Otterbourne, is an avid drinker and fond of the finer things in life in general. Rosalie tries to make her stop, but Mrs. Otterbourne keeps finding ways to get her hands on a drink.
  • 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: Zigzagged. 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. In fact, Poirot pities her since it turns out Simon never loved her, only her money, and wanted her dead as soon as they were married.
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  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Jacqueline kills herself and Simon rather than being executed for Linnet's murder.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Poirot solves the case, and Rosalie gets her happy ending. Jacqueline kills herself and Simon, however, and Jacqueline seems to acknowledge before doing so that their scheme wasn't worth it.
  • Blackmail: Louise witnessed Simon murdering Linette, so she demands a lot of money from him in return for her silence. It gets her killed.
  • Bookends: The story begins and ends with people talking about Linnet in a pub.
  • Busman's Holiday: Once again, Poirot must solve a murder while on vacation.
  • Camp Straight: Tim Allerton is mentioned to have numerous camp mannerisms, such as a rather liberal use of the word "darling", and is more than usually devoted to his mother. He ends up engaged to Rosalie Otterbourne.
  • 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.
  • Continuity Nod: When the cabins are being searched for Linnet's stolen pearls Colonel Race objects that there's no point in searching Poirot's; he replies that someone once hid evidence in his own valise on the Orient Express, so they'd better be thorough.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Many people who do not have Linnet's best interests at heart are together on the same boat: her husband and his ex-fiancée want to kill her; Tim Allerton wants to steal her pearls; Andrew Pennington wants to rip her off. Moreover, even if Cornelia Robson does not mean any harm, her father was ruined by Linnet's.
    • The very same night Linnet is murdered, Tim enters her cabin to steal her pearls.
  • 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.
  • Curious Qualms of Conscience: Linnet doesn't admit anything, but she is curiously somber while listening to Poirot explain why stealing her friend's fiance was wrong. Poirot also believes that the only reason Linnet didn't interrupt him during the former is that she knew, deep in her heart, that he was telling the truth.
  • Crime After Crime: The second victim was murdered because of having witnessed the first murder, and the third because of having witnessed the second.
  • 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 by making it seem like someone is trying to frame her.
  • Disability Alibi: Simon Doyle is exempt from suspicion for the murder of his wife, as well as those of two other witnesses, due to being shot in the leg by Jacqueline on the night of the murder. It's revealed that he actually shot himself in the leg after shooting his wife, as he and Jacqueline were working together (they faked his initial leg injury) and the actual leg injury gave him a perfect alibi. Jacqueline also committed the other two murders.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jacqueline had a second pistol which she 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. It later turns out it was improvised — Jacqueline refers to it as "melodramatic" in her confession. It's implied that the melodrama of the "J" actually put Poirot on guard.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The only thing that is Jacqueline's saving grace is that she felt it wasn't sporting to shoot Linnet in her sleep. She said she could have done it face-to-face, but killing a sleeping person who was her former best friend was too much. Simon ended up doing it instead. There are hints of It Never Gets Easier when she kills two more people, even if it was to protect Simon, and she confesses when Poirot reveals he figured it out.
  • 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.
  • Faint in Shock: Not even personally witnessing her mistress Linnet being presumably shot and killed by her own husband Simon can prepare Louise Bourget for actually seeing the gruesome sight of Linnet lying dead in her bed with a bloody wound in the head the following morning. The poor maid screams and runs out of her mistress's cabin before flopping unconscious into the arms of a steward on the deck.
  • Foil: Rosalie and Linnet, both of whom have spiteful, irrational thoughts that make them feel guilty. The difference is that Rosalie admits her thoughts are wrong, vents them in a constructive and honest way (by talking through them with a friend), and in the long-term doesn't let them distract her from really enjoying the trip. Linnet indulges her jealous whims nigh-immediately, smothers her feelings of guilt, and to the end refuses to admit she did anything wrong. Naturally, Rosalie lives and Linnet dies.
  • Foreshadowing:
    Colonel Race: [talking about Mrs. Otterbourne] What a poisonous woman! Whew! Why didn't somebody murder her!
    Poirot: It may yet happen.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Simon starts shouting at Mrs. Otterbourne to slow down when she claims to have seen who killed Louise. Simon went No Indoor Voice to warn Jacqueline that Mrs. Otterbourne is onto her, and to kill her before she can reveal it.
  • Graceful Loser: Near the end of the story, Poirot has a conversation with one of the killers, who respectfully and candidly explains to him the murder and everything leading up to it, without a hint of anger or malice.
  • He Knows Too Much: The reason that Louise Bourget and Salome Otterbourne were killed; they both separately witnessed a culprit entering and leaving the room where a murder took place.
  • 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 Ferguson, 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, Jacqueline 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 Jacqueline while Linnet was not his type. Then it occurred to him that he could have his cake and eat it too.
  • Last Minute Hook Up: Cornelia Robson and Dr. Bessner, Rosalie Otterbourne and Tim Allerton. Agatha Christie tends to do this often, 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; she will not let go of the idea that they are supposed to be together, and continues to stalk him on his honeymoon. Although the ending reveals that Simon is actually still in love (and cahoots) with her, her love for him is nevertheless shown to be every bit as excessive as it first appeared, as she willingly masterminded and committed murder entirely for his sake - meaning that she falls closer to Love Martyr than this trope. Lampshaded by Poirot when he says "She cares too much, that little one".
  • Marrying the Mark: Simon pretends to fall in love with Linnet in order to marry her so he can murder her for her money. Jacqueline, who Simon actually is in love with, acquiesces to the idea in hopes that she can come up with a better murder plan than he can.
  • Mercy Kill: Jacqueline's killing of Simon at the end of the story is an act of pure love, to save him from a more painful and undignified death.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Inverted. Had Simon Doyle not instinctively pulled Linnet away, she would have been crushed by a falling boulder, meaning the elaborate murder would not have to be done. Linnet Doyle would have died of an apparent accident, and Simon would have inherited her fortune and could have married Jacqueline.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Simon Doyle claims this as the reason that he broke off his relationship with his fiancée 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 leg 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 leg 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Poirot gives Linnet a very polite and succinct one, pointing out that she deliberately set out to steal the one thing that brought her friend happiness, and not only did she know damn well what she was doing, she knew it was wrong, hence why she feels guilty about it.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal: Cornelia turns down Ferguson's proposal, because she thinks he's rude and she would rather marry a nice man. She eventually marries Dr. Bessner instead.
  • Rich Bitch: Linnet is 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. It's part of what makes Linnet a downplayed Asshole Victim: Linnet is repeatedly stated as having everything—looks, charm, and money—while the plain-looking Jacqueline's family lost everything in the stock market crash and Simon was apparently the first bit of happiness Jacqueline had found in a long time. Linnet even met Simon just after Jacqueline and Simon had discussed plans to honeymoon in Egypt—honeymoon plans Linnet takes for herself when she marries Simon instead.
    • 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.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: 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.
  • 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.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Poirot and Race listen to Pennington's elaborate, self-serving cover story accusing Linnet's British lawyer of corruption and himself of disinterested concern for her welfare. Poirot then very calmly and politely delivers their answer:
    Poirot: Mr. Pennington, we do not believe a word that you are saying.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: Linnet is shot dead while asleep in her cabin. At the end of the story, Jacqueline tells Poirot that she was glad that it was Simon who was assigned to shoot her, as Jacqueline herself could never have brought herself to kill Linnet in her sleep.
    Jacqueline: I simply couldn't have! Not go along in cold blood and kill her when she was asleep! You see, I hadn't forgiven her — I think I could have killed her face to face — but not the other way...
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • A double-whammy. The killer's plan would have gone off without a hitch if Linnet's maid Louise hadn't had a fit of insomnia and happened to come up the stairs at the right time to see Simon entering and/or exiting the cabin to murder his wife. And then, when the killer was taking care of that little glitch in events, Salome Otterbourne happened to see Jacqueline entering the cabin to murder Louise.
    • The same can be said of Poirot being aboard the Karnak, for both Simon and Jackie, but also Tim Allerton. When out to commit murder or a jewel theft respectively, it doesn't exactly make things easier to have one of the world's greatest detectives in the vicinity. The murderers also recognize Poirot as a potential one, drugging his wine so he isn't awake for the murder.
  • Spotting the Thread: How Poirot finds the freelance political agitator Colonel Race is hunting. The problem with "Signor Richetti's" disguise is that it's too consistent; in trying to pass as an archeologist, he yammers about his supposed field of interest at the drop of a hat and comes off as having a cartoonishly exaggerated obsession with it — he even claims to have been in his bed reading a treatise on new discoveries in Asia Minor at the time of Linnet's murder. As Poirot says, he was too much an archeologist and not enough a human being.
  • Staged Shooting: Jackie fakes shooting Simon to give him an alibi for Linnet's murder.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jacqueline is stalking Simon — Simon was her fiancé, before Linnet swept him off his feet. Jackie has been dogging their footsteps as the newly married couple take their honeymoon. 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. Miss Van Schuyler is a kleptomaniac in denial and Tim is in on a jewel forgery/theft scheme with his cousin.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Poirot notices that Jacqueline and Simon use exactly the same analogy, comparing Linnet and Jackie to the sun and moon.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Simon starts yelling at Mrs. Otterbourne to tell them everything. He was shouting to warn Jackie in the next room that someone saw her kill Louise.
  • Suicide Watch: Mrs. Bowser is forced to stay with Jacqueline all night after Jacqueline shoots her ex-fiancé Simon in the leg and then immediately regrets it and starts talking about killing herself. This is a carefully-arranged alibi for the murder.
  • 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.
  • Talkative Loon: Mrs. Otterbourne, at least partly out of drunkenness, talks at great length and is deliberately scandalous, which she writes off as just another part of her artistic temperament.
  • The Unfair Sex: Inverted; everyone talks about how much of a jerk move it was for Linnet to steal Simon away from Jacqueline. No one ever points out that Simon was a free agent, and he made the choice to dump a woman he supposedly loved. More so when Simon said he still loved Jacqueline and only married Linnet for her money and to murder her. That makes him way more culpable.
  • Together in Death: Murderous lovers Simon and Jackie die in a Murder-Suicide.
  • 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.
    • Subversion: The entire crime appears to be a murder of impulse, 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: Jacqueline wants her ex-boyfriend Simon, who is now married to Linnet. Simon is aware of her continued interest, but won't reciprocate. Actually, this is an act, and the real triangle is A = Linnet, B = Simon, C = Jacqueline: Simon is still in love with Jacqueline and in cahoots with her, while Linnet does not know that she's the hopeless, unloved wife about to be murdered.
    • Another type 4 exists between Mr. Ferguson (A), Cornelia Robson (B) and Dr. Bessner (C).
  • Trouble Entendre: An attempt at blackmail is made through coded language addressed to the murderer while in the presence of Poirot.
    Blackmailer: Naturally, if I had been unable to sleep, if I had mounted the stairs, then perhaps I might have seen this assassin, this monster, enter or leave Madame's cabin, but as it is — Monsieur, I implore you — you see how it is? What can I say?
    Murderer: My good girl, don't be a fool. Nobody thinks you saw or heard anything. You'll be quite all right. I'll look after you. Nobody's accusing you of anything.
    Blackmailer: Monsieur is very good.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Linnet and Jaqueline were best friends until Linnet stole her best friend's fiancé.
  • Woman Scorned: Jacqueline (or at least that's what she wanted everyone to believe).
  • Yandere: Jacqueline, showing both affection for her ex-fiance and crazy-level jealousy towards Linnet who stole him from her. 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.
  • Yes-Man: Discussed. When Linnet first approaches Poirot to try to get him to deal with Jacqueline, Poirot turns her down and politely but firmly explains that Linnet's conduct has been far from unimpeachable, Jacqueline's anger and resentment is justified, and that Linnet herself on some level knows this given her subsequent reaction. When they meet later, Linnet is distinctly cool to Poirot, and Poirot is slightly amused to realise that Linnet has been surrounded for so long with people who agree with, acquiesce to and reaffirm Linnet's own view of the world that she's genuinely unprepared to deal with someone who bluntly tells her the truth.
  • 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.

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.
  • Adapted Out: Murder on the Nile omits the Allertons, the Otterbournes, Mr Fanthorp, Joanna Southwood, Lord Windersham, Marie and Miss Bowers.
  • 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. Louise also takes Salome Otterbourne's death scene, being shot from outside the room.
  • 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.
  • Preppy Name: Helen ffoliot-ffoulkes (the stand-in for Mrs. Van Schyler).
  • 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.
  • Summation Gathering: Averted. Only Jackie is onstage for Canon Pennyfather's final summation.


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