Death Comes as the End
by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Published in 1944, Death Comes as the End was the only historical mystery Agatha Christie wrote and is among the first historical mystery novels ever written. Christie was the grande dame of mystery fiction during a career which stretched from the 1920s into the 1970s. Married to archaeologist Max Mallowan, she accompanied him on digs in the Middle East and once quipped, "An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her." After she wrote several contemporary mystery novels with settings featuring archaeological digs, a friend of hers, the Egyptologist S.R.K. Glanville, suggested she try her hand at a mystery set in ancient Egypt.
Death Comes as the End is quintessential Christie, with a large group of suspects each of whom had ample motive and opportunity to do away with the murder victim, an aging mortuary priest's young, stunningly beautiful new concubine whose arrogance and unfriendliness has infuriated his grown children and their spouses. The priest's widowed daughter Renisenb is our anchor and guide, a young woman who has just returned to the household and views the familiar squabbles of her brothers and their wives first with affectionate tolerance and then with increasing alarm as conflicts sharpen, fears escalate and personality flaws intensify. The customs and landscape of ancient Egypt permeate the story, but never at the expense of the mystery.
Christie's insight into human nature is, as usual, concentrated so that each character typifies certain qualities. "Had her father shrunk? Or was her own memory at fault? She had always thought of him as rather a splendid being, tyrannical, often fussy, exhorting everybody right and left, and sometimes provoking her to quiet inward laughter, but nevertheless a personage. But this small, stout, elderly man, looking so full of his own importance and yet somehow failing to impress—What was wrong with her?" (1944; 224 pages)
More about Death Comes as the End from Powell's Books
Other mystery novels set in ancient Egypt:
An Evil Spirit Out of the West by Paul Doherty (2003), about a man who becomes the protector and confidant of the young pharaoh Akhenaten; #1 in the Ancient Egypt mystery series. More info
The Right Hand of Amon by Lauren Haney (1997), about an Egyptian police commander during the reign of Hatshepsut who must find out who murdered a soldier; #1 in the Lieutenant Bak mystery series. More info
Beneath the Pyramid by Christian Jacq (2004), about a judge who must investigate the deaths of five guards at the sphinx during the reign of Ramses the Great; #1 in the Judge of Egypt trilogy. More info
Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson (1994), about Tutankhamen's chief investigator, who must find out who desecrated the place where the dead are prepared for burial; #1 in the Lord Meren mystery series. More info
Nonfiction about life in ancient Egypt:
Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt by John Ray (2002), includes a chapter on the farmer and mortuary priest Heqanakhte, whose letters inspired the plot of Death Comes as the End. More info
The Priests of Ancient Egypt by Serge Sauneron (2000), about the lives of the priests of ancient Egypt. More info
Egypt in the Age of the Pyramids by Guillemette Andreu (1997), about daily life in ancient Egypt. More info
A BBC History article about the
letters of Heqanakhte
which inspired the plot of Death Comes at the End.
Back to Historical Mysteries: Ancient Egypt
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