Following his fateful trip down the Nile, Poirot is dining in Jerusalem when he overhears a snatch of conversation – “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” The “she” in question is Mrs Boynton, a horrible woman who delights in the psychological torture of her family. They are completely under her thumb, but as they head for Petra, a young doctor, Sarah King, is determined to break her hold, in particularly the hold over her stepson Raymond (who, in true Golden Age style, Sarah has instantly fallen in love with.)
In Petra, Mrs Boynton retires to a cave as the family are given a chance to explore the locale. You’ll never guess what happens when someone checks up on Mrs Boynton later on? Yup, dead as a doornail. A few days later, Poirot is asked to take a look at the case – was it natural causes or murder? And with no evidence and no access to the location of the murder, can even Poirot find a murderer just by talking to the people involved?
The impression I get is that this is an overlooked Poirot – certainly it rarely gets a mention, either as one of the best or one of the worst. Certainly when I was on my first trawl through the Poirot canon, it took me ages to even realise this one existed – never saw a copy of it, either in bookshops or libraries. Maybe it’s the forgettable title. Still, it’s rather odd, considering there’s a stage play version of it (with a different killer) and it was the final of the somewhat-variable Peter Ustinov films. And it’s even odder as, in my humble opinion, one of her best.
It’s an incredibly complex plot for what is in fact a very short novel – in fact, it reminds me much more of an early Ellery Queen story than a Poirot – with a small cast with their own motivations and, unlike many Christie novels, no obvious least likely suspect to be the most likely murderer. And everything is fairly clued, but, as with those Queen novels, it would take a better mind than mine to straighten out all of the clues to figure out who did what and piece everything together. Admittedly, Poirot has to guess one aspect of the solution, but it is the least important part and there is enough info there to guess it.
And given that the second part of the book is just Poirot talking to people, it’s to Christie’s credit that the tension that she has built up so masterfully in the pre-murder section is maintained. At no point did my attention waver – which, due to the length of the book, was rather unfortunate as I plowed through the book very quickly indeed.
Obviously, this is Highly Recommended – one of her most complex puzzlers coupled with one of her most monstrous characters – in fact, this will turn up when I redo the Poirot Top Five. An absolute cracker.