Death Comes as the End (Agatha Christie)

  • First published: USA: Dodd Mead, October 1944; UK: Collins, March 1945

My review

One of Christie’s most unusual stories: a detective story set in Egypt c. 2000 B.C. The historical period is brilliantly brought to life, although the basic plot is fairly standard Christie: murder of an old man’s unpopular second wife by one of her new in-laws, followed by a holocaust nearly as dramatic as that of And Then There Were None or Murder is Easy. Due to the absence of a proper police force, there isn’t much detection; what little there is is done by two of the suspects. Murderer is fairly easy to spot, but there’s still plenty of entertainment.

Blurb (UK)

As the wife of an eminent archaeologist, Agatha Christie has taken part in several expeditions to the Near East.  Drawing upon this experience she gives us, in Death Comes as the End, a murder mystery laid in Ancient Egypt 4000 years ago.

Into the household of Imhotep, the Mortuary Priest, comes the beautiful Nofret.  The household, outwardly at peace, has at its core, in the words of the thoughtful scribe Hori, a rottenness that breeds from within.  With Nofret come anger, jealousy, quarrels and finally death.

Human passions were the same in 2000 B.C. as they are to-day.  The fussy and pompous Imhotep, the timid Yahmose, the quarrelsome Sobek, and the malicious ‘poor relation’ Henet—all are types to be met with in our present world.

Agatha Christie’s latest experiment is as ingenious and baffling as always, and ends with a climax which few would anticipate.

Blurb (US)

As the wife of an eminent archaeologist, Agatha Christie has taken part more than once in expeditions to remote parts of Asia Minor and Egypt for the purpose of carrying on excavations among the ruins of Assyrian and Egyptian antiquities.  How well she utilized her experiences, readers of those thrilling tales – Murder in Mesopotamia and Death on the Nile – will remember with pleasure.  Drawing again upon her knowledge of an ancient world, she gives us, in Death Comes as the End, a murder mystery laid in Egypt three thousand years ago.  Death stalks into the household of a landowner who, with his mother, his children and his grandchildren, had previously lived prosperously and in contentment.  And, just as today, the age-old motives – greed, lust, hate – lead to sudden and tragic death.

Agatha Christie has written many detective stories that have been widely popular over the years.  She stands in the forefront of her craft.  As is to be expected, her latest mystery is exciting, full of surprises, and ends with an unexpected and amazing climax.

Contemporary reviews

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 21st April 1945): The new Agatha Christie is an archaeological tour de force.  The action takes place in the household of Imhotep, a Mortuary Priest, who lived in Upper Egypt about 2000 B.C.  The inspiration of the plot and characters, we are told, were derived from some letters of the XI Dynasty found in a rock tomb opposite Luxor.  Imhotep, it appears, was troubled by an outbreak of unnatural death in his family which he attributed, according to the detective reasoning of 2000 B.C., to the malevolent spirit of a dead woman.  Mrs. Christie proffers an alternative explanation of Imhotep’s misfortunes.  The convincing picture of everyday life among the Egyptian upper classes which she is able to build up is astonishing and fascinating.  But I can reassure readers that the solution does not require the excavation of any rock tomb.  Human passions have not changed much in 4,000 years, and murderers even so long ago were adopting one of Mrs. Christie’s favourite formulas to baffle discovery.

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 28th April 1945): When a specialist acquires unerring skill there is a temptation to find tasks that are exceptionally difficult.  The scenes of Death Comes as the End, by Agatha Christie, are laid in Ancient Egypt.  They are painted delicately.  The house-hold of the priest, who is depicted not as a sacred personage but as a humdrum landowner, makes an instant appeal because its members are human.  But while the author’s skill can cause a stir over the death of an old woman some thousands of years ago, that length of time lessens curiosity concerning why or how she (and others) died.

New Yorker (Edmund Wilson, 14th October 1944, 500w): I did not guess who the murderer was, I was incited to keep on and find out, and when I did finally find out, I was surprised.  Yet I did not care for Agatha Christie…  Her writing is of a mawkishness and banality which seem to me literally impossible to read.  You cannot read such a book, you run through it to see the problem worked out; and you cannot become interested in the characters because they never can be allowed an existence of their own even in a flat two dimensions but have always to be contrived so that they can seem either reliable or sinister, depending on which quarter, at the moment, is to be baited for the reader’s suspicion.

Sat R of Lit (14th October 1944, 40w): For the loyal Christie legion.

Weekly Book Review (Will Cuppy, 15th October 1944, 200w): Mrs. Christie, wife of an archaeologist, knows whereof she speaks when it comes to ancient lore, so you needn’t feel that Egyptology has taken a beating.  It’s an amusing lark and a decided novelty—startling in all directions.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 22nd October 1944, 160w): Besides giving us a mystery story quite up to her own high standard, Agatha Christie has succeeded admirably in picturing the people of ancient Egypt as living persons and not as resurrected mummies.

Boston Globe (25th October 1944, 40w): Drab.