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Agatha Christie - Death Comes as the End - Full Review
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by Agatha Christie

HarperCollins (2007)
Read by Emilia Fox
Unabridged CD Edition



Death Comes as the End is a rough gem of novel with themes of familial jealousy and wreckless ambition.

Set in ancient Egypt, the story centres around a slave-owning family headed by a patriarch who's business skills and administrative ability are far superior to his ability to manage domestic affairs.

The story is delivered in charming style by Emilia Fox who dispenses with any futile attempt to produce accents of the era and instead uses modern day accents to good effect to bring to life the characters in the novel.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of a very young widow, Renisenb who survived the partner she married when still a teenager. Returning home - she finds at first things remain the same. Then change suddenly arrives.

Renisenb, having enjoyed a happy and romantic marriage is perhaps able to understand that the marriages of her brothers, which on the surface seem unsatisfactory, may nonetheless work on a deeper level. Yahmose - the meek eldest son, is bullied by his wife, Satipy, but underlying Satipy's outward show of strength there is an ocean of vulnerability. In truth Satipy is a weak woman who could not handle a less gentle husband, and Yahmose would lack any drive and ambition if not constantly nagged by his wife. The second son, Sobek is married to the quiet Kait, whose depth of patience is a true necessity if she is to live with her husband's imprudence and lack of judgement.

All seems as it ever was, but then Renisenb talks to her father's trusted scribe, Hori who vaguely warns in prophetic tones of dangers in store - evil from within and evil from without.

Later Renisenb's father returns from his business travels and brings with him a beautiful and young - very young - concubine. Renisenb's father appears mysteriously changed - smaller and less substantial than she remembered him.

This fatal attraction of an important man for a young and self-important woman becomes the source of the trouble from without, and the cause of the rupture that catapaults the family into a maelstrom of bitter jealousy and unbridled hatred; unutterable ambition and murderous fervour.

It is a measure of the quality of Christie's writing in this novel, that the finger of suspicion points vaguely at one character and then at another, shifting here, there - never resting. Yet at the end it must be a rare reader who has figured out the identity of the murderous party. (And there are many, many murders in this novel.)

Still more amazing is the fact that with the unmasking, it becomes clear that there were clues - bold clues - clues in word, in acts committed and in acts ommitted that should have raised suspicion and pointed the reader in the correct direction.

Appropriately for ancient Egypt, the story makes good use of the supernatural theme - in this case the idea that a ghostly spirit is responsible for doing murder onto the Imhotep family in deadly revenge. More surprising, given the amount of killing taking place, the story contains a promising romantic sub-plot, though there is not enough room for this to be fully developed.

The story has some superficial similarities to Christie's first Poirot novel - The Mysterious Affair at Styles - where a matriarch's unfortunate choice of companion leads to deadly trouble in a family, but in Death Comes as the End, the dynamics of personality are explored in much greater detail.

The clash of personalities is driven by strong motives and the depth of knowledge that can only exists among family members, plus the thwarting of ambition that must inevitably play a role in a family in which there can only be one head, and that one presiding over all the other family members.

To this mixture Christie adds two delightfully mischevious female characters: the shrewd grandmother - Esa, whose character is a contradictory mix of wisdom and malevolence and the two-faced Henet whose slippery manipulativeness Fox captures to perfection.

There are faults too. There are sections of the novel where motivation and plot do not knit together seamlessly, and the author's hand intrudes clumsily on the flow of events. This is a good novel, an ambitious novel. Thoroughly enjoyable, but not polished enough to be one of Christie's very best.

Litrev rating 5 / 5



 

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