Set in Ancient Egypt this is the most unique of Agatha Christie’s novels. The story begins with Renisenb, a young widowed mother who has come home to her father’s house, contemplating over her previous life and the life to come. Of a sweet, gentle and thoughtful nature, she ruminates over the unchanged condition of her family and remarks of it to the family friend, Hori. It isn’t long before things do change – for the worse.
Imhotep, the Mortuary Priest, comes home to his children after a long absence concerning his work. His children, Yahmose, Sobek, Renisenb and Ipy are confronted with an unwelcome addition to the family: Nofret, Imhotep’s mistress. Young and restless (my own little joke) her coming brings change into the family. Below I’m quoting Hori when he speaks to Renisenb,
“There is an evil that comes from outside, that attacks so that all the world can see, but there is another kind of rottenness that breeds from within – that shows no outward sign. It grows slowly, day by day, till at last the whole fruit is rotten – eaten away by disease.”
The words incite fear in Renisenb although she doesn’t truly understand them till the end. She instantly feels this evil when Nofret comes to live among them: she is the evil that has come from the outside and slowly destroys them all. As if overnight, everybody changes; Sobek is shown for the vain, blustering man that he is; Ipy becomes simply a spoiled child and Yahmose becomes weaker and is pushed around by his bossy wife Satipy. Renisenb sees all this with dismay. She tries to make peace with Nofret, but Nofret has secrets of her own.
With Imhotep away, his family believes the power lies with them. But Nofret makes sure to show them otherwise, with the result that Renisenb one day comes upon her cold, lifeless body at the foot of a cliff. Whoever killed Nofret did a good thing – so everybody says, but nobody feels so. Imhotep is soon resigned, but it is as if the ghost of Nofret still walks. The deaths continue. Nofret’s spirit is taking vengeance. Or is it the result of a human hand? Renisenb feels her apprehension growing as one after the other, the members of her family are murdered. Her grandmother and Hori strive to protect her until the day when Renisenb walks the same path Nofret did before tumbling to her death….
I loved, loved, loved this book. The great atmosphere, the characters, the mystery – everything. This is the only time Agatha Christie strayed from writing about 20th century Europe, and all I can say is I wish she had done so more often. All her books are great but this book has something different, a different feel to it. Although the murderer is discovered more by a process of elimination than good honest detective work, the different culture, the foreign aspects keep you interested. The murderer is not apparent from the start, but eventually you see how it all was and Hori’s words to Renisenb make sense.