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Death Comes as the End - Agatha Christie

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Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: Agatha Christie / Edition: Reissue / Mass Market Paperback / 288 Pages / Book is published 2002-04-15 by St. Martin's Minotaur

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    • More +
      22.09.2009 08:10
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      Decent murder novel set in ancient Egypt

      The author:

      Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, which introduced the now famous Hercule Poirot was published in 1920. Her other well known creation, Miss Marple, first appeared in a short story in 1927 but she also created a number of other detectives who appeared in her novels.

      During her lifetime Christie wrote a number of novels, short stories, poetry & plays. Her play "The Mousetrap" holds the world record for the longest run in history as it has been performed since 1952.

      Christie is estimated to have sold around 4 billion copies of her collected works, putting her second only to The Bible. She was married twice and was a Dame of the British Empire. She died on January 12th 1976.


      Background to the novel:

      Death Comes As The End was first published in 1945 and is the only one of Christie's novels not set in the Twentieth Century. The dedication at the front of the book is to Professor S.R.K. Glanville and in it Agatha states that it was Glanville's idea for a murder mystery set in Egypt 4000 years ago. She also thanks him for lending her literature to help with her research and for taking the time and trouble to answer her questions about life in the Egypt of that period.

      Set in Thebes around 2000BC the novel takes it's inspiration from the "Heqanakhte" papers which were discovered near Luxor in 1920-1921. In them, Heqanakthe complains about the behaviour of his family towards his concubine and their treatment of her. Agatha used these papers as the basis for her plot and allowed Glanville to comment on her work as she completed each chapter. Her raised objections to some elements concerning the ending of the book and Agatha altered them in accordance with his wishes, although she admitted in her autobiography that she felt unhappy with that and still wanted to rewrite the end of the book and do what she'd originally planned to do.




      Plot:

      After the death of her husband Khay, Renisenb returns to her father's house with her daughter Teti. All seems to be the same as when she left it. Her father, Imhotep, is away but still rules the family and allows his children no power or financial independence.

      Her oldest brother Yahmose still follows their father's instructions to the letter and is still bullied by his wife Satipy who often claims that he's weak willed and that she'd make a better man than he would.
      Second brother Sobek is still as impatient and reckless as he was before Renisenb got married. His father still won't listen to any of his ideas for improving their farm. Sobek's wife Kait is still focussed on her children to the exclusion of everything else and still rows with Satipy.
      Youngest child Ipy, now a youth of sixteen, believes he's the cleverest in the family and that he can wrap his father round his little finger. He's eager for power but is viewed as too young best the rest of the family.
      Renisenb's grandmother, Esa, is now almost blind, but she's no fool and is well aware of the personalities and events the family household.
      And Henet, the poor relation who is no better than a servant still proclaims love and devotion for the family but continues to drop hints and allow dissent to breed.

      Yes, nothing at all has changed.

      But then Imhotep returns from his estates in the North with the young, beautiful Nofret as his concubine. The old rivalries and dissent in the family are soon forgotten as they band themselves together against this awful interloper. Then, Imhotep is called away again leaving Nofret behind with his family. As the tension and frustration bubbles to the surface Nofret writes to Imhotep telling him of his family's terrible treatment of her. Imhotep responds angrily, threatening to turn all of them out of the farm. And so the stage is set for murder as one by one eight people die......



      Opinion:

      This story is mainly told through the eyes of Renisenb as she struggles with the death of her husband, Khay, the feelings that a young scribe called Khameni has for her and the events that happen around her as members of her father's household die.

      It's quite a small household:- Imhotep, Nofret, Yahmose, Satipy, Sobek, Kait, Ipy, Esa, Renisenb and Henet. Plus Khameni the scribe, Hori, Imhotep's "man of business" and the children and servants. So, with 8 deaths you can imagine that there aren't very many people left by the end of the book!

      So, what's the book like?

      Firstly, there's almost no detection element in this book whatsoever. There's no attempt by any of the characters to find out where the others were when any of the deaths occur, there's no police detective (or equivalent) and the manner in which each character meets their death could equally have been 'arranged' by a man or a woman. So much then for the reader approaching this book in the same way that they might read a Poirot, a Marple or one of her other detectives. All that the reader is left with is the behaviour of each of the people inside the household to base their suspicions upon.

      The reader finds out a lot about life in the Egypt of the period:- what foods the people ate, information about the Gods, burial customs, household routines etc. There are a number of occasions when Renisenb thinks about her afterlife and her husband Khay. These generally take the form of daydreams and may not be to everyone's taste, especially if you're reading this book purely for the deaths and don't want to concern yourself with reading about elements of a foreign culture 4000 years ago.

      So, what of the characters?

      With such a small "cast" in such an enclosed environment Christie is able to develop the majority of her characters to such an extent that the reader gets a strong sense of what they're like and what motivates them. The irony in all of this, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that it's the "central character" of Renisenb that I felt was the one person in the book that I really didn't get to know. Perhaps that's because she's still getting over the death of her husband and doesn't appear to have any strong central character trait of her own.

      Of the others Esa was probably my favourite. As I said, she's nobody's fool and she manipulates Imhotep into not giving Ipy any power after Ipy's boasted that he can wrap his father round his little finger. She quips that Henet has "more than her usual allowance of tongue" and that Ipi and Montu (the undertakers) "should give us a cut price rate for quantity!"
      She makes no bones about her feelings and opinions on just about everything and, as such, comes across as very straightforward and likeable.

      Henet in comparison spends more of the book creeping around the other characters, telling anyone who will listen that she's loyal, she works hard and never asks for any thanks. After you've "met" her three or four times you feel as if you'd be happy enough if she was to get "bumped off" as well. Whether she does of course is something you can find out by reading the book.

      The rest of the characters have their own dominant characteristics:- Satipy's a bossy-boots, Ipy's young and arrogant, Yahmose is even tempered and cautious, Kait's focussed on her children to the exclusion of all else etc and together they make an interesting mix in Christie's collection for death. Whilst some readers might feel reluctant to read this book due to the time and place in which it is set the plot is so universal that it could have been set anywhere and at any time. Murder is murder regardless of the timeframe or the culture in which is takes place.

      In conclusion then, despite the historical element of this book the basic murder plot could have occurred at any other time or place. The two main questions that you perhaps need to ask yourself as a reader are:-

      + Does the historical element bother you?
      If so, this isn't the book for you as there's a fair amount of information about the culture of the time.

      + Do you read detective novels mainly for the evidence, the element of detection, questioning the suspects etc?
      Again, if so, this probably isn't the book for you. As I said, there's no detective figure or any real attempt in this story at all.

      If neither of those things bother you. Then immerse yourself in a tale of death set 4000 years ago and enjoy.

      On a personal level, I like this book a lot, but then, as someone with a history degree and a liking for historical novels I was always going to find the setting of interest.





      Paperback: 336 pages
      Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; Masterpiece ed edition (15 Oct 2001)
      Language English
      ISBN-10: 0007128673
      ISBN-13: 978-0007128679




      Official Website: www.agathachristie.com

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      • More +
        01.02.2009 17:37
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        Good to read, not one of Christie's best works.

        With "Death Comes as the End" Agatha Christie presents us not just with a mystery, but with a detailed and - one presumes - accurate depiction of the everyday lives and customs of people living in Egypt several thousand years ago. Her only historical novel - and one of her shortest - it leads through a series of occurrences in which literal and metaphorical interpretations of death may all be said to be present. Throughout the novel we see the death of assumptions, the death of people's natures, the death of innocence - or rather the presumption of innocence - and, of course, the actual death of several of the characters.
        The story begins with the return of a young woman, Renisenb, to her father's (Imhotep) household after the death of her husband. Initially everything appears to be unchanged since her departure eight years earlier, yet as events progress it becomes clear that nothing can ever be said to be immobile. Things are brought to a head by the arrival of Imhotep's new wife, an arrogant young woman named Nofret who appears to take delight in stirring up resentment amongst the other family members. Withing days arguments and accusations fly forth across the members of the household, old battles and emotions are driven to the surface and it is not long before the first of several murders takes place.
        "Death Comes as the End" may be viewed in two ways. As a straightforward mystery it stands as one of Christie's more average works, possibly curtailed by its relatively short length and possibly because there are so many deaths that, in the end, the revelation of the killer almost seems to occur simply as a process of elimination. Yet where its strength ultimately lie is in Christie's ability to reveal to us that basic human emotions and behaviours are unchanged regardless of time and country. The characters in "Death comes as the End" could be transposed quite easily to, say, a 1920's manor house to serve as the plot for one of Christie's more modern works. The story is easy to read, little or no knowledge of the customs or activities of the time are needed to make sense of the story and thus we are able to sit back and observe as the masks and pretences of many of the people are stripped off, revealing their true natures.
        Like the passage quoted in the story from which the title is drawn, this novel might be described as "a trifle, a little, the likeness of a dream" due to its brevity. Yet the deaths in the story are not the end of events, but rather the catalyst for new ones.

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          29.12.2008 15:22
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          Another great suspense from Christie..

          Agatha Christie known throughout the world as the queen of Crime fiction has 77 detective novels to her credit .She began writing at the end f the first World war , when she first created Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian detective with a passion for order.
          As the wife of an eminent archaeologist, Agatha Christie took part in several expeditions to the Middle East. Drawing upon this experience and exhaustive research, she has written several thrillers that had an eastern touch.She has written this mystery laid in Egypt 4000 years ago, based on her experiences in Egypt.

          The story is supposed to have taken place in the West bank of the River Nile at Thebes in Egypt.
          The inspiration of both characters and plot was derived from two or three Egyptian letters of XI dynasty found by Egyptian expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

          The story :-

          The story begins with Renisenb, recently widowed , daughter of Imhotep, a rich and prosperous Ka priest( a respected priest taking care of the dead and their tombs), returning to her father's household with her little daughter Teti.She is finding solace in her childhood home but realises that things are not the same anymore .There are changes which disturb her..

          Beneath the calm surface of the prosperous household lurks greed, lust and hate.The household consists of Renisenb's 2 brothers and their families and an unmarried brother, her wise old Grand mother Esa, who is able to perceive lot more than others inspite of her failing sight and her failing health.Then there is Henet the cringing, slippery old faithful? maid disliked by all ,and Hori, the scribe who had come to imhotep as a lad and was now part of the household and the only person who remained unchanged , calm and steady , and Renisenb trusted him completely and felt at peace while she was in his company.

          Imhotep who was way on work , brings a young , beautiful and arrogant concubine Nofret into this household and all the under currants and passions that have been dormant explode in murder.Renisenb is not sure about anyone any more as each one seems different and takes on a different personality with the changing situation and murders ..She soon realises that there was a pattern to these murders and she too was one of the intended victims..

          My views about this thriller

          This is an unusual and a fantastic story set in Ancient Egypt - A detective story set in 2000BC, and the very idea itself is exciting and interesting.To write a story based in ancient times is a little difficult to imagine, but, Agatha Christie comes tops with this
          hriller, nowhere does your interest waver as you read the book.
          It takes you back to those olden times when life was so amazingly different, the pace mellow and slow and the preferences quite different but with all that the human emotions , the greed , the hatred were as raw and the feelings same as they are now.

          Christie's descriptions about the everyday details of life in the rich household of Ka priest Imhotep is very imaginative and filled with interesting details and her usual brand of wry humour and wit.
          When Imhotep grumbles to his mother Esa about the mounting expenses incurred for the many funeral ceremonies within his family, Esa tells him with grim humour " It would seem that the embalmers men are with us permanently, a blessing in disguise for Ipi and Montu the embalming firm, must be doing exceptionally well.They should give us a cut rate price for quantiy ". Agatha Christie writes about the Egyptian beliefs that existed during the old civilisation, where people firmly believed in life after death and made preparations for life after death and speak about it in a matter-of - fact manner- about how they need a good deal of equipments to amuse themselves in the other world and spared no expense to make it as comfortable as they can.It is amusing to read about the many letters that are written to Imhotep's dead wife invoking her to use her influence in the departed world to help her brother(husband) who is facing difficulties in this world !

          Some words of wisdom that Christie comes up with when old Esa observes ' I am old and sit much alone and my sight is dim and i walk with difficulty - then i realise that , there is a life within me as well that is my own, as a life without. And happiness is made up of small things strung together like beads on a string '.These words somehow make you think seriously about life and its progression.
          I like Christie's books for these little details that she comes up with, regarding life and living.They are written with a lot of humour but at the same time one cant help thinking deeply about the idea behind it.
          I remember her writing about familiarity between people, where she warns saying that loving too much and expecting too much from the person you love is the heaviest burden you are placing on that person, which can easily turn into hate, it is always better to let go .

          This is a very well written, imaginative and highly interesting thriller.The story is magnificent, keeping you guessing right until the last page and has a fantastic ending , doesn't let you down.
          A must read for all those who enjoy reading suspense thrillers, especially the ones written by Agatha Christie.

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