I find myself re-reading all the Agatha Christie books again, or at least the ones that are readily available on the library’s ebook lending platform because physical books are basically incompatible with baby care.
This is an odd one of her books, and I find that I don’t read it as much as a result.
It is set in ancient Egypt, the result of her archaeological interests during the course of her life, which included trips to digs in the Middle East.
In this book, we meet a family with issues. The dad owns land in multiple places, but is based out of his country estate, where there is farmland and a tomb, for which he provides regular priestly services. Much like in the middle ages when you would see rich people endowing a monastery to say prayers for them forever, in Egypt you could buy yourself the services of a part time priest.
His family includes his three sons, two of which are married and have children. His daughter has recently returned to the home after the death of her husband, with a small child. His mother also lives there, along with a relative of his dead wife’s who has been with them since he married her. And of course, assorted servants.
He comes home from a trip with a concubine, younger than his daughter. She’s a very unpleasant person. Henet, the dead wife’s relative, being similarly malicious and unpleasant, takes to her at once. Also joining the family is a young distant cousin, a scribe who uncovered some wrong doing on a different piece of land. The father goes to investigate, leaving his young concubine with his family.
She goads them until one of the women slaps her face, then sends him a letter complaining about being physically attacked and generally being made unwelcome.
I think, actually, I was on the PTA with this woman.
He responds by sending a letter to his sons that he will be kicking them all out of the house as soon as he gets back and making a will leaving everything to the concubine Nofret.
That same afternoon she “accidentally” fell from the path up to the tomb in the rock cliff on the property and died.
And so it was over.
But then, one of the son’s wives falls from the same spot at the same time of day and dies. And then someone poisons the wine and both of the older sons fall ill, one of them dying. One of the peasant boys says he saw the spirit of Nofret poison the wine. The next morning the child is dead.
Poison is added to the grandmother’s lotion and she dies.
Henet is found strangled.
By this point, the list of suspects is dramatically shortened because there’s been so many deaths. But like always, Christie is sneaky and clever in her plotting. I didn’t see it coming the first time I read it.