AGATHA CHRISTIE. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936).

24 Jun

As he did so often during the long “lost weekend” of British Imperial life between the world wars, Hercule Poirot finds himself just down the road from a murder. This time, the road is an ancient one, leading from Baghdad to a site on the banks of the Tigris, where the American archeologist Dr. Eric Leidner is conducting an excavation of a lost Assyrian city. Mesopotamia.jpgThe murder claims the life of Leidner’s wife, the “Lovely Louisa,” who addles men and women alike with her ethereal beauty. Suspects are plentiful, and all of Western origin; they include Brits, Yanks, and a lone, very peculiar Frenchmen, but no natives of Iraq (as the lands of Mesopotamia were known even then). Aside from a few dabs of local color—an evocation of a desert sunset, a stray reference to the disorientations of the Orient—Christie gives short shrift to her Near Eastern setting. (Which is too bad, since she has a knack for such atmospherics that critics have never given her enough credit for.) Within the mud-brick walls of the Leidner dig compound, there flourishes a tight little society that might as well be in Sussex, complete with the local equivalent of a lord and lady of the manor who incite secret desires and resentments in all who surround them. Poirot capably picks through all of that emotional debris, brushes away the dust that clings to it, and espies a hitherto-buried pattern that explains the who, the how, the when, and the why of Louisa’s violent death. Yet again, Christie manipulates locations, time frames, and alibis in a way that renders plausible, or indeed inevitable, a solution that had earlier seemed impossible. To tell the tale, she employs the voice of a nurse named Amy Leatheran, an all-too-reliable narrator who can be relied on to treat both the fact of murder and the “mysterious East” in a comically stolid manner.


Posted by on June 24, 2011 in British, Golden Age, Novel, Puzzle


4 responses to “AGATHA CHRISTIE. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936).

  1. Richard

    July 1, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    This is a Christie novel I read pretty early in my reading of her works, and I recall really liking it, though it’s probably been, what?, 36 years since I read it. Every time I read a review of a Christie book, at least of a Marple or Poirot, I think I should re-read one. This time I might really do it.

    I love the cover on this one, what edition is it and who is the artist?

  2. Todd Mason

    July 2, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    I think Christie also is slighted at times for her wit.

  3. Yvette

    July 2, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Not forgotten by me, that’s for sure. This is one of my favorites even if the idea of a woman not being able to recognize her husband after 20 years is a bit preposterous. Though Christie sets it up that they were only married for a short while and then he disappeared. It’s possible, I suppose.

    Still, I love this story and re-read it all the time. LOVE the setting, especially. And the whole dynamics of a small group working together and how the actions of even one member slightly deviating from the ‘normal’ upsets the whole group. Very perceptive of Christie.

  4. Mike

    July 2, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Thanks for the comments, Richard, Todd, and Yvette.

    As for the cover photo, I’ll confess that I stole if from a site that I found via Google Images. It comes, if I recall correctly, from a fairly recent UK paperback reprint. I like the way that it so well evokes a certain side of the 1930s–a period that was a Golden Age not just of classic-mystery writing, but of travel and adventure.

    Yes, Christie had considerable wit, and it’s evident throughout her work. I have a perennial chip on my shoulder on Christie’s behalf. The widespread assumption seems to be that because AC was very popular and very prolific, she must have been no better than a hack. She was often sloppy, both in her plotting and in her prose, yet throughout her many novels and stories she displayed a wide range of literary virtues, ranging from a flair for wry social comedy to an acute sense of human psychology. She’s known for her clever manipulation of clues and alibis, but I think that her real genius lay in the way that she handled (and often hid) the dynamics of motivation.

    I don’t recall the plotting flaw that Yvette singles out, but neither do I doubt that it’s as bad as she suggests. As I say, AC could be sloppy. However, when a writer is otherwise adept at casting a certain kind of literary spell–and that’s what AC did, in tale after tale–I tend to forgive and forget when he or she plays fast and loose with a few details.


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