This was an Oxfam Bookshop find.
Death Comes as the End is one of the two Christies to make the CWA top 100, and it’s the one I’d never read, so I was keen to give it a go. It stands out from the rest of her work because it is a history-mystery, set 4,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt. Christie knew Egypt from her time there with her archeologist husband Max Mallowan, although she credits a friend Stephen Glanville with the original idea.
I’ve always found with Christie that the key is to keep tabs on the entire cast (since they’re all going to be suspects), and that’s definitely the case here.
The central character is the annoyingly named Renisenb (try saying it out loud). Renisenb has returned to her family home by the Nile after the death of her husband. Her rose-tinted idea that little has changed will soon be shattered.
Renisenb is the only daughter of Imhotep, a Ka-priest A Ka-priest, Christie explains, maintained the tomb of a dignitary in return for lands. Fussy, elderly Imhotep is wealthy and has two estates, dividing his time between them. As the book opens he is away in the north.
Imhotep has three sons. The eldest, the hard-working but unambitious Yahmose, manages the estate in his father’s absence. He is hen-pecked by his wife Satipy, a ‘tall, energetic, loud-tongued woman… eternally laying down the law’.
The second brother, Sobek, is reckless, taking risks on trades and spending money on women in town. His wife Kait is placid, focused on her children.
The third, much younger brother is the smarmy Ipy, possessor of a ‘sly, upcurving smile’ and an inflated sense of his own importance.
All three brothers resent their father’s micromanagement and want the official stake in the family business that he has denied them for years.
‘The whole household was summoned [by Imhotep] and innumerable exordiums and recommendations were made. This was to be done and that. Yahmose was on no account to do such and such a thing. Sobek was to exercise the utmost discretion about something else. It was all, Renisenb thought, very familiar. Yahmose was attentive, Sobek was sulky… Ipy’s demands and importunities were put aside with more sharpness than usual.’
Renisenb’s elderly grandmother Esa is a matriarchal figure in the household. Although largely confined to her rooms through near-blindness, she has a keen mind and a sharp tongue.
There are also some important employees. Hori is Imhotep’s man of business, a wise and practical family retainer. The audibly long-suffering Henet (‘Funny how they all disliked Henet!’) is another hanger-on. Kameni is a handsome young scribe from the other estate.
Into this already tense household comes the beautiful Nofret, Imhotep’s much younger concubine. Imhotep brings her south with him and then leaves her with is family when he returns. Nofret is a real piece of work and soon has everybody at each other’s throats; increasingly the only thing they all agree on is that they hate Nofret. Even Renisenb, who kindly makes some friendly overtures, soon gives her up as a bad job.
The body-count starts relatively late but then climbs rapidly to And Then There Were None proportions, with my favoured suspects being eliminated along the way, obviously. Christie says in her introduction that both ‘time and place are incidental to the story. Any other place at any other time would have served as well.’ However that’s not quite true, since the plot developments depend on there being no police force or other official body determined to get to the bottom of the initial murder.
I thoroughly enjoyed Death Comes as the End, perhaps mainly because it didn’t come burdened with the weight of dozens of TV adaptations.
Final destination: Enjoyed it, but for luggage-related reasons I abandoned it in the lobby of the Old Town Inn, San Diego. As an experiment I left a note in the front for future readers to email me, and I’ll update this post if they do.
…and they did!
My name is Thaís (but you can call me Tess) and I found your book in the hotel this October. I’m Brazilian and I brought it with me to Sao Paulo. I really loved your message and the idea! So… that’s what happened to the book! It’s here with me!
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.