- Death Comes as the End
Death Comes as the End
Dust-jacket illustration of the US (true first) edition. See Publication history (below) for UK first edition jacket image.
Author(s) Agatha Christie Country United States Language English Genre(s) Crime novel Publisher Dodd, Mead and Company Publication date October 1944 Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback) Pages 223 pp (first edition, hardback ISBN NA Preceded by Absent in the Spring Followed by Sparkling Cyanide
Death Comes as the End is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie, first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in October 1944 and in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in March of the following year. The US Edition retailed at $2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).
It is the only one of Christie's novels not to be set in the 20th century, and - unusually for her - also features no European characters. Instead, the novel is set in Thebes in 2000 BC, a setting for which Christie gained an appreciation of while working with her archaeologist husband, Sir Max Mallowan in the Middle East. The novel is notable for its very high number of deaths and is comparable to And Then There Were None from this standpoint.
The suggestion to base the story in ancient Egypt came from noted Egyptologist and family friend Stephen Glanville. He also assisted Christie with details of daily household life in Egypt 4000 years ago. In addition he made forceful suggestions to Christie to change the ending of the book. This she did but regretted the fact afterwards, feeling that her (unpublished) ending was better.
The novel is based on some real letters, translated by egyptologist Battiscombe Gunn, from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom period from a man called Heqanakhte to his family, complaining about their behaviour and treatment of his concubine.
The quiet lives of an Egyptian family are disturbed when the father, Imhotep, returns from the North with his new concubine, Nofret, who begins to sow discontent amongst them. Once the deaths begin, fears are aroused of a curse upon the house, but is the killer closer to home?
The novel is primarily written from the perspective of Renisenb, a young widow who is just reacquainting herself with her family when her father, Imhotep, brings Nofret into their lives. Nofret soon disrupts and antagonises Imhotep's sons, Yahmose, Sobek and Ipy, as well as their wives. After Imhotep is called away, Satipy and Kait, the elder sons' wives, try to bully Nofret with tricks, but the plan backfires when Nofret appeals to Imhotep and he threatens to throw all his sons and their families out of the household on his return. Suddenly everyone has a motive to kill Nofret and when she is found dead at the foot of a cliff, an accident seems unlikely.
Next Satipy is killed when she apparently throws herself to her death in terror from the same cliff while walking with Yahmose. Is it Nofret’s vengeful spirit that she was looking at over Yahmose’s shoulder moments before her death? These rumours only gather pace when Yahmose and Sobek drink poisoned wine. Sobek dies, but Yahmose lingers on, perhaps due to a more insidious slow-acting poison. A boy who suggests that he saw Nofret’s ghost poisoning the wine himself dies of poison shortly afterwards.
Ipy starts to boast about his new, better position with his father and plots to get rid of Henet after talking to his father and tells her so. That next morning, Ipy was found dead in the lake, drowned.
Kameni seems to have fallen in love with Renisenb, and eventually asks her to marry him. Unsure whether she loves him or Hori, whom she has known since she was a child when he mended her toys, she leaves the choice effectively in her father’s hands and becomes engaged to Kameni. She realises, however, that his relationship with Nofret was closer than she had supposed, and that jealousy may have influenced Nofret’s bitter hatred towards the family.
As Renisenb, Hori, and Esa begin to investigate the possibility of a human murderer, the field of suspects is further narrowed when Ipy, himself a likely suspect, is drowned. Esa attempts to flush out the murderer by dropping a hint about the death of Satipy, but is herself murdered by means of an unguent made of poisoned wool fat. Henet – momentarily powerful in the chaos - is smothered in linen.
It is on the same cliff path where Nofret was murdered that the killer makes one final attempt. Renisenb hears footsteps behind her and turns to see a look of murderous hatred in the eyes of her brother, Yahmose. On the brink of her own death, she realises that Satipy was not looking in fear at anything beyond Yahmose … she was looking straight at him. His consumption of the poisoned wine had been cleverly limited, and his recovery deliberately was made to seem less rapid than it was while he committed the later murders.
Even as Renisenb realises some of this, Hori slays Yahmose with an arrow and she is saved. Her final choice is which of the scribes to marry: Kameni, a lively husband not unlike her first, or Hori, an older and more enigmatic figure. She makes her choice and falls into Hori’s arms.
Characters in "Death Comes as the End"
- Imhotep, a Mortuary Priest
- Nofret, Imhotep's concubine from the North
- Esa, Imhotep’s mother
- Yahmose, Imhotep’s eldest son
- Satipy, Yahmose’s wife
- Ipy, Imhotep’s youngest son
- Renisenb, Imhotep’s daughter
- Sobek, Imhotep’s second son
- Kait, Sobek’s wife
- Henet, a female retainer
- Hori, the family’s scribe
- Kameni, a scribe from the North
- Teti, Renisenb's daughter
- Khay, Renisenb's late husband, deceased
Literary significance and reception
Maurice Willson Disher said in The Times Literary Supplement of April 28, 1945 that, "When a specialist acquires unerring skill there is a temptation to find tasks that are exceptionally difficult. The scenes of Death Comes as the End are laid out in Ancient Egypt. They are painted delicately. The household of the priest, who is depicted not as a sacred personage, but as a humdrum landowner, makes an instant appeal because its members are human. But while the author's skill can cause a stir over the death of an old woman some thousands of years ago, that length of time lessens curiosity concerning why or how she (and others) died."
Maurice Richardson, a self-proclaimed admirer of Christie, wrote in the April 8, 1945 issue of The Observer, "One of the best weeks of the war for crime fiction. First, of course, the new Agatha Christie; Death Comes as the End. And it really is startlingly new, with its ancient Egyptian setting in the country household of a mortuary priest who overstrains his already tense family by bringing home an ultra-tough line in concubines from Memphis. Result: a series of murders. With her special archaeological equipment, Mrs. Christie makes you feel just as much at home on the Nile in 1945 B.C. as if she were bombarding you with false clues in a chintz-covered drawing room in Leamington Spa. But she has not merely changed scenes; her reconstruction is vivid and she works really hard at her characters. My already insensate admiration for her leaps even higher."
Robert Barnard: "Hercule Poirot's Christmas, transported to Egypt, ca 2000 B.C. Done with tact, yet the result is somehow skeletal – one realises how much the average Christie depends on trappings: clothes, furniture, the paraphernalia of bourgeois living. The culprit in this one is revealed less by detection than by a process of elimination."
- 1944, US, Dodd & Mead, October 1944, hardback (First US edition), 223 pp
- 1945, UK, The Crime Club Collins, March 1945, hardback (First UK edition), 160 pp
- 1947, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, (Pocket number 465), 179 pp
- 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 926), 188 pp
- 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
- 1957, Pan Books, Paperback, 221 pp
- 1975, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 334 pp
- ^ a b American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- ^ a b Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- ^ BBC: Voices from Ancient Egypt Gallery
- ^ The Times Literary Supplement April 28, 1945 (Page 202)
- ^ The Observer April 8, 1945 (Page 3)
- ^ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 191). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
- Death Comes as the End at the official Agatha Christie website
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