Friday, April 16, 2021

#1936Club: Murder In Mesopotamia


Murder in Mesopotamia
is one of three Hercule Poirot mystery novels by Agatha Christie published in 1936. The other two are The A.B.C. Murders, which I read and reviewed in 2017, and Cards on the Table, read and reviewed in 2019. 

It was also the first of Christie's novels to feature an archaeological site, which Christie was very familiar with because her second husband, Max Mallowan, was an archaeologist, and she went with him to work on some of his sites.

This Hercule Poirot mystery is set in Iraq, at an archaelogical dig located near Hassanieh. Dr. Giles Reilly asks Amy Leatheran to take on the position of nurse to the wife of the chief archaeologist at the dig. The wife, Louise, is nervous and is in fear of her life, partly as the result of threatening letters she has received. No one takes this very seriously until Louise is killed, in what seems to be an impossible situation. Poirot happens to be passing through the area and is called upon to look into the death. 

My favorite part of this novel is the narration by Nurse Leatheran. She is telling the story four years after the event, again at the request of Dr. Reilly. The reader sees all events through her eyes and learns about the characters from what she is told or experiences herself. Her initial reaction to Hercule Poirot is very funny.

Here it is:

I don’t think I shall ever forget my first sight of Hercule Poirot. Of course, I got used to him later on, but to begin with it was a shock, and I think everyone else must have felt the same!

I don’t know what I’d imagined—something rather like Sherlock Holmes—long and lean with a keen, clever face. Of course, I knew he was a foreigner, but I hadn’t expected him to be quite as foreign as he was, if you know what I mean.

When you saw him you just wanted to laugh! He was like something on the stage or at the pictures. To begin with, he wasn’t above five-foot five, I should think—an odd, plump little man, quite old, with an enormous moustache, and a head like an egg. He looked like a hairdresser in a comic play!

And this was the man who was going to find out who killed Mrs Leidner!

I suppose something of my disgust must have shown in my face, for almost straightaway he said to me with a queer kind of twinkle:

‘You disapprove of me, ma soeur? Remember, the pudding proves itself only when you eat it.’

The workings of the dig were very interesting. In addition, I thought all the characters were well defined. Louise Leidner is reported to be attractive to men and manipulative in relationships with both men and women. When she joins the dig, the comaraderie of the established team is disturbed. Sheila Reilly, daughter of Dr. Reilly and a very outspoken young woman, was my favorite character aside from the nurse.

Many reviewers have pointed out that the solution to this crime is ridiculous and/or seriously strains the reader's ability to suspend belief. I can understand that point of view, but when I read the book I found the solution acceptable. Overall, I enjoyed reading the novel. 

Agatha Christie's dedication for this book:

  Dedicated to
  My many archaeological friends 
  in Iraq and Syria

I am enjoying reading and reviewing novels from 1936 this week for the 1936 Club, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings


Publisher:  Fontana, 1979. Orig. pub. 1936.
Length:     190 pages (of tiny print)
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Hercule Poirot
Setting:     Iraq
Genre:      Mystery
Source:     Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014. 


pattinase (abbott) said...

Now that comment of her looking with disgust at Poirot is offensive today, if not then. There is nothing in her description that should evoke disgust. Is it Christie talking or are we meant to dislike the character? I have always had problems with Christie's cruel streak, which often turns toward working class women. Or does she dislike POirot's looks enough for this to be coming from her.
I don't really remember this book at all but I know I have read it.

TracyK said...

Good question, Patti. Many characters in the Poirot books underestimate Poirot due to his looks, not only his foreignness but also the way he dresses, etc. The fact that he is foreign is often pointedly noted (by other characters, and in a mildly insulting way). It is said that Christie grew to dislike the character and I thought it was after only a few books, so I was surprised that she wrote three Poirot novels to be published in one year. And it was the same in 1937, there were three Poirot books.

Rick Robinson said...

It's been so long since I read it that I remember little or nothing of it, including the end. I don't think the comment on Poirot's looks is offensive, then or now, but sadly these days too many people find nearly everything offensive in some way.

TracyK said...

Rick, I like this one especially because of the setting. And everyone in this book is a little bit strange or out of their element. Poirot doesn't usually seem to be offended by comments, he has a very healthy self-image. Sometimes irritated by people's obtuseness and mistaking him for French rather than Belgian. It took many books for me to grow to like Poirot, now I am very fond of him.

Lark said...

I still need to read this one!

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm very glad you enjoyed the book, Tracy. I have to admit, I'm one of those who found the solution just a bit implausible. Still, I liked the setting very much, and I thought Christie created some plausible motives for murder. I know what you mean about Nurse Leatheran's narrative, too. That point of view was really interesting, and I think it added a lot to the story.

TracyK said...

Lark, you definitely should read this for the setting, if nothing else.

TracyK said...

Margot, I always find something to enjoy in a Hercule Poirot novel. And I like the ones where one of the characters narrates. Sometimes it is Hastings, and I like those especially. I recently read The Clocks where Colin Lamb (?) narrates a good portion of the story.

I find Hercule Poirot's quirks charming, even his self-importance. And it is interesting to see them through someone else's eyes.

Neeru said...

I read this a long time back but unlike many other Christies, this one has stayed with me. I thought the characters were very well done. Am glad you liked it too.

TracyK said...

Neeru, I thought all the characters were interesting but there were a lot of them, enough to confuse me at times. I am very close to having read all the Poirot novels that I plan to read. I will skip a couple for now, maybe read them later. Now I may try more of the short stories ... plus more Miss Marple.

Mystica said...

The 1936 meme has thrown out some very interesting reads. Poirot is a comfort read for me.

CLM said...

I don't remember this one and I think I haven't reread it because I got it mixed up with another - isn't there a historical mystery that was also inspired by her visit to a dig? I love historical fiction but I don't always like historical mysteries.

TracyK said...

I agree, Mystica, Poirot is comfort reading for me too, and I have been getting a lot of it lately. I started reading Christie's books (again) in 2012, but lately I have been reading 2, 3 or 4 Hercule Poirot books each month (and I am almost done with that series).

TracyK said...

Constance, I am not an expert on Christie's books, but you may be referring to Death Comes as the End, set in Egypt, which I have not read. I did read Appointment with Death which was set partially at Petra, a place that I had not heard of before). There is a page at the official Agatha Christie site about "books inspired by archaeology."

col2910 said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it Tracy. Not one for me though, but I guess you already know that.

TracyK said...

I do, Col. The setting is very good.