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On Poirot's Trail in Aswan

The Old Cataract Hotel overlooking the Nile in Aswan, EgyptI can’t think of a better tour guide than Hercule Poirot, can you?  And in Agatha Christie’s blockbuster murder mystery, Death on the Nile, that’s exactly what Poirot does in the early chapters: he strolls around Aswan’s sites helping us experience them at the pleasingly slow but steady pace of his precise gait.

It’s no accident that Death on the Nile brings Egypt to life so successfully.  Christie knew Egypt - and much of the Middle East - very well.  In 1930, Christie married her second husband, archeologist Max Mallowan, after a stormy breakup and divorce from Archibald Christie.  The thirties were one of Christie’s most prolific periods, and one of her happiest as she accompanied Mallowan on his expeditions often writing in the mornings before joining him in the afternoon to help at the digs.  Her memoir of this time, Come, Tell Me How You Live, while lacking a dead body or Miss Marple quietly outwitting hapless detective inspectors is nevertheless a highly entertaining account of the Mallowans’ progress through Iran, Iraq, and Syria.  Christie used her exotic travel to set the locations of some of her most popular detective stories: in addition to Death on the Nile, Christie penned Murder in Mesopotamia, Appointment with Death, and They Came to Baghdad

Christie wrote a great deal of Death on the Nile sitting on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, which is where the action in Egypt begins.  All of the characters meet on the famed terrace of this luxurious British Colonial hotel opened in 1899.  Still redolent of a sadly bygone era of luxury travel, the Old Cataract’s terrace remains one of the finest places in the world to take tea, enjoy a drink, and let Aswan unfold below.  The 1978 film version of Death on the Nile was shot on location at the Old Cataract giving the film a sumptuous sense of authenticity of time and place.

Poirot’s pre-prandial sail to verdant Elephantine Island, the site of ancient temples takes place on a hotel boat but one that must be very similar to the hundreds of feluccas which ply the Nile’s particularly slow, steady, and stately width at this point, as if gathering strength for the rigors of the cataracts above.  And you will find that, like Poirot, you have to fend off the eager Aswan souvenir merchants at every quarter. 

Alexander+Roberts visit Aswan on itineraries in Egypt such as Visions of Egypt by Small Ship.

Posted: 10/7/2015 12:09:23 PM by Alexander + Roberts