British tourists in Jerusalem and the ruins of Petra are Agatha Christie’s players in Appointment with Death. Hercule Poirot hangs around for part of the action—mostly to eavesdrop on a murderous conversation and then to step in and grill everyone after the body is discovered. Christie goes for the mentally aberrant in this one—a truly horrid matriarch dominates a pathetically submissive family who are all going crazy trying to jump through her hoops. The woman is sadistic and a psychiatrist and a newly minted medical doctor on the tour are transfixed by her toxic machinations.
Add an overbearing lady politician, her timid and uncertain sidekick, a racist tour guide, a handful of abused porters and servers and a few love interests and you’ve cooked up a peppery mensaf, a classic Jordanian stew. If mama is a monster, despondent siblings are plotting her demise, baby sister is slipping into madness and the whole social scene is a bit sick, who dies, who kills them and who gets the family fortune? Poirot is not fooled for an instant by this simplistic calculation. He knows, as he always does, that motives can be as hidden and surprising as the murder weapons.
Lots of arch vernacular, more than a little type casting, plenty of clandestine objectives, furtive comings and goings and some spectacular theater keep this vintage detective novel from seeming too dated. Agatha Christie is fun to read and Poirot is a worthy opponent to match wits with, although he’ll be quicker and cleverer than you are every time.
Appointment with Death: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Agatha Christie | Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers (first copyright 1937)