Murder Mysteries in the Middle East
Follow in the footsteps of great authors, such as Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and explore the fascinating sights of Egypt as described by Harry, our Syria, Jordan and Egypt Specialist.
The Pyramids at Giza
The Middle East and Egypt in particular has always been a magnet for travellers and its fascinating history and culture has provided inspiration to numerous authors who have travelled here, with the 'murder mystery' genre a particular favourite.
From cruising on the Nile on the beautiful Steam Ship Sudan, to a scenic Lake Nasser cruise or spending time exploring Cairo's historic streets and sights, you can enjoy the experiences that inspired these authors.
Agatha Christie wasn't the first novelist to set a murder-mystery in the Middle East: she followed a noble tradition started by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Harry Ring, our Syria, Jordan and Egypt Specialist recommends some essential reading for amateur sleuths heading east.
The Middle East has long been a fertile ground for novelists writing tense novels about heinous deeds and dark secrets.
Agatha Christie: Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express
The doyenne of this milieu has to be Agatha Christie. Death on the Nile was conceived, written and based in Egypt, and this is where all the versions of the film were shot.
We’re very lucky at Audley to work with one of the novel's central characters: the vessel on which the action took place, the Steam Ship Sudan.
Inspired by a Nile cruise she took with her husband, Christie had Hercule Poirot sleuthing on the decks of this very ship. The Steam Ship Sudan was given as a gift to King Farouk in 1885 and was prominent in the fashionable era of Egyptian travel around the turn of the century.
In the middle of the 20th century it was sidelined by the trend towards large, characterless Nile cruisers – hotels on water – and she was derelict until 2000, when two Frenchmen decided to restore her to her former glory.
Now once more you can now tread the same gangways and cabins where Poirot sought to uncover the killer of heiress Linnet Ridgeway.
The 1978 screen version of Death on the Nile introduced one new character: the Old Cataract Hotel. This is actually closed at the moment for a major refurbishment, something some would argue has been overdue since Agatha Christie's first visit. When it opens again in 2010, it’ll bring that fin de siècle charm back to Aswan and reclaim its place as one of the best hotels in Egypt – and in one of the best settings.
What most people don’t realise about Agatha Christie is just how much time she spent in the Middle East. This was largely thanks to two men. One was her first husband: when he went off with another woman, she took it very hard. Eventually she took the decision to go to Damascus by train – spending part of the journey on the Orient Express which inspired Murder on the Orient Express - and then continued to Baghdad by bus.
In Iraq she became hooked on archaeological digs and on a second trip she met her second husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan. Through him she came to spend large amounts of time in Iraq and Syria, assisting on the digs and writing her novels: a significant amount of her output draws influence, setting and characters from the region.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Tragedy of the Korosko
Agatha Christie wasn’t the only author to set novels on the Nile – in fact in some regards she jumped on a bandwagon that had been rolling for some time. Back at the end of the 19th century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had penned The Tragedy of the Korosko. It relates the tribulations of a group of passengers on a “turtle-bottomed, round-bowed, stern-wheeler” captured by bandits.
The route of the Korosko is one of the most rewarding to trace in modern Egypt, even though much of it now lies far below the waters of Lake Nasser.
A Lake Nasser cruise showcases the wonderful scenery described in the novel, the “…black and sun-cracked hills, with…orange drift-sand lying like glaciers in their valleys. Everywhere one sees traces of vanished races and submerged civilisations”. This is doubly poignant since the construction of the Aswan Dam caused this valley to be flooded and UNESCO came in to rescue so many of the monuments – including Abu Simbel – and move them to safety on the shores.
Naguib Mahfouz: The Cairo Trilogy
The best Middle Eastern writers are increasingly being translated into English. Perhaps one of the most famous is Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His defining work was The Cairo Trilogy, comprising Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street.
I would encourage anyone with an interest in Egypt to read the trilogy, daunting as the large books may seem, and for this reason I’m not going to say too much about the murder that is key to the transition from Palace Walk to Palace of Desire.
The real joy of the trilogy is the fascinating study of one Cairene family in the turbulent years between the First World War and the overthrow of the monarchy in 1952.
The books are named after Cairene streets and, if you take the time to get beneath the skin of modern Cairo, the buildings, monuments, mosques and the city’s personality that are the backdrop to Mahfouz’s work are still there for you to discover.