Murder in Mesopotamia is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on July 6, 1936 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in the same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $2.00.
The book features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The novel is set at an archaeological excavation in Iraq, and descriptive details derive from the author's visit to the Royal Cemetery at Ur with her husband, Sir Max Mallowan, and other British archaeologists.
Dr. Leidner is a Swedish-American archaeologist on a dig in Iraq, then a British protectorate. His wife was previously married to a Frederick Bosner, a young man who worked for the U.S. State Department but was actually a spy for Germany during the Great War. He was caught, tried and sentenced to death. He managed to escape while he was being transported, but it was to no apparent avail as he ended up on a train that crashed, and a body bearing his identification was found in the wreckage.
Amy Leatheran is a nurse traveling in Iraq when she meets Dr. Leidner, who asks her to join the dig to look after his wife. Mrs. Leidner has been frightened by weird goings on, such as a ghostly face appearing just outside her window and has received threatening letters. Mrs. Leidner confides to Nurse Leatheran that she had received similar threatening letters several years before that were supposedly from her dead first husband. They arrived every time she would go out with a new man, then stopped when she broke off the relationship. One of the letters was signed with her late husband's name, but she had no letters from him - they had been married only a short time - so she could not ascertain whether the letters were genuine. No letters arrived when she met and then married Dr. Leidner, so Mrs. Leidner had assumed they were written by some crackpot who had either died or given up keeping an eye on her.
Then Mrs. Leidner is found dead by her husband in her room, struck fatally on the head with a large blunt object. The Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, is also travelling in Iraq and his old friend, Dr. Reilly - a physician acquainted with the dig - asks him to solve the crime.
Poirot questions everyone informally and employs Nurse Leatheran as his assistant to investigate functional and logistical questions. There is much speculation that one of the members of the dig may, in fact, be William Bosner, the younger brother of the late Frederick Bosner. Then, Dr. Leidner's longtime female colleague, Miss Johnson, is killed - poisoned by hydrochloric acid substituted in the glass of water on her nightstand. She manages to choke out the words, "The window! The window!" before she dies, thereby providing Poirot the vital piece of information he needs to solve the case.
It transpires that Mrs. Leidner and Miss Johnson were killed by Dr. Leidner - who is, in fact, Frederick Bosner. He managed to survive the train crash, too; but a young Swedish archaeologist named Erich Leidner had not and was disfigured beyond all recognition. Bosner traded identities with the dead man. Fifteen years later, he re-married his wife, who did not recognize him.
Dr. Leidner was the one sending the letters to discourage Louise from her other relationships. When he finally managed to marry her again he stopped writing them, but it became apparent that Mrs Leidner was falling in love with Richard Carey, Dr. Leidners friend who is also present at the dig. Dr. Leidner could not stand to loose her again and hurt by the betrayal he murdered his wife.
At first glance it seemed impossible that Dr. Leidner could have murdered his wife because he was on the roof during the period that the murder was committed. It seemed that whoever killed Louise Leidner must have come through her door since it was clear that one could not squeeze through the barred window. However, there were witnesses in the courtyard to swear that no one entered her room prior to the discovery of her murder. In addition, these witnesses also stated that Dr. Leidner never came down from the roof, until he discovered his wife's body.
However, Dr. Leidner committed the crime without ever leaving the roof. Louise Leidner was in bed asleep when she was awakened by a familiar noise. Several nights earlier, she had been frightened by the sight of a figure at the window. But now she realized that what she had been seeing was just a mask. Determined to find out who has been tormenting her, she opened the window and stuck her head out, looking up only to be bludgeoned with a heavy stone quern dropped by her husband, who was on the roof. Then, using a rope threaded through a hole in the quern, Dr. Leidner retrieved the murder weapon. Mrs. Leidner cried out briefly before being struck down; it was this that was heard by Miss Johnson only because the window facing the exterior of the window was open. However, it was still essential that all physical evidence be removed that could possibly suggest the significance that window played in the crime. Therefore, it was necessary for Dr. Leidner to alter the scene of the crime before the police were called in to investigate. When he climbed down from the roof, he moved his wife's body to another part of the room away from the window, along with a blood-stained rug. Lastly he shut the window before bursting out into the courtyard announcing his wife's death to the rest of the expedition camp.
When planning the murder, Dr. Leidner figured that suspicion might be directed toward him, because one might assume that he would have enough time to kill his wife when he entered her room from the courtyard only to re-emerge a few moments later with the news of his wife's murder. This is why Dr. Leidner insisted that Nurse Leatheran accompany him to the expedition. The nurse would be his perfect alibi, stating that upon entering the room of his wife, Dr. Leidner could not have possibly committed the murder. Leidner hoped that the testimony of Nurse Leatheran would assure suspicion would be directed elsewhere.
While standing on the roof and looking out over the countryside, Miss Johnson realises how Dr. Leidner could have killed his wife, tying in with her previous discovery of the threatening letters in his office. Retaining her loyalty for the man she loves, she doesn't tell anybody, and fobs off Nurse Leatheran when she enquires about her obvious distress. However, Leidner realises that she will eventually crack, so that night he plants the blood-stained quern with which he killed his wife under her bed while she sleeps, and replaces a glass of water on her bedside table with hydrochloric acid, so once she dies everyone will think she murdered Louise so she could seduce her husband and, overcome by remorse, killed herself. However, in her dying moments Miss Johnson tries imparting her discovery of Leidner's guilt when she croaks out 'the window', a seemingly obscure comment which puts Poirot on the right track.
Meanwhile, the man Louise saw looking through the antika room window turns out to be Ali Yusuf, who had been helping the expedition epigraphist Father Lavigny - actually Raoul Menier, a French thief masquerading as a monk - steal precious artefacts from the dig and replace them with near perfect copies.
Literary significance and receptionModifier
The Times Literary Supplement of July 18, 1936 summarised in its review by Harry Pirie-Gordon the set-up of the plot and concluded, "The plot is ingenious and the first murder very cleverly contrived but some will doubt whether Mrs Leidner, as described, could have been so forgetful and unobservant as to render the principal preliminary conditions of the story possible."
In The New York Times Book Review for September 20, 1936, Kay Irvin said "Agatha Christie is a past master, as every one knows, in presenting us with a full assortment of clues which we cannot read. And there are mysteries within mysteries among this quiet yet oddly troubled group of scientific workers, one of whom must have been the murderer; it is part of the author's skill to make us feel that every human character is a little mysterious, and that when crimes are committed among a group of apparently well-bred and cultivated people every one of them may be suspect. Agatha Christie's expertness in building up her detective stories, as such, to astonishing (though sometimes very far-fetched) conclusions has more or less over-shadowed her amazing versatility, not only in background and incident, but in character-drawing and actual style. The story here is told by a trained nurse – as has been done by other eminent mystery novelists. Nurse Leatheran holds her own with them all. This latest Christie opus is a smooth, highly original and completely absorbing tale".
In The Observer's issue of July 12, 1936, "Torquemada" (Edward Powys Mathers) said, "Agatha Christie has a humorous, well-observed story amongst the ruins of Tell Yarimjah, and her latest method of murder, which got me guessing fruitlessly, has, as usual, more simplicity of a miracle than the complication of a conjuring trick. Poirot as a man is quite as delightful as ever, and Poirot as a detective not only perplexes the pleasant and not too intelligent hospital nurse, whose duty it is to tell the story, but, again as usual, the intelligent reader as well. The trouble is that he also perplexes the unprejudiced in a way most unusual to him: I for one cannot understand why he has allowed Agatha Christie to make him party to a crime whose integrity stands or falls by a central situation which, though most ingenious, is next door to impossible. The point at issue, which it would be grossly unfair to specify, between Mrs. Christie and the reader is one which would provide a really interesting silly season correspondence." He concluded that, "Usually Poirot is to be toasted in anything handy, and no heel-taps; this time I drink to him a rather sorrowful glass of Lachryma Christie."
The Daily Mirror of July 9, 1936 said, "Don't start reading this if you've got something to do or want a book just for a quarter of an hour or so. Because you simply won't put it down til you've reached the last sentence." The review finished by saying, "Agatha Christie's grand. In this tale of peculiarly-placed murder she's given us another rattling good tale."
Robert Barnard: "Archeological dig provides unusual setting, expertly and entertainingly presented. Wife-victim surely based on Katherine Woolley, and very well done. Narrated by nurse, a temporary Hastings-substitute – soon she found she could do without such a figure altogether. Marred by an ending which goes beyond the improbable to the inconceivable."
References to other worksModifier
- Although this novel was published in 1936, the events described are stated to place three years earlier. It is when he returns from Mesopotamia that Poirot travels on the Orient Express and solves the murder that takes place aboard it.
- In one chapter Nurse Leatheran is said to have spent the afternoon reading Ngaio Marsh's famous detective novel The Nursing Home Murder.
Agatha Christie's PoirotModifier
ITV adapted the novel for TV in 2001, as part of the Agatha Christie's Poirot series with David Suchet. It has been shown on the Biography Channel in the U.S. The character of Captain Hastings was added to the story, reducing Amy Leatheran's contribution drastically.
Graphic novel adaptationModifier
Murder in Mesopotamia was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on July 1, 2008, adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by "Chandre" (ISBN 0-00-727530-7). This was translated from the edition first published in France by Emmanuel Proust éditions in 2005 under the title of Meurtre en Mésopotamie.
- 1936, Collins Crime Club (London), July 6, 1936, Hardcover, 288 pp
- 1936, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), Hardcover, 298 pp
- 1944, Dell Books (New York), Paperback, (Dell number 145 [mapback]), 223 pp
- 1952, Pan Books, Paperback, (Pan number 200)
- 1955, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 1099), 219 pp
- 1962, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 190 pp
- 1969, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 367 pp, ISBN 0-85-456667-8
- 2007, Poirot Facsimile Edition (Facsimile of 1936 UK First Edition), HarperCollins, February 5, 2007, Hardcover, ISBN 0-00-723444-9
The book was first serialised in the US in The Saturday Evening Post in six instalments from November 9 (Volume 208, Number 19) to December 14, 1935 (Volume 208, Number 24) with illustrations by F. R. Gruger.
In the UK, the novel was serialised as an abridged version in the weekly Women's Pictorial magazine in eight instalments from February 8 (Volume 31, Number 787) to March 28, 1936 (Volume 31, Number 794) under the title No Other Love. There were no chapter divisions and all of the instalments carried illustrations by Clive Uptton. Several character names were different from the eventual published novel: Amy Leatheran became Amy Seymour while Mr. and Mrs. Leidner were surnamed Trevor.
- ↑ The Observer July 5, 1936 (Page 6)
- ↑ John Cooper and B. A. Pyke. Detective Fiction - the collector's guide: Second Edition (Pages 82 and 86) Scholar Press. 1994. ISBN 0-85967-991-8
- ↑ 3,0 et 3,1 American Tribute to Agatha Christie
- ↑ Chris Peers, Ralph Spurrier and Jamie Sturgeon. Collins Crime Club – A checklist of First Editions. Dragonby Press (Second Edition) March 1999 (Page 15)
- ↑ The Times Literary Supplement July 18, 1936 (Page 599)
- ↑ The New York Times Book Review September 20, 1936 (Page 24)
- ↑ The Observer July 12, 1936 (Page 7)
- ↑ Daily Mirror July 9, 1936 (Page 21)
- ↑ Barnard, Robert. A Talent to Deceive – an appreciation of Agatha Christie - Revised edition (Page 198). Fontana Books, 1990. ISBN 0006374743
- ↑ Holdings at the British Library (Newspapers - Colindale). Shelfmark: NPL LON TB12.
bs:Ubistvo u Mesopotamiji da:Mord i ørkenen de:Mord in Mesopotamien fr:Meurtre en Mésopotamie hr:Umorstvo u Mezopotamiji it:Non c'è più scampo hu:Gyilkosság Mezopotámiában ja:メソポタミヤの殺人 pl:Morderstwo w Mezopotamii pt:Murder in Mesopotamia ru:Убийство в Месопотамии sr:Убиство у Месопотамији sh:Ubistvo u Mesopotamiji sv:Mord i Mesopotamien vi:Murder in Mesopotamia