- For the novel with the same name see: Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile is a Parker Pyne short story written by Agatha Christie which was first published in the U.S. in Cosmopolitan in April 1933. In the U.K. it was first published in Nash's Pall Mall Magazine in July 1933. It was later gathered and included as the eleventh story in the collection Parker Pyne Investigates, published in 1934 in the U.K. In the U.S., the collection also came out in 1934 under the title Mr Parker Pyne, Detective.
Parker Pyne takes a cruise on the Nile. A middle-aged woman resents his presence at first, as she believed she had the whole boat to herself and her family. However, a few days later, Parker Pyne gets a message from her asking for his help.
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
Parker Pyne is about to start a journey on a Nile steamer. The only other passengers on the vessel are Sir George and Lady Grayle, her niece Pamela, her nurse, Elsie MacNaughton and Sir George's young secretary, Basil West. Sir George married Lady Grayle to try and find a way out of his financial difficulties but the price he has paid is in having a difficult, bad-tempered, hypochondriac for a wife. Lady Grayle is annoyed that Pyne is on the boat, having been assured that her party would be the only people on board. Pamela is not sympathetic to her aunt's complaints, telling Sir George that his wife's claims of illness are fraudulent and feeling appreciative of the problems Miss MacNaughton faces in dealing with her. The only person who doesn't seem to find her too much of a trial is Basil West, who has an easy-going relationship with everyone he meets.
Pyne is surprised to receive a note from Lady Grayle asking him not to leave the boat for an excursion to the Temple of Abydos but to meet her for a consultation. He does so and she asks him to find out if her husband is poisoning her as she has been unwell for some time when she is with him but she recovers when he is away. Pyne suspects there is more to the matter than she is telling and he voices this and, in doing so, offends his latest client who walks off in a huff. Soon afterwards, Miss MacNaughton appears and voices almost the same concern – that Lady Grayle is being poisoned - but she doesn't want to suspect Sir George, even though she has also spotted the timing of her recoveries being linked to his absences.
That night, Pyne is summoned to Lady Grayle's room where the woman is very ill. She dies, showing the unmistakable symptoms of strychnine poisoning. Remembering when he saw the victim earlier on burning a letter in the lounge cabin, he hurries there and retrieves a scrap of paper which has "...chet of dreams. Burn this!" written on it.
The evidence seems insurmountable; packets of strychnine have been found in Sir George's cabin and in the pocket of his dinner jacket. The powder itself came from Miss MacNaughton who carried some on her for her patient's supposed heart trouble. Pyne speaks with Pamela who thinks Lady Grayle poisoned herself. She tells him her aunt has been acting strangely lately, imagining all sorts of things including Basil being in love with her.
Pyne then sees Basil and asks him to write out his confession; he made love to the older lady but planned to slowly poison her and make sure the blame would be laid at the husband's door. He would then marry the rich niece. Pyne tells him that the final note he sent to Lady Grayle, with a "cachet of dreams" to take was not burnt, despite his instruction to do so, as she kept all of his letters to her (a bluff by Pyne). Basil falls for this deception and implicates himself. The people Pyne has had outside the half-closed door hear this confession. Pyne is determined to have his holiday after all this work and decides to go incognito to Greece.
- Mr Parker Pyne
- Sir George Grayle
- Lady Ariadne Grayle
- Pamela Grayle
- Basil West
- Elsie MacNaughton
- The plot device here is similar to that of The Cornish Mystery.
Film, TV, or theatrical versions
- 1933 Cosmopolitan, issue 562, April 1933 with four other Parker Pyne stories under a sub-heading "Have You Got Everything You Want? If Not Consult Mr. Parker Pyne". Illustrated by Marshall Frantz.
- 1933 Nash's Pall Mall Magazine, issue 482, July 1933 with two other Parker Pyne stories under a sub-heading of "More Arabian Nights of Parker Pyne". Under the title "The Pearl".
- 1934, Parker Pyne Investigates, William Collins & Sons (London), November 1934
- 1934, Mr Parker Pyne, Detective, Dodd Mead and Company (New York), 1934