When Thornwillow Press announced a Kickstarter Campaign to produce a private press edition of Death on the Nile I immediately pledged, despite having never read any works from Agatha Christie. My enthusiasm came from finally having a good excuse to read a Christie novel in order to form my own opinions as to her literary merits, as well as due to an appreciation for what Luke Pontifell is achieving at his Thornwillow Press.
Christie was born 1890 in Torquay, Devon, England in 1890 to an upper middle class family. She spent her childhood in Devon, though often spending winters in Southern Europe. In 1905, she moved to Paris to receive a formal education, moving back to England in 1910. Soon after returning to England, she spent a few influential months in Cairo, then returned home once more and began writing short stories and eventually her first novel titled Snow Upon the Desert (drawing from her time in Cairo). In 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War I, she married army officer Archibald Christie. Having joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment, she served in a hospital during the war attending to wounded soldiers and assisting in maintaining morale. She had her only child, a daughter, in August 1919.
Despite rejections from a number of publishing houses, The Mysterious Affair at Styles became her first published work in 1920. This work featured a character that was to become one of the most famous detectives in all literature, Hercule Poirot. He was to appear in 33 of her novels and 54 of her short stories. Other novels were soon to follow. In 1926 her husband fell in love with another woman, and he and Agatha were divorced in 1928. In 1930, she married archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, whom she had met at a dig. Many of her subsequent works were influenced by her Middle Eastern travels with Mallowan, including Death on the Nile. They remained married until her death in 1976.
Christie was a prolific and extremely popular writer. In the announcement for this publication, Thornwillow says of Christie:
Having written more than 70 novels, 14 short story collections, as well as the longest running play in history, Agatha Christie is the most widely read author of all time. Her murder mysteries, above all, brought her fame and have endured in the public consciousness for nearly a century, earning her the undisputed title of the Queen of Crime.
By the numbers, Christie’s popularity is astounding. Infogalactic’s entry on Christie informs us that The Guinness Book of World Records lists Christie as the best-selling novelist of all time and that her estate claims that only Shakespeare and the Bible have been more widely published. Furthermore, Index Translationum lists her as the most translated author ever. Her best selling novel, And Then There Were None, is one of the best selling books of all time, having sold over 100 million copies. Christie’s play The Mousetrap opened in November 1952 and is still running nearly seventy years later (a record). In 1955, Christie received the first ever Grand Master Award, the Mystery Writers of America‘s (MWA) top honor, and her Witness for the Prosecution claimed MWA’s Edgar Award. In 2013, the Crime Writers’ Association voted Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as the best crime novel ever.
Thornwillow rightly states:
The popularity of these novels is no real mystery at all. As Dame Agatha Christie wrote in her introduction to Death on the Nile, “If detective stories are ‘escape literature’ (and why shouldn’t they be!) the reader can escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crime in the confines of an armchair.”
As often happens with things deemed extremely popular with the masses, there can be occasional critical snootiness when it comes to her literary merit, though most critics embrace her as “a master of suspense, plotting, and characterization.” If Death on the Nile is a relatively good generalization of Christie’s ouevre, I am definitely in the Christie fan club. It was a very enjoyable read and earns the mostly positive reviews it received on its publication in 1937. The writing is simpler in style and substance than Poe, with the story not quite comparable in complexity to the best of Doyle or Collins. Yet, I say that not as a criticism, just as a point of difference that many could rightly consider a complement. Also, while I am typically not great at guessing outcomes of whodunit‘s, I have to say that I had already guessed the basics of who and why within a few pages of the primary murder. Again, I say this not as a criticism but to point out the contrary: despite my early and correct surmising, the story kept me truly engaged throughout. Christie’s writing does captivate and the ease of her style does quickly pull you into the story. It is not just an escape, but an outstanding, very pleasurable one. Christie’s merits stand on their own, making comparisons to the others I mentioned misleading.
Like most Christie works, Death on the Nile eventually made it to film, in a 1978 star studded rendition (with Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, George Kennedy, Angela Lansbury, David Niven, and others) which ultimately won an Academy Award for costume design.
About the Edition
Here is the Thornwillow announcement for the edition.
Reading Death on the Nile in this beautifully done Thornwillow edition added significantly to my enjoyment of the novel. It continues to amaze and disappoint me that so many people, Kindle in their face, have no idea of the tactile pleasure that a physical, timeless, object of beauty adds to the reading experience, especially one in which experienced and thoughtful design planning and execution bring the edition into the realm of being one with the content. In such properly done marriage between design and content, the book as an object does not supplant or overwhelm the author or author’s content, nor does it take away or distract from it; it simply complements it, making the work, for the reader, a greater whole.
I have each of the excellent Thornwillow ‘Kickstarter Series‘ editions and this is among my favorites, to date, from a production standpoint. This is partly due to my splurging for the ‘Tomb Raider’ edition as the half-calf binding with marbled boards is, to my taste, mesmerizing and very apropos to this work.
I also very much enjoyed the various maps and ephemera sprinkled throughout the work, all of which brings the reader into the time and place of the story. Lastly, the nearly 30 page monograph by archaeologist and crime fiction scholar Dr. A.T. Reyes of Groton and Oxford University, specially done for this edition, is quite interesting and provides useful background to the story. All in all, this results in the excellent complementary objective, mentioned above, that a finely done physical book should strive for. Hopefully, someday, we will see a similar effort from Thornwillow Press for another of Christie’s works!
- Designed and produced by Luke Ives Pontifell and Savine MGS Pontifell.
- Printing and Binding done at Thornwillow Press in Newburgh, New York.
- Monograph, special for this edition, by archaeologist and crime fiction scholar Dr. A.T. Reyes of Groton and Oxford University.
- Includes reproduced collection of maps and ephemera from Christie’s travels.
- Type set in Van Dijck and printed letterpress on a Heidelberg Cylinder Press.
- Subscribed Edition as follows:
- 350 bound in letterpress paper wrappers
- 250 bound in half-cloth and letterpress boards
- 100 bound in half-Morocco and paste paper boards
- 18 ‘Tomb Raider’ copies bound in half-calf and marbled boards
- 24 various full leather bindings, some with precious stones in-laid
- Signed by Dr. A.T. Reyes and Luke Ives Pontifell
Thornwillow Press just launched a Kickstarter for Edgar Allan Poe‘s Tales, Mysteries & Contrivances which I immediately pledged for. The edition again offers various excellent binding choices, along with what looks to be quite inspired illustrations (see here) by the famous tattoo artist John Reardon and commentary by Harvard historian Jill Lepore.
Pictures of the Edition
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