After I’d seen the splendid Egypt: Faith after the Pharaohs at the British Museum, I went to the London Library and got out Agatha Christie’s Come Tell Me How You Live. She published it in 1945 under her married name of Agatha Christie Mallowan, and it is an account of the trips to the Syria that she undertook with her archeologist husband before the war. It is in the tradition of light-hearted travel writing that goes back to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. She doesn’t at all mind telling funny stories at her own expense – but all the same, what a trooper she was, putting up with food-poisoning, primitive living conditions and at one point, a near riot among the workmen. Her love of Syria, the land and the people, come over very strongly. I was amused by her description of her husband’s ability to ignore everything except his work (I too am married to an academic – and I’ve been one myself).
It was strange reading about Aleppo and Raqqa, knowing what is happening there now. There is a terrible irony in the epilogue where she explains that she wrote her memoir as an escape from war-time London: ‘for it is good to remember . . . that at this very minute my little hill of marigolds is in bloom, and old men with white beards trudging behind their donkeys may not even know there is a war. “It does not touch us here . . . “
Reading Come Tell Me How You Live put me in the mood to read Christie’s Death Comes as the End (also 1945) set in Ancient Egypt. The copy I read was one of my mother’s collection of Christie novels and has the splendid Tom Adams cover. It was engrossing and I am guessing that the fascinating historical detail is accurate; it’s certainly convincing. But I was disappointed by the solution to the mystery which I guessed, because it involved a device she’d used in at least one other novel. I’d like to know how other Christie fans rate it.