Reading Lists

The Archaeology Reading List

Thumbnail Archaeology Credit The Christie Archive Trust
Agatha Christie with Sheik Abdullah at Nimrud, Iraq 1951 Image © The Christie Archive Trust

Agatha Christie met husband Max Mallowan on an archaeological dig in 1929. Their partnership would lead to plenty of incredible trips, as well as a huge dose of inspiration for the bestselling author. In this reading list we explore how the topic of archaeology, and the time Christie spent on dig sites with Mallowan influenced her fictional and autobiographical works.

From the first she took a full part in every one of Max’s excavations in Syria and Iraq, enduring discomforts and finding comedy in all such disasters as an archaeologist is heir to.
Jacquetta Hawkes, Introduction to Come, Tell Me How You Live
Thumbnail Archaeology Books

Murder in Mesopotamia [1936]

Our first book is perhaps most directly influenced by her experiences, the narrative is set on a dig site and the victim is the wife of an archaeologist. The dedication, too, makes this connection clear. Christie dedicated this 1936 novel to “My Many Archaeological Friends in Iraq and Syria”.

This is a Poirot story, but our narrator is one Nurse Amy Leatheran, who is at the site to watch over Dr Leidner’s fearful wife, Louise. Whilst her fellow camp dwellers believe she is imagining the threat to her life, Amy is disposed to listen and learn the root cause of her patient’s paranoia. But she doesn’t have long to get to know ‘Lovely Louise’ who is found dead in her room from a blow to the head… Fortunately, the famous detective Hercule Poirot is returning from a case in Syria, and willing to help with the investigations. But how will the discordant group cope with being treated as suspects?

Death on the Nile [1937]

This favourite travel mystery was inspired by a trip Christie took to Egypt, where she gathered historical and geographical details which she would use to bring the story to life.

The novel begins with an introduction to the key characters, beautiful heiress Linette, her down-on-her-luck friend Jacqueline, and her soon to be husband Simon Doyle. By the time we board the steamer, however, it is Linette and Simon who are honeymooning together, with the discarded Jackie in hot pursuit of the happy couple. Unable to escape his ex’s dark cloud, danger looms for the new husband and his bride. Even the stunning historical backdrop to the trip cannot distract Mrs Doyle from the imminent threat, and it won’t be too long before Poirot and Colonel Race will have a murder to solve.

Appointment with Death [1938]

The book begins with undoubtedly one of Christie’s best opening lines: “You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?” Overheard by Poirot, this pronouncement kicks off this tense family mystery.

The story starts in Jerusalem, where the Boynton family’s sightseeing is limited to the capabilities of their elderly step-mother, Mrs Boynton. Plenty of their fellow holidaymakers are wary of this unusual group, who seem to obey everything their matriarch demands of them. Dr Sarah King makes it her mission to ingratiate herself with some of the Boynton’s, but without much luck. Resigned to failure, Dr King heads off for a tour of Petra, only to bump into these cowed adults again near to the Red Rose City. When tragedy strikes, fellow travellers are left with plenty of reasons why the old woman might have been killed, but it is up to Poirot to solve this difficult case.

Death Comes as the End [1945]

Set in Thebes in 2000BC, this is Christie’s only novel that isn’t set in contemporary society. Her interest in the historical period was a result of husband Max Mallowan’s archaeological work, but it was the notable Egyptologist Stephen Glanville who challenged her to write a book set in this time.

Filled with hostilities, grievances and family drama, Christie readers will be familiar with the set-up of this mystery, even if the context is different. Imhotep, the father, has returned home with his concubine, Nofret, who will face an uphill battle to win over his children, Yahmose, Sobek, Ipi and Renisenb.

When Imhotep is called away, his sons and their wives sense an opportunity to challenge Nofret, but it backfires and they face being disowned by the patriarch… And then the first murder is committed.

Come, Tell Me How You Live [1946]

The title of Christie’s archaeological reminiscences is taken from a Lewis Carroll poem, ‘A-Sitting on a Gate’ and her account begins with a playful reworking of this. This sets the tone for the book, which the introduction from Jacquetta Hawkes rightly claims is “a pure pleasure” to read. We agree.

Travel with Agatha and Max through five varied seasons of their digs from the 1930s. Christie reveals with her charming sense of humour, both the excitement and the everyday life she experienced joining her husband on these expeditions. From The Khabur River to the settlement mound of Chagar Bazar, the ancient Tell Brak to the city of Raqqa, the narrative takes us through Syria (Mesopotamia) and the incidents and acquaintances of their time there.

I ask if it is very beautiful; and Max says he has no idea, but it is a remarkably interesting part of the world and nobody really knows anything about it!
Agatha Christie, Come, Tell Me How You Live
Thumbnail Come Tell Me How You Live Map
Map featured in Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan

They Came to Baghdad [1951]

Espionage, secrets and undercover dealings abound in this pacy adventure story.

As the book begins we are following Richard Baker, a man more interested in artefacts than people, and Victoria Jones, a bored typist with a thirst for adventure, as they venture to the Middle East. Both claim to have links to famed archaeologist, Dr Pauncefoot Jones, but neither are what they seem to the outside world. In fact, Baghdad is the location of a top-secret meeting between the countries concerned about a new weapon that is in development. The only British agent with concrete information about the weapon turns up dead in Victoria’s hotel room, once she arrives in Iraq. What has she become mixed up in, and what will she do next?

A fragment of antique pottery was always more exciting to him than a mere human being born somewhere in the twentieth century AD.
Agatha Christie, They Came to Baghdad

Destination Unknown [1954]

Another fantastic espionage story with an engaging heroine at the helm, this book took inspiration from Christie’s own experiences of travelling the world (as well as the assemblage of people she met on her trips).

A missing scientist is being hunted by his wife, and a cousin by marriage. Thomas Betterton can’t have simply disappeared, can he? Meanwhile, Hilary Craven is in mourning in Morocco for the loss of her only child, and her ex-husband’s second marriage. She is determined to end her life, but British agent Mr Jessop has noted her similarity to Mrs Betterton and wants to offer her an altogether more thrilling and dangerous proposition.

An Autobiography [1977]

Always an insightful read, Agatha Christie’s Autobiography offers plenty of information about the trips which led to her meeting Max, as well as their life together.

A thorough read of Parts 8 and 9, Second Spring and Life with Max, will compliment the books on this reading list nicely. Enjoy!

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