Tasha Alexander’s Secrets of the Nile is in many ways a throwback to classic Agatha Christie style novels. While the title makes clear a homage to one of the more well-known Hercule Poirot stories, it is more the general milieu of the late detective author which is evoked.
The lead is Lady Emily Ashton, a woman with a family and career happy to find herself in Egypt visiting one Lord Bertram Deeley. Emily is there with her husband Colin Hargreaves and their daughter Kate. They are all looking forward to visiting ancient sites. Of course while welcoming his friends, Lord Deeley collapses and dies, and Emily finds herself under suspicion in a relatively unfamiliar country trying to deal with a large number of secretive and hesitant individuals. As Lady Emily continues to search for the truth, additional secrets abound and the testy personalities of everyone from her mother-in-law to the requisite Casanova serve to complicate the case.
By the standards of the time the story is set, 1904, Lady Emily as well as her husband and daughter are very forward thinking. Indeed the expression of bigotry is comparatively rare in the piece. Given that the book is in many ways a throwback to novels that were written in a past with complicated details, this helps push the book a little closer to the cozy mystery. It’s also, however, helps to flesh out the characters. The comparative attempts at respect or dismissal of local customs both current and ancient plays a major part in the unlocking of mysteries in the text.
A secondary plot line runs continuously with unrelated characters, and the way in which it ultimately interacts with the primary story is telegraphed fairly early yet never feels wasteful. The moods and personalities are very similar in ways to the personalities of those in 1904, and given the starkly different era it takes place in that is most unusual. Still the personal concerns of every character are easy to understand, coming more out of relationships than social dogma or historical issues.
This book as the 16th in a series is well into the run of Lady Emily Ashton. While this leaves a number of lead characters with a degree of familiarity and intimacy which doesn’t require introduction, the new reader is unlikely to find themselves lost in these interpersonal dynamics. The fact that rivalries with a mother-in-law or rebellious children are major elements will instead simply make the reader feel a familiarity with the world of the book.
Overall, Secrets of the Nile is a very nice novel to those wanting to read a mystery set in that time and place. It does not delve too deeply into the issues of the time, yet acknowledges them. It provides a steady stream of clues, both useful and red herrings, toward the solution of the primary mystery. To fans of the series it is definitely recommended, and to anyone looking for a nice mystery that will remind them of the classics it is definitely worth a look.