When Nurse Leatheran's patient is brutally murdered at an archaeological dig, she teams up with detective Hercule Poirot to unravel a plot of obsession, jealousy, and revenge. Amy Leatheran, a nurse working in the Middle East, is hired by Erich Leidner, an archaeologist, to care for his wife Louise. He says that she has been suffering from a lot of nervous strain and anxiety, and that he is concerned for her mental health. Amy joins the Leidner's expedition in Iraq. Along with the Leidners, there is a married couple, the Mercados; Dr. Reilly and his daughter Sheila, a haughty and beautiful young woman; Dr. Leidner's old friend, the handsome and reserved Richard Carey; Dr. Leidner's devoted old spinster friend, Anne Johnson; two young American men, David Emmot and Carl Reiter; a vacuous young Englishman, Bill Coleman; and a French missionary, Father Lavigny.
Amy notices that there is considerable tension between the members of the expedition and the beautiful but aloof Louise. Amy learns what the source of Louise's anxiety is. Louise was briefly married during World War I, fifteen years ago, to a German-American named Frederick Bosner. He worked for the U.S government, but when Louise discovered he was a spy for Germany, she reported him. He was sentenced to death. Bosner managed to escape, but his train crashed and a body with his identification was found in the debris. He left behind a little brother who was very attached to him. Louise tells Amy that she has been receiving threatening letters ostensibly from her ex-husband.
A week later, Louise is found dead in her bedroom, struck on the head by a heavy blunt itstrument. The murder weapon is nowhere to be found. Based on the estimation of the local police representative, Captain Maitland, and the medical evidence provided by Dr. Reilly, the murderer must have been one of the expedition. Hercule Poirot, the famous detective, is traveling in Iraq, and Dr. Reilly sends for him. No one provides any illuminating evidence in the first round of questions, though Anne Johnson says that she heard a cry. However, she doubts her own evidence, saying that she could not have possibly heard anything of the kind and she must have dreamed it.
Amy and Poirot collaborate to solve the mystery, Amy being impressed by Poriot's acumen and Poirot by Amy's shrewdness and common sense. She fills Poirot in on what Louise told her before she died. Poirot believes that one of the expedition may be William Bosner's younger brother under a different name, or that William Bosner survived the train crash (he does not believe as strongly that William Bosner is part of the expedition, as he would be the wrong age by now). Poirot believes that one of these men killed Louise as revenge for revealing William Bosner as a spy. Dr. and Sheila Reilly tell Poirot that Louise was a subtly sadistic, cruel person and that she thrived off of male attention.
After Louise's funeral, Anne Johnson and Amy discuss the crime on the rooftop. Anne indicates that she has figured out how one could have entered and exited Louise's room without being seen, but does not explain further. That night, Anne dies in her bed. She drank a glass of acid while half-asleep, believing it to be water. She manages to choke out “The window! The window!” before she dies. Amy and Poirot believe that she was cleverly murdered. Amy speculates that someone entered the window and exchanged Anne's glass of water with acid, and that Anne was trying to communicate this before she died.
Poirot gathers the members of the expedition together and explains his conclusions. He states that Erich Leidner is none other than William Bosner himself; and that in the train crash, Erich Leidner was killed and William Bosner assumed his identity. He had sent the threatening letters to Louise to prevent her from entering relationships with other men, until he was able to insinuate himself into her life. After he found her, fifteen years later, she did not recognize William and married him believing he was Erich Leidner. However, William learned that she was falling in love with Richard Carey, and that Carey was also strongly attracted to her. He resumed writing the threatening letters and then killed her by dropping a heavy stone quern through her open window and retrieving it with a rope. He killed Anne when he realized that she came too close to the truth, and her dying words were to indicate how Louise was murdered.
When confronted with the truth, “Leidner” confesses, and is taken into custody. Sheila and David Emmot become engaged. Amy Leatheran returns to England.
Best part of story, including ending:
I did not suspect Erich Leidner at all and I enjoyed the brisk, delightfully sarcastic tone used by the narrator. However, I think that the ending is implausible. I find it hard to believe that Louise did not recognize her husband; after fifteen years he would have aged but not transformed beyond recognition.
Best scene in story:
There is a delightful scene where the nurse, who heretofore has intensely disliked Iraq, suddenly sees the beauty of the country and its history after hearing an Islamic prayer being chanted. The whole novel is also intimately involved with archaeology and history, and it was a touching way to illustrate the beauty of a culture through its history that previously had been lost on Amy.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Amy is shrewd, intelligent, and hardworking; however she is also judgmental, self-important, and racist.