Agatha Christie is packed off to Mesopotamia, where she narrowly misses meeting her future husband, Max Mallowan, and solves an exceptionally intricate mystery.
It's 1928. Two years after noted adventurer and Arabist Gertrude Bell got a fatal dose of barbiturates in Baghdad, the discovery of a pair of unmailed letters to her father reveals her fear that she was going to be murdered. Instead of going public with the news, Davison, of the Secret Intelligence Service, thinks it more prudent to send his friend, mystery writer Agatha Christie, to the excavation at Ur, the last place where Gertrude worked as head of antiquities in Iraq, to mingle and make discreet inquiries. Arriving at Ur after being rescued from a street thief by site photographer Harry Miller, Agatha quickly meets its principals—director Leonard Woolley, secretary Cynthia Jones, architect Lawrence McRae and his troubled nephew, Cecil, and a visiting family, railroad baron Hubert Archer, his wife, Ruth, and their daughter, Sarah—all except for the queen of the dig, Leonard’s wife, Katharine, “a Jekyll and Hyde character” subject to sudden moods and indispositions, who emerges only later. Shortly afterward, Tom, the stray cat Katharine’s adopted and loved, is killed, with every indication that his mistress was responsible. Things turn much uglier when Tom is followed in death by a human victim, and again all the evidence points to Katharine. With the authorities at least a day away, Agatha (A Different Kind of Evil, 2018, etc.) is unwillingly thrust into the spotlight as a detective in spite of herself. Although it takes many more pages and subplots and red herrings, she comes up trumps in the end.
The archaeological dig as the old dark house of period thrillers, with so much ingenuity lavished on the hyperextended finale that everyone will find something to treasure before the curtain comes down. An epilogue reveals that a surprising number of incidents and characters are drawn from history.