Raphaël Poireaut has quite an opinion of himself, as a person of both fine taste and fine qualities — he’s a talented artist, gifted and skilled in equal measure, as well as being young, handsome, smart, clever, and everything wonderful. He agrees to join his aunt Agathe on a cruise down the Nile. It’s a chance to relax, to draw, to ogle the exotic sights — and the men, of course — and Raphaël is certain he’s found the loveliest man to date.
Stefano di Angeli, model handsome, is everything Raphaël appreciates, if only the man were willing to appreciate him back. Instead, Stefano looks at Raphaël with such disdain that it plants seeds of animosity and contempt in the young man, who washes his hands of the dark haired vision and heads back to his cabin.
Then, there is a scream, a cry of such heartbreak, that Raphaël can’t help but run towards it, only to step into a room that is more abattoir than accommodating, and the body on the bed with the knife in its back is quite clearly dead. The only question that remains is who did it? One of the passengers on this Egyptian cruise is a killer. It could be almost anyone … including the handsome Stefano, who has his own reasons to hate the departed victim.
Raphaël is a young man in his mid-twenties who was cast out of his house and family for being gay. Fortunately, Aunt Agathe took him in and helped him get on his feet. Now, though, after his share of relations and one bad relationship, Raphaël is content with where he is. He likes his job, he likes himself, and he’s pretty sure that everyone worth knowing will like him in return. His chapters are all told in a first person point of view, giving us an up close and personal appreciation of all of his personality traits, as he is far from shy in showing off his own sense of humor or his own observations on the other passengers.
Stefano, whose chapters are told in third person, is far less outgoing. He’s a quiet, sensitive person who feels the gentle touch of love rather than the fire. As a boy, he fell in love with another boy in school (love at first sight), and upon discovering the boy liked the same singer, Stefano knew it was fate. He didn’t move, didn’t even learn the boy’s name. He was content to love from afar, content in simply seeing the person he loved, being in the same moment with him. And then there was Guido. Guido, who worked for Stefano’s family as a designer of fabric, who loved him — who confessed to him; but before Stefanocould make a choice, it was taken from him as Stefano’s father told Guido to leave.
When Stefano turns on the deck of the boat to see who is staring so intently at him, it’s like seeing a ghost. Guido, who killed himself six years ago. Guido, who he might have loved, given the chance, is standing in front of him only … it isn’t Guido. It’s someone who looks so like him, Stefano can’t believe it. It makes his heart all but stop as he stares at Raphaël.
I found Raphaël’s personality to be entitled and off-putting. He is, to be honest, a jerk. The first meeting between Raph and Stefano, Raph is taking the time to admire the man in front of him. When Stefano turns and is taken aback, pale and shocked and stepping back from the man ogling him, Raphaël takes it as the greatest offense in the world and for the next third of the book glares at, snarls at, mocks, derides, and does his best to offend Stefano. And then he decides Stefano is okay and decides to have a crush on him.
This book is a well put together mystery. There are Easter eggs sprinkled here and there, tying back to Hercule Poirot stories (though I only caught a few very obvious ones, I’m pretty sure there are more to be found). The murder, the coincidences, the motives, and the red herrings were fair and honest — which is to say no 11th hour reveal or that knowledge that couldn’t have been known was somehow discovered through the magic of deus ex machina. However, I’ll be honest. I never warmed up to Raphaël and I never really connected to Stefano as a character. I just didn’t feel the chemistry between them and the sudden turn from “I hate you” to “I love you” felt too sudden and entirely un-earned.
But, this story is translated from French to English, and some of my issues may be due to what is, in my opinion, a poor translation. Each language has its own slang terms, it’s own shorthand that, if translated word for word, wouldn’t make as much sense in another language. For example, the French Raphaël’s constant use of dude and golly or the very Venetian Stefano using blimey over and over again felt out of character and made me wonder when Stefano became British. There were a lot of moments where I had to remind myself that the phrasings and word choices might be due to the poor translation and not necessarily attributable the author. To be honest, while this is a decent enough mystery story on its own, this version in particular is — again, in my opinion — not very good. And I have to wonder if those same issues affected how the two main characters came across, with certain moments meant to be more playful or less venomous than they came across in text. Ideally, I’d suggest waiting for another translation of this book as opposed to this version. Or, if you’re able, to read the book in its own native language.