"You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?"
Appointment With Death is a mystery novel by Dame Agatha Christie. It was published in 1938 and features Christie's famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The book was later made into a stage play and a 1988 movie starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot. Despite having been adapted, it has not really achieved the household name status of some of Christie's other works, such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.
Storyline (no spoilers)
The novel begins with Poirot vacationing in the Middle East, where he overhears a man saying "You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?" Poirot thinks little of the comment at first, remembering a similar incident that wound up only being a group of writers deciding which of their characters would be killed off in a manuscript. But the first chapter of Part I is Poirot's only appearance until the second half of the book.
The man whom Poirot overheard is Raymond Boynton, who made the remark to his sister, Carol. They are speaking about their overbearing and sadistic stepmother, who controls the family with an iron fist and derives a particular amount of pleasure out of denying them happiness. Raymond and Carol discuss whether killing their mother will really make anything any better and conclude that if it's going to be done, it has to be them. To include their older brother, Lennox, would involve implicating his wife, Nadine. Their younger stepsister, Jinny, is also suffering from a mental condition as a result of her mother's tyrannical nature. They conclude that it needs to be done -- and it needs to be done by them.
The Boynton family is then introduced to the reader through the observations of Sarah King, a young medical graduate and Dr. Gerrard, a well-known and regarded doctor from France. Sarah has taken an interest in Raymond, who also has an interest in Sarah. Because of his stepmother's overbearing grasp on the family, however, he must pretend he wants nothing to do with her. Through the observations of Sarah and Dr. Gerrard, Mrs. Boynton is shown to have a particularly tight grip on Jinny, the youngest of the Boynton children and the only one biologically related to Mrs. Boynton. The only person who is not under Mrs. Boynton's thumb is Nadine.
Along the way, Dr. Gerrard learns a variety of interesting facts about Mrs. Boynton: she used to be a warden at a prison. He and Sarah speculate that it is not that the job made her sadistic; she chose the job because she was sadistic. Sarah, meanwhile, winds up conversing with Raymond who admits that he has fallen for her but can't do anything about it because of his stepmother. She also meets secretly with Carol and tries to tell her that she and her family should stand up to Mrs. Boynton. Carol returns to her room that night energized, but Mrs. Boynton waited up for her and tells her to have nothing to do with Sarah ever again.
All the while, a friend of the Boynton family named Jefferson Cope is also vacationing in the Middle East. During discussions with Dr. Gerrard, he reveals that he is concerned about Nadine Boynton, a close friend of his. Speculation mounts that they are having an affair and that he wants her to leave Lennox for him.
Towards the end of Part I, the Boyntons are arranging to embark on the next part of their journey in Jerusalem. Sarah confronts Mrs. Boynton and tells her that she thinks her behaviour towards her family is unacceptable. Mrs. Boynton's only response is "I’ve never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face." Sarah has no idea what to make of this. The Boynton family leaves for Petra; Sarah and Dr. Gerrard also go. Jefferson Cope is also there, as is Lady Westholme, an MP, and her companion, Miss Pierce. Mrs. Boynton sends her family out to explore the surroundings and Raymond notices that Sarah is also in Petra. He is delighted to see her and as he returns to his family's tent after their conversation, he announces that he has the courage he'd been lacking up until then.
The travellers are in the marquee for dinner when local employees arrive to announce that Mrs. Boynton has been found dead in her tent. She has a scar from a needle in her wrist.
In Part II, Hercule Poirot is called in to explain the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Boynton's death. It wasn't necessarily a murder -- she was believed to have overdosed on a medicine she took on a regular basis for her heart condition. He only has 24 hours to interview the players and come to a conclusion. Naturally, the cast of characters provides largely contradictory evidence. Despite the challenges that arise from this, Poirot deduces exactly what happened and presents his solution to those involved. And everything works out in the end, at the risk of spoiling everything.
Appointment With Death was produced as a stage play in 1945. It did not run for very long and was controversial because it made a number of changes to the storyline, including the ending. Poirot's role was also greatly reduced in the play, with some sources suggesting he was removed entirely. The cast list from the play includes Poirot, however, so it is likely that he was just made into a minor character instead and was not involved in the solution of the mystery.
The 1988 film version was far more loyal to Christie's original novel. It was also the last time the aging Peter Ustinov would portray Hercule Poirot. The film also starred Lauren Bacall (Lady Westholme) and John Gielgud (Colonel Carbury), both of whom had appeared in the 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. It also starred Carrie Fisher as Nadine Boynton, Hayley Mills as Lady Westholme's secretary (not in the book as such, though she seems to take the place of Miss Pierce) and Piper Laurie as Mrs. Boynton.
The biggest change to the storyline for the film was that the entire story took place in Israel, whereas the book takes place in both Israel and Jordan.