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Having seen Death on the Nile for many times, it only occured to me recently that the role of Colonel Race, played by David Niven, doesn't seem to serve much more than being a slightly more "socially competent" assistent to Poirot, while all the other characters are more or less suspects in the murder of Linnet Ridgeway. Therefore I came up with the (maybe a bit far-fetched) theory that his character might just have been added to the movie in order to give Poirot, who might seem a bit "remote" at times, a charming British counter-part to work with (given that it also was the first of the Ustinov-Poirot-movies).

So first of all, is this character also part of Agatha Christie's novel the movie is based upon and does the movie deviate in his depiction in any way? If yes, then is there any information about the reasons for this deviation from the novel? (Of course it might be that I'm entirely making up things here.)

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Colonel Race does appear in Agatha Christie's novel of the same name as well as a few others. He does play the role of an assistant/associate much like Captain Hastings, although his run-ins with Poirot are more often incidental than not.

In the novels, Race is actually an MI5 agent. In this novel in particular, he's on the chase of a murderous spy who is supposedly travelling on the Karnak, while a Mr. Fanthorp plays a lawyer keeping an eye on Andrew Pennington. In the Ustinov film, Race is an amalgam of both his and Fanthorp's characters from the book. I suppose that this was done for simplicity and perhaps because the whole foreign spy angle was a little too fanciful even for 1978.

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Have a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_on_the_Nile

spoilers in the above link !

Agatha Christie quite often introduced characters who were 'friends' or 'helpers' to the main 'detective'. It looks like, in this case (if you read the book or article) that Race was probably introduced to reveal to Poirot a piece of the puzzle that he couldn't have plausibley found out in any other way.

But, films nearly always deviate from books anyway so whether the film character and book character match, you'd have to read the book then watch the film . . .

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