Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

“I like to see an angry Englishman. They are very amusing.”

Hercule Poirot is returning to London after dealing with a case in Aleppo and manages to get a berth on the Orient Express – it seems that one traveller didn’t take up his booking. What luck! Or it would be, were it not for the events about to unfold. As the train grinds to a halt in a snowdrift, who would have thought it, but a murder takes place in Poirot’s carriage.

But it is no ordinary crime. The victim, Mr Ratchett, had asked Poirot the night before for his help against “his enemy”, but when his true identity is exposed, it is clear that more than one person had a motive for killing him. Surely Poirot can determine which of the thirteen suspects was the murderer – but it isn’t going to be quite as easy as that…

Let’s start with another quote – from me, when Murder On The Orient Express came third in my World Cup of Poirot or whatever I called the thing.

“I’ll be honest, I was concerned this would win, as I really don’t think much of it, being far too gimmicky, but it is very popular. I must re-read it at some point, as it’s been a while, but I’m really in no rush…”

And now another one, again from myself, when I re-read that after re-reading this book:

I’m an idiot.

Now it might be because it’s been a while since I read Christie. Yes, some of her plots are easy to spot – too easy, if you’ve read too much crime fiction – but this isn’t one of them. It’s harder to go into this book, of all of her canon, without knowing whodunit, as even Christie herself spoils it in Cards On The Table – which is even odder, given what Poirot does at the conclusion of this tale – but if there is anyone out there who hasn’t read it or know much about the book, stop reading this and go and read the book. Because I’ve changed my mind on this one. I think it’s a masterpiece.

Despite a huge chunk of the book being put over to Poirot interviewing suspects, the tension never flags, the mystery keeps twisting without becoming over-complicated. One aspect does lead the reader in the right direction a little too easily, but I’m reading this with hindsight. I have read it before, decades ago (yes, I’m old) and I think even then, someone had told me whodunit.

I’m not going to say much more, because either you’ve read it, in which case you have your own opinion, or you haven’t and by now have dropped everything in order to get your hands on a copy. Or, I suppose, someone spoiled it for you and you never got round to reading it. In which case, go and read it anyway. Needless to say, as Recommended as it could possibly be.

Oh, and Ken? Don’t f**k up the film, there’s a good chap…

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6 comments

  1. This was the second Christie – and the second grown-up mystery I read. I didn’t know crime novels could resolve themselves this way, so even if that “aspect” you spoke of is more obvious in hindsight, this boy (twelve years old at the time) dropped the book in shock. The amount of interviewing never bothered me then; the interviews were short and always revealed (or hid) something. So many suspects, so many clues! It’s not my favorite Christie, but I agree with your (thank God) reassessment, PD – it’s a masterpiece!

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  2. haha it’s interesting when you go to re-read a book and you end up completely reversing your opinion of it. I agree that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. It’s got more to recommend itself than just its iconic solution.

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  3. I quote from chapter 6:

    He (Poirot) paused, then added, “I am a detective. My name is Hercule Poirot.”
    If he expected an effect he did not get one. MacQueen said merely, “Oh, yes?” and waited for him to go on.
    “You know the name, perhaps.”
    “Why, it does seem kind of familiar—only I always thought it was a woman’s dressmaker.”
    Hercule Poirot looked at him with distaste.

    Macqueen has confused him with Paul Poiret, the famous Parisian couturier !

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  4. I, like you, remember reading this and finding it a bit dull — it was my second Christie and I already knew the ending, and there seemed to be endless interview after interview. Maybe now I’ll see more to it, having read a damn sight more widely in the genre, and should pick it up again. I enticed a friend to read it over the summer and she really enjoyed it, so another look is probably in order.

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  5. A huge chunk of MOTOE are the interviews and though Christie could have bogged the reader down in them, she doesn’t. It’s so easy to have readers bored, sinking in a myriad of interview quicksand. It takes a talented and a damned good writer to keep us glued to the page. And this is what Christie does. I agree, the tension never flags. She holds the reader’s interest and we sit there wondering who is lying and what piece of information reveals or hides the truth. How could anyone close the book not wanting to know what happens next?

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  6. The train getting struck in the snow is based on a real-life event of 1929. In real life, the train was on the reverse route and the obstruction took place in Turkey in the last lap of its journey.
    The winter of 1928-29 was the harshest in Europe in decades. The Orient Express train which left Paris on 29th January 1929 made a slow journey across the Continent , hampered all along the route by snow and ice on the tracks. The train made it across the Turkish border, but at that point encountered massive, impassable snowdrifts. To make things worse, as soon as the train stopped, the engine froze, preventing the train from backing . Within minutes the train was snowed in, and soon became buried in the snow. The train was trapped near Cherkezkoy between Luleburgaz and Istambul, about 80 kilometres from Istambul. The train was struck for 6 days !
    Full details are at http://www.lookandlearn.com/blog/26382/in-1929-the-orient-express-was-disastrously-snowbound-50-miles-from-istanbul/
    A photo of the incident:

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