Sunday, July 13, 2014

Murder on the Orient Express

Markham, ON: Pocket Books, 1974, c1934.
198 p.

What else can possibly said about this novel? It is as good as the majority of 3,755 reviewers on Goodreads think, and everyone I know who has read it has already told me.

But I just had to read a Christie for my summer mystery reading binge, and since I'd never actually read this previously, and it is another train mystery to follow on to The Wheel Spins, I picked it up, in this movie tie-in edition from 1974. And I greatly enjoyed it.

Somehow I'd never watched one of the movies, and hadn't had the denouement spoiled for me. It was an entertaining, well-structured novel about a long train ride from Stamboul to Paris (or Parrus, as the Americans aboard call it). Poirot just happens to be along by pure chance; he was returning from Syria with the intention to sight-see in Stamboul for a few days, but is called home by a telegram. His good friend M. Bouc who works for the railway, finds him a berth...and they're off.

Just as in The Wheel Spins, it's this unexpected extra passenger that puts a spoke in the wheel, so to speak. The conspirators must quickly reassess and decide what to do now that M. Poirot is along for the ride. After the introduction of  all the characters who make up the roster on the Calais coach, a murder occurs, ending the first part of the book. The second part follows along logically, as Poirot calls in each of the travellers for an interview. Each gives their version of events, and as there are no police to check up on any of their stories, Poirot must solve this one solely by the power of his 'little grey cells'.

The entertainment in this novel comes from the variety of intriguing characters that Christie has placed on this train. Each of them has some notable quirk or characteristic, or fascination for the others. Figuring out how these individuals interact and connect is Poirot's job, and at times his well-known foibles arise as well, sometimes in a very funny way.

For example, when the murder victim, Ratchett, is discovered, Poirot asks to speak to his young American secretary, Mr. MacQueen.The conversation goes as follows:

"What's up on the train? Has anything happened?"
Poirot nodded. "Exactly. Something has happened. Prepare yourself for a shock.Your employer, M. Ratchett, is dead!"
..."So they got him after all," he said. ...
"Your assumption was quite right. M. Ratchett was murdered. Stabbed. But I should like to know why you were so sure it was murder, and not just -- death."
MacQueen hesitated. "I must get this clear," he said. "Who exactly are you? And where do you come in?"
"I represent the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits." 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. "It is incredible!" he said.
"What's incredible?"
This is a really great read, engaging and puzzling with a good cast of characters -- it all depends on them, as the setting is very limited indeed, nearly all taking place in one coach of the train. It was well worth finally reading for myself even if I felt like I already knew about it by osmosis. There was still lots to surprise me, and the process of reading it was so satisfying. Another addition to recommended summer reading; Christie is a classic for good reason.


  1. This book definitely shows Christie at her best. And I found the resolution of the whole thing quite satisfying, which is not always the case in this type of mystery novels.

    1. Oh, I agree -- really a satisfying read!

  2. I've been reading Christie off and on all year, but have only read one of her Poirot mysteries...and it wasn't this one. Murder on the Orient Express is such a well-known book I feel a little bad that I haven't read it yet. Thanks for reminding me that I still need to read this book! :)

    1. Ha, I was feeling a bit bad about not having read it either...great to discover it for yourself, though -- great fun.

  3. The link to real events (the Lindbergh baby) makes this even more interesting, I think -- I wonder how many other Christies have their origin in semi-current events.

    1. Yes, I was thinking about that case while I was reading this. Interesting links to reality...

  4. This really does sound incredible. Terrific review!

    1. I was surprised by how much I didn't know about it, although I thought I was a fun read!

  5. Not one of my favourites of hers, but it was interesting because she actually did this trip herself (in the other direction) just before she met her second husband.

    1. I didn't know she did the trip herself, but I'm not too surprised; the book felt quite realistic in its details. I don't know that much about her life; I should read the bio that I have on my shelves, I suppose!


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