Title: Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
Author: Agatha Christie
Read: 18th – 23rd August 2017
Genre: mystery; crime
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must identify the murderer in case he or she decides to strike again.” (Synopsis taken from the publisher’s website.)
A classic in the murder mystery genre, I’m not sure it’s possible to have not come across Christie’s form in some form – whether that’s through the books themselves or a television or film adaptation. As such, Murder on the Orient Express is a stalwart of the genre that I had precisely no knowledge of, aside from the obvious – it’s about a someone being murdered on a train, presumably by one of the passengers, and Hercule Poirot has to solve the case as there is potentially a murdered in their midst. It’s best if that’s all you know going into this story – so I will say that if you haven’t read the book and you plan to, please don’t read any further. Consider yourself warned.
“How fast you go. You arrive at a conclusion
much sooner than I would permit myself to do.”
For a good 60% of this book, it was a 3-star read for me. I’m not hugely a fan of the crime genre, though I do enjoy a good episode of Lewis or Silent Witness here and there, but at least adaptations of Christie’s work do combine period settings, which I enjoy. For me, though, detective stories are all too often too formulaic and structured for me to enjoy them. There’s always an obvious trajectory, some tropes, and it will all be wrapped up neatly at the end. When I did a university course on popular Victorian fiction, I studied detectives via Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and though these kind of mystery stories are well-known, they’re also best served by the short story medium. So, it’s safe to say that I’ve always been a little hesitant about reading Agatha Christie – and for the majority of this book, I was true to my gut.
“But I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that,
suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder,
the most innocent person will lose his head and do the most absurd things.”
However, the entire make-or-break beauty of this book is in its climax, in the solving of the crime, in its revelation of the murderer. I think what you think of that “reveal” dictates what you thought of the entirety of the novel. Personally? It bumped a 3-star read up to a full 5 stars – I loved what Christie did; she made me complicit in the outcome of the novel’s crime, and I hadn’t even realised it. All my previous misgivings about the formulaic nature of the murder mystery genre were completely turned on their head, and I loved it.
” ‘I like to see an angry Englishman,’ said Poirot. ‘They are very amusing.
The more emotional they feel the less command they have of language.’ “
The novel’s characters are reliably varied and each have their own distinct personalities, motivations, and voices, which proves to be the entirety of the point of the murder mystery aboard the Orient Express. An old aristocratic lady rubs shoulders with a very English governess, and all are looked over by Poirot’s expert eye. No one escapes his discerning gaze, but, as a reader, you are very much aware that even he is having misgivings about his investigation into the crime that has occurred. After all, his explanation of events that led to the murder seem too perfect – and that’s the entire point of the novel, it’s too neatly wrapped up. The perfect solution to the perfect crime is presented, and Murder on the Orient Express is a perfect novel of its genre. If you’re planning to see the upcoming film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, I would very much urge you to read the book first.
“The impossible could not have happened, therefore
the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”