If you've never read Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, you're in for a treat. This is one of the Golden Age mysteries with a most unusual ending. Christie violated the tenets of the genre by surprising the reader with quite a twist. If you've read the book or seen any version of the movie, it's still a treat to follow along with the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.
Poirot has just wrapped up a case when he's called from Istanbul to London. M. Bouc, a director of the train line, offers his friend a first class compartment on the Orient Express, knowing it is seldom full in the winter. To his surprise, all the first class compartments are full, but M. Bouc insists Poirot be given a compartment to share until a first class compartment opens. And, it's M. Bouc who points out the romance of the train and its passengers. "All around us are people, of all classes, of all nationalities, of all ages. For three days, these people, these strangers to one another, are brought together. They sleep and eat under one roof, they cannot get away from each other. At the end of three days, they part, they go their several ways, never, perhaps, to see each other again."
On the train, Poirot observes his fellow passengers, including a man, an American named Ratchett, who tries to hire Poirot to protect him. Poirot turns him down, telling him he doesn't like his face. And, evidently someone else doesn't like Ratchett. Along with other disturbances during the night, Poirot hears a cry from Ratchett's compartment. All the passengers awake in the morning to learn that the train is stuck on the tracks, due to snow. But, their fellow passenger, Ratchett, doesn't awake. Instead, he's found dead in his locked compartment, stabbed a dozen times.
M. Bouc quickly enlists the services of Hercule Poirot to solve the crime since the train is stuck in Yugoslavia. Poirot sees only two solutions. Either the criminal left the train in the middle of the night, or he is still on the train, stuck with all the other passengers. It's Hercule Poirot's job to find the truth.
Because I'm leading the book discussion of Murder on the Orient Express in a couple weeks, I read the book, and watched two versions of the movie. I have additional reading to do about Agatha Christie herself. I do know, though, that I can't reveal more about the book without spoiling the ending. Looking at the characters now, they seem to be stereotypes representing different classes and nationalities. But, the story was written in 1934. According to her grandson, Christie's books were written as entertainment. Murder on the Orient Express succeeds as a brilliant solution to a fascinating crime. And, Christie based part of her story on the headlines of an American crime. Again, I won't spoil the story.
What I can say is that the 1974 film starring Albert Finney is brilliant, and Christie herself liked it. It's pure entertainment with a stellar cast including Ingrid Bergman, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, and Michael York. It's faithful to the book, with a few name changes, and an unusual final scene. I was disappointed in the 2010 film starring David Suchet. It lacked the entertainment element, and went with strong religious elements that were definitely not part of Agatha Christie's story. Read the book. Murder on the Orient Express is a true classic of the mystery genre. Watch the 1974 movie, and the extra features afterward. Ignore the 2010 Masterpiece Mystery with David Suchet
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. 1934. (This edition - HarperCollins, 2011. paperback)
FTC Full disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.